Wednesday, May 11, 2005

 

A beautiful idea?

Andrew Adonis has caused quite a stir recently through being appointed to the Lords and also to a junior office in the department of education. I know Andrew Adonis slightly, having acted as series editor for one of his books when he was at Nuffield College, Oxford. He also gave a couple of lectures in conferences I organised - both models of their kind (the lectures that is, not my powers of organisation).

To see this gentle, conciliatory, thoughtful academic pilloried as a serious threat to democracy seems to be one of the odder ideas of Labour's leftwing. He is a serious enough person to have reseached any ideas he has on education with great thoroughness. And anyone who doubts his passion for leftish values shouild read the book on Britain's class system he wrote with Stephen Pollard — A Class Act (Hamish Hamilton, 1996).

As the son of a Cypriot postman, who made it to Oxford, he is well placed to comment on Britain's suffocating class system. Further, in defence of the appointment, he is only one of three parliamentary secretaries in the department, and reports to the highly regarded Jaqui Smith, the minister of state for schools.

I doubt if even his powers of persuasion are going to hold a six strong team in thrall and lead them in a trance down a road towards US style semi- privatised education. In fact, his new position is in one sense weaker than when he was in daily contact with the fount of new initiatives, the Prime Minister as a member, then head of the Policy Unit.

Furthermore, it could be argued that despite his status as an unelected peer, he is more accountable in his new role than hitherto. Any major initiative from him will have to survive resistance in the Commons where Blair no longer has a hegemonic majority. Finally, Labour should not fear having to confront and deal with new ideas. It must be the case that the welfare state, which has not evinced any really spectacular improvement flowing from better funding, needs to consider and embrace new means to the same end.


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