29 JANUARY 1965, Page 6

Political Commentary

The New Model Educator


MR. HAROLD WILSON'S famous first reshuffle has taken place in circumstances less auspicious than were originally hoped for. Yet the changes he has carried out are highly interest- ing; and, granted that they were made under duress, they are also impressive. The promotion of Mr. Michael Stewart, of course, is, not altogether a surprise: he is one of the few ministers (Mr. Douglas Houghton is another) who Mr. Wilson considers could take on any Cabinet post and perform effectively. But what of Mr. Stewart's successor at the Ministry of Educa- tion, Mr. Anthony Crosland? This is a much more adventurous appointment. He is probably the first Minister of Education who, on assuming office, has been photographed with a drink in one hand and a cigar (admittedly a small one) in the other. How different from us, as Miss Beale or Miss Buss might have observed.

Whatever else may be said of Crosland, he cannot be described as a safe man. For one thing, he has written extensively and lucidly on the theory of modern socialism (something that pro- vokes the instant suspicion both of civil servants and of hardened professional politicians). Im- mediately after the death of Hugh Gaitskell, again, he was probably the most outspoken opponent of Mr. Wilson's leadership. And inside the Labour Party Crosland brings out fierce antagonisms and equally fierce loyalties. It is worth asking why in the past he aroused the hostility he did. Some years ago a 'profile' of a quite staggering unpleasantness appeared in a weekly journal. Though anonymous, it was in fact the handiwork of a fellow Labour MP. Even allowing for the comradely back-stabbings which from time to time enliven the passing scene in the parliamentary Labour Party, the piece was per- haps excessive. Why should one Labour MP attack another in this way?

The first answer which Imight be given is that Crosland is arrogant. And in a way it is easy to see what people mean when they accuse him of this. The figure is tall; the expression can be haughty; the eyes always look faintly amused. Moreover, if Crosland believes that someone is talking nonsense he says so. But is it not too simple to call this arrogance? Could it be that other, more estimable qualities are at work? The key to Crosland's character, in so far as any character has a key, is an honesty which he occasionally pushes to reckless extremes. He is rather like the Regency peer who acquired a reputation for eccentricity by saying whatever he happened to be thinking at the moment. Together

with this honesty goes his belief in equality, a belief which he actually puts into practice. The consequences are sometimes awkward. He does not defer to the great—he could be very rough with Gaitskell. Nor, on the other hand, does he make concessions to those less gifted than him- self. He treats people as if they really were equal. Talk to Crosland and he listens to what you are saying. If he disagrees he will say so. This may be tactlessness : but it is hardly arrogance.

The other charge which is sometimes made against him is that his socialism has a dilettante quality. The word 'playboy' used occasionally to be heard muttered in the parliamentary under- world. It is difficult to know why this myth persisted for so long. For while his friend Mr. Roy Jenkins (to whom he is often, and mis- takenly, compared) is not averse to conventional society, Crosland is bored by it. He dislikes dinner-parties. He refuses to wear a dinner- jacket. His friends are mostly economists, sociologists and Labour MPs; one of the few Conservatives (or 'Tories' as he persistently calls them) for whom he has any time is Sir Edward Boyle; Indeed, he can become quite irrationally heated about Tories. 'Let's get away,' he has been heard to say in a bar, 'from those awful Tory voices.'

Nor is it quite accurate to say that Crosland is an anti-puritan. He is a libertarian, which is another matter entirely. 'While a puritan govern- ment of one's own life is admirable,' he once wrote, `a pharisaical attitude to the lives of others Anthony Crosland is revolting.' His parents, it should be noted, were members of the Plymouth Brethren. His father, a civil servant, refused a knighthood; and at Highgate School Crosland was not enrolled in the Corps (though later, in the war, he served in an airborne regiment). This extreme noncon- formist background, though its theology has been discarded, has left Crosland a legacy of self- questioning about right and wrong. In the sense that he continually examines his own conscience —generally over such mundane subjects as whether he is working hard enough—he is very much a puritan.

If the charge of being dilettante falls down when applied to Crosland's personal life, it is absurd when applied to his work. A classic like The Future of Socialism could not have been produced by anyone who was frivolous. Re-read- ing this book, which was first published in 1956, it is astonishing how well most of the doctrines have worn. Socialism in Britain was to be brought about by an increased rate of growth (which, by raising the general level of prosperity, would lessen the gap between the well-off and the poor). It was to be brought about by redistribution through taxation. Above all, it was to be brought about by a reform of the educational system. Indeed the heart of the whole work was the con- viction that a large private educational sector was the greatest single obstacle to social equality.

Crosland proposes that the public schools should, if possible by agreement, take a high proportion of non-fee-paying pupils. A variety of tests would be applied to entry. There should be no educa- tional elite. At the same time comprehensive schools would gradually be introduced; though it is interesting that Crosland, unlike many Labour educationalists, has always insisted that the growth of comprehensive schools should accompany, and not precede, a reform of the public schools.

Whether these changes are in fact carried out remains to be seen. Certainly Crosland has the advantage that he knows what he wants to do, and why. There are, however, two doubts. The first concerns Crosland's political .toughness. Though intellectually he is tough (using that word in its normal sense, and not in the sense given to it by Professor Eysenck), though he is also courageous, he is basically a sensitive and vul- nerable man. At the moment the signs are that certain sections of the press, led by The Times, are preparing an offensive against the introduc- tion of comprehensive schools. The Minister of Education is bound to be in the thick of the fight. Crosland, of course, likes controversy; he is an extremely effective debater; but this is rather different from being the subject of attack, day in and day out, both by the press and by the Con- servative Party.

Then there is the question whether he can attune himself to the long and sometimes tedious negotiations in which a Minister of Education is inevitably involved. For the Ministry of Educa- tion is, to a greater extent than most, a pressure- group Ministry. It has to deal with the local authorities, with the NUT, with the various fringe unions, with a host of interested and worthy bodies. The teachers are an extra- ordinarily touchy race: the views of the pro- fession must always be taken into account. But Crosland, though he can be recklessly honest, is not dictatorial; and there is no reason why he should not secure the goodwill of the unions and the local authorities. If he can do this, and if he can at the same time stand the criticism that is coming, he has the opportunity to be the most influential Minister of Education since Mr. R. A. Butler.