Francis Beckett


The Evening Standard has a remarkably thoughtful and perspicacious columnist called Rosamund Urwin who last night wrote "...Francis Beckett in his brilliant new book, What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do for Us?, which is launched today." 

She added that I seemed horrified at my generation's legacy. '“We have squandered the good times,” he writes. “One half of the baby boomers was too busy to notice, and the other half too greedy to care.”'  She, like me, thinks the baby boomers poisoned the wells for subsequent generations.  She, unlike me, is far too young to be a baby boomer.

I read it while preparing myself to talk to 150 folk at the Royal Society of Arts, under the genial but quizzical chairmanship of Matthew Taylor. Taylor explained that at lunchtime he'd chaired Roger Scruton, who thinks Taylor is a left wing maniac; now he was chairing me, and I think he is a New Labour stooge.

Well, up to a point.  (I almost added "Lord Copper" there, out of slavish imitation.  I never quite understand why the addition of those two words is supposed to invest a utilitarian phrase with rarified intellectual wit.)  Scruton may think what he likes. I certainly think Matthew spent far more time working for Tony Blair than is good for anyone's soul or sanity, but he's not hopeless, by any means. 

The recovery has already started; he's rediscovering a sense of humour, and no longer bristles at the smallest criticism of the Blair legacy.

He wanted to know whether I'd accept that the Beveridge principles need updating for new circumstances and a new generation, and were never meant to deal with mass unemployment. 

And the short answer is no.  The Beveridge principles don't apply to one moment in history; they're a statement of how a civlised society should be.  You can tinker with the soft furnishings, but you can't touch the architecture.

And mostly, when people want to touch the architecture, they really mean that they think it all costs too much. Clement Attlee answered that one in Parliament, and his answer still stands:

Attlee gave it during the parliamentary debate on the National Insurance Bill:

 “The question is asked: can we afford it? Supposing the answer is no, what does that really mean? It really means that the sum total of the goods produced and the services rendered by the people of this country is not sufficient to provide for all our people at all times, the very modest  standard of life that is represented by the sums of money set out in the Second Schedule to this Bill.  I cannot believe that our national productivity is so low, that our willingness to work is so feeble, or that we can submit to the world that the masses of our people must be condemned to penury.”

That clear?