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‘Cutting the Burden of the State’, by Sheila Lawlor

Cutting the Burden of the State

Sheila Lawlor

Tuesday 20th January 2012: Welcome to Politeia and to the new Director’s Blog. In it I’ll be following some of the events in Westminster which will shape this country, for better or worse. I and other Politeia authors, will highlight the twists and turns determining how we are all governed, now and in the future.

One battle, always at the heart of politics, is fought over the size of the state and how far it should intrude into people’s lives. Even during the darker days of the Second World War, British politicians saw freedom from the intrusive state and its officialdom as a liberty worth fighting for at home as they fought the Nazi threat overseas. Beveridge’s 1942 plan for a welfare state aimed for an individual insurance system which kept the government and its officials in their place. Though that aim was not realised, the popular aspiration remained alive and continues in the 21st century. It fuels suspicion of the EU and its Brussels machine; it encourages resistance to bureaucracy by the many victims of Whitehall’s targets and form filling; and it leads to popular scepticism about the political class.

Even from the Universities, long seen as free and successful institutions, and emulated worldwide, we hear of the dangers posed by over-regulation and state intrusion. Governments have been seen to interfere with admissions policies and research decisions. Many of the finest scholars and their institutions are stifled by rules and regulations and by the growing number of university managerial and administrative staff who liaise with their counterparts in Whitehall.

This week David Willetts gave Politeia’s Winter Address on The Future of the Universities. David is known to be a strong believer in free institutions and he made it clear that he looks on the universities as having played a central role in the transmission of knowledge and wisdom over centuries. Indeed he explained that the Coalition’s proposals for financing the universities aimed to put them on a sound financial footing.

Sound finances are one thing. Autonomy, to which David is also committed, is another.

Now is his chance to translate belief into action. If government is cutting university funding, it should also cut its intrusion.

*Dr Sheila Lawlor, Director of Politeia

Dr Sheila Lawlor

Dr Sheila Lawlor is Politeia’s Founder and Director of Research. Her background is as an academic historian of 20th century British political history, having started her working life as research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge. Her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and for Politeia she has written on social, economic and constitutional policy.

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