A Beveridge Moment?
In an article entitled ‘entitled ‘The country craves a “Beveridge moment” but it is beyond our grasp’, and subtitled ‘As the Budget will show, Britain is still miles away from the kind of radical programme we need’, Nick Timothy records that ‘Keir Starmer has called for it’; that ‘Tory MPs say they want it too’; that ‘academics and Whitehall mandarins have joined them’; and that ‘so too has the Archbishop of Canterbury’; but that he (Timothy) questions whether ‘the end of the pandemic really is likely to bring about a Beveridge moment for Britain?’ He notes that ‘the parallels are tempting’; that ‘the Beveridge Report, written as the Second World War raged, was a blueprint for a better future once the country’s collective struggle and sacrifice had finally ended’; that ‘identifying “five giants” – idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want – the report proposed comprehensive social and economic reforms which would support citizens from “cradle to grave”’; that ‘commissioned by the wartime National Government and written by a Liberal, its spirit was as cross-party as its contents were radical; that ‘published in 1942, all the main parties promised to implement its vision, albeit in competing forms’; that ‘Rab Butler, a Tory education minister legislated for universal education in 1944’; and that ‘after the war, Labour, led by Clement Atlee, founded the welfare state and the NHS’. However, Timothy now asks ‘are we likely to see such a profound change now’?; and responds that ‘there certainly appears to be public demand for it’ that ‘the “Talk Together” project which has had conversations with almost 160,000 people reports great pride in the way communities have come together with 12.5 million people volunteering during the pandemic and a desire for society to grow closer and more connected in future’; that the ‘Renew Normal” commission which has talked to 50,000 people who call for a drive towards stronger communities and greater social justice’; but while Timothy concedes that ‘the public demand is there’. he observes that ‘the political supply is not’; that ‘this, to be fair to our political classes, is not altogether surprising: the problems and crises now being post-modern in their complexity’.
At this point, he asks his readers to ‘contemplate the role of technology and global trade as mid-skilled/mid-paid jobs decline in the West, or the part played by social media in corroding trust in news reporting and in democratic processes, or the multitude of troubles – poor infrastructure, lack of skills, brain drains, bad governance, the decline in social capital, and the loss of civic confidence, which lie behind the struggles of many provincial towns’; and he claims that ‘these examples of the huge challenges facing ministers to-day demonstrate the difficulty of the task ahead’; that ‘the complexities listed above, together with the easy movement of people, the freedom of global capital, the power accumulated by a handful of international business leaders, the breakdown of the traditional family, and the radical individualism of our society, result in the need for solutions which cannot be brought about by the swish of a minister’s pen or by the creation of a single national institution’; that ‘we would probably find it incredibly difficult to agree even on which giants must be slayed today’; that ‘in London or the university towns, many might repeat the arguments and objectives of the Black Lives Matter movement or of the transgender activists’; that ‘in less prosperous parts of the country, there might be more concern about employment and opportunities to train’; that ‘some see globalisation, liberalised trade and supranational government as exhilarating harbingers of a brighter future’; that other see in these changes the danger of loss: of jobs, security, and democratic control’; and that ‘neither Britain – nor any other Western country, for that matter – enjoyed the kind of intellectual and political development which led to Beveridge’; that ‘various Conservative social reforms of the 1920s and 1930s, from a huge house-building programme to health and pension reforms, came first’; that ‘thinkers from Right and Left converged on a new consensus which eventually outlasted its economic utility and made possible this period of profound social reform’; that ‘today, while there is no shortage of interesting policy thinking and signs perhaps of potential convergence between factions at least, like the Red Torry and Blue Labour schools, we are still some distance from a moment of clarity on how to move on as a country, neither in the recent Budget nor in any set-piece political speeches or moments are we likely to see a grand vision or truly comprehensive plan to really change our society’.
He then goes on to say that ‘the reason for this is not just intellectual’; that it is due to the depth of our disunity in the form of sharp differences of values and interests’; that ‘the educated and the wealthy often seek freedom; that the less privileged and least secure seek protection from change and harm’; that ‘some find their place in the world through attainment and professional status’; that ‘others attain it through family, friendship, and social community’; and that ‘others attain it through associations based on place’; that ‘whether we require unity before undertaking economic reform (or the reverse) is a chicken and egg situation’; but that ‘it will require a more unified spirit – and more unified leadership – to win support for the compromises and sacrifices demanded by reform which unavoidably will come at a cost’; that ‘the starting point for an ambitious programme of change must thus recognise that while values and interests inevitably and incessantly conflict with one another, we can build institutions and encourage norms of behaviour which will help us to manage and mediate these conflicts’; and that ‘we must encourage the traditions, habits and institutions which help us to see past our different points of view and recognise familiarity in one another’; that ‘the more we lecture one another about how to live and what to do, the less we will do anything together at all’; that ‘with a sense of common identity and solidarity we will be able once again to do great things together’; and that ‘one of our national stories from which we can draw strength, which reminds us of the common life which we all share, and from which we can take inspiration, is the Beveridge moment of the 1940s and the monumental achievements which followed’.
However, in contrast to the above analysis of our current situation, I say that such moments would be more frequent and their achievements would be more secure were we to replace belief/counter-belief with cause-effect knowledge prior to the formulation of all future policy, and prior to our specification of the knowledge-only means by which such knowledge-only policies are to be implemented in the real world. 23/3/21.