14 MARCH 1998, Page 22


Tristram Hunt on the LSE's role at the heart of 'the Project' - the other name for New Labour

My object as the occupant of this chair is not to create a body of disciples who shall go forth to preach the peculiar doctrines I hap- pen to hold.

Harold Laski, Inaugural Lecture, 1926

FROM its birth at the hands of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, politics has always been at the heart of the London School of Eco- nomics. Under William Beveridge's direc- torship during the 1930s, the combined power of Harold Laski, R.H. Tawney and M.M. Postan influenced a generation of students to become the shock troops for the post-war welfare society. At the same time, Friedrich von Hayek established his own powerful school of free-market ideol- ogy, while Michael Oakeshott provided much of intellectual conservatism. Later, in the 1970s, the school's economics facul- ty, dominated by one Professor Alan Wal- ters, provided the intellectual groundwork for much of Thatcher's first term.

With its new director, Professor Antho- ny Giddens, the LSE is entering upon its `Third Republic', which is apposite, as the guiding light for the Third Republic is to be the mystical 'Third Way'. Since taking over from his austere predecessor John Ashworth, Giddens has constructed a fac- ulty to provide just the kind of intellectual ballast for Blair's 'radical-centre' scheme that his predecessors achieved for the 1940s welfare state and then for Thatcherism.

As a former Cambridge professor of sociology, Giddens is an academic of world renown. Many American universities now offer undergraduate courses on `Giddens'. Yet he is also a public intellectual in the mould of some of his most distinguished LSE forebears — Laski or Richard Tit- muss being the most obvious. And whereas Lash taught the great Marxist theorist Ralph Miliband, Giddens has become a close political ally of his modernising son David, head of the No. 10 Policy Unit.

Giddens is a fan of 'the Project'. His 1994 book Beyond Left and Right, The Future of Radical Politics rehearsed many of Blair's arguments about a third way between Old Left and New Right, a theme he elaborated further in his contribution to David Miliband's book, Reinventing the Left, and in public utterances since. In turn, Giddens has been feted by the Prime Minister and his advisers as that rare breed, a weighty intellectual actively sup- porting the government. He was at the Hillary Clinton Chequers seminar in December, and more recently travelled with Miliband and other No. 10 inhabi- tants to Washington for the Blair-Clinton `wonkathon'. There he struck up a close relationship with Clinton's oleaginous `director of vision', Sidney Blumenthal.

Yet he is not uncritical — he has fre- quently expressed concerns about New Labour's moralistic tinge masking an inability (or refusal) to address inequality. However, he stands as one of the few intellectuals Blair actually likes. More at home with high-achieving CEOs and sportsmen, Blair, unlike Clinton, has never been one for meandering political discus- sions late into the night. Giddens, as an entrepreneurial academic with his own successful publishing company (Polity Press) and a Porsche, is the kind of thinker Blair can deal with.

When, therefore, Blair recently announced on the trip back from Wash- ington his plans for a standing conference of worldwide Centre-Left parties, no one was more happy than the director of the LSE. Insiders now regard it as a 'shoe-in' for the school to act as resident host. Gid- dens's strategy has paid off.

The planning has been impeccable. Since taking over, Giddens has attracted the cream of Centre-Left academia. Stephen Nickell, one of Oxford's most dis- tinguished economists, has joined as pro- fessor of economics; the former Thatcher- ite, and now slightly confused social demo- crat, John Gray, has also left Oxford • to become professor of something called `European thought% and Linda Colley, a historian who has been helping Labour behind the scenes on devolution and national identity, will leave Yale in July for the LSE's Holborn site. Perry Ander- son, the old New Left political philoso- pher, is giving up California to take up the Ralph Miliband professorship, and Ulrich Beck, the leading German sociologist, is to become a visiting fellow.

Many of Clinton's favourite academics have also been purloined to join the Cru- sade of the Third Way. Oliver Hart, the Harvard economist, Kenneth Sepsle, the political scientist, and Richard Sennett, the United States's leading urban sociologist, are all on their way. Never one to be left out, David Puttnam has managed to climb aboard as visiting professor of media and communications.

Giddens has been host to a number of events intended to promote the LSE's return to the intellectual centre of things. In March of last year, the Blairite think- tank Nexus held their pre-election confer- ence, fascistically entitled 'Passing the Torch', at the school. It was a who's who of Centre-Left politics — from the bigwigs (or big Whigs) Jenkins and Blair to the usual suspects such as Will Hutton and Polly Toynbee. Nostalgic alumni wandered the corridors wondering if the LSE would once again usher in the new dawn.

Giddens is open about his aims. He wants a new breed of 'public intellectuals' speaking to a wider, non-academic commu- nity. Perry Anderson too wants the LSE to be the 'crucible' for the new agenda. John Gray is keen to see the LSE as a 'pivot' in Blair's project. The LSE's student body seems equally enthusiastic to share in New Britain. Or, as their student newspaper put it, 'We're giddy for Giddens.'

However, Giddens himself has been careful not to drive out the LSE's strong strand of conservative thinking. And just as Lash and Tawney were obliged to put up with the fiercely laissez-faire Hayek, so both Alan Sked, the historian and UK Indepen- dence party campaigner, and John Barnes, the politics lecturer and Conservative thinker, pursue 'off-message' thoughts.

Whether Giddens will be able to achieve the same synergy the LSE enjoyed in the 1930s or late 1970s remains to be seen. What is certain is that prominent American academics need more than just a seat on the Social Exclusion Unit to keep them in town. Serious academics need serious money. And many in the LSE fear the gov- ernment's introduction of tuition fees could hurt funding by alienating the school's tra- ditionally large contingent of mature stu- dents. Giddens has attempted to head off the threat by hiring the former Labour party fund-raiser, Dr Henry Druckez.

Ralf Dahrendorf, the historian and for- mer director of the LSE, wrote that Harold Lash 'influenced at least two generations of students, British, Indian, American, and others, many of whom became the stan- dard-bearers of the social democratic age'. Tony Giddens would no doubt like the same eulogy to be paid to him one day. For as Lash also pointed out in his inaugural lecture, while it might not have been his intention to create a body of disciples, 'that does not, of course, mean that in the expo- sition of political philosophy it is one's business to pretend to impartiality'.