EXPRESS CHECKOUT

Blair School of Gov’t at LSE?

Posted in Business + Economy, Philosophy + Education, Politics + Diplomacy by expresscheckout on 27 September, 2006

Blair and LSE

It’s a school of government. Already, there’s trouble
Ewen MacAskill
The Guardian
September 15, 2006

Tony Blair has often taken his lead from Washington during his premiership. As he contemplates retirement, his staff are again looking west, seeking inspiration from the example of American presidents.

At Harvard there is the John F Kennedy Institution. Bill Clinton has his own foundation. Now Tony Blair, it seems, could have his own “school of government”. According to academic and other sources, Jonathan Powell, the prime minister’s chief of staff, has been sounding out the London School of Economics about the establishment of such a new body.

With fewer than 12 months to go before Mr Blair has to vacate Downing Street, the prime minister is thinking hard about his retirement plans.

Too young to vacate the international stage, he is looking at the example of the former US president Bill Clinton who wrote a lucrative autobiography, established a Clinton Foundation to help the developing world – and makes extravagant amounts of money from speeches.

Academics involved in the LSE discussions, which have been going on for six months, say the proposed school would deal with foreign and domestic policy.

Civil servants and politicians could dip in and out of the school, and there would be research into various areas of policy. Other models cited are the US-based Brookings Institute and Carnegie Foundation.

Donations are been actively sought from various quarters, including Lord Sainsbury, the trade minister who has already paid millions in donations to the Labour party. The academic sources said there remained a question mark over whether Mr Blair would necessarily head it, but it would give him a platform to travel the world and remain engaged in politics.

Gordon Brown, assuming he succeeds Mr Blair, could watch with interest from No 10 as Mr Blair and former Downing Street colleagues lectured students on the pitfalls of government.

The proud slogan of the John F. Kennedy School of Government is “Preparing leaders for service to democratic societies, contribution to the solution of public problems”. In helping leaders to prepare for service, Mr Blair has many lessons to draw from. Lesson number one: avoid making political deals in north London Italian restaurants; lesson two, avoid putting a confrontational former tabloid reporter in charge of press relations; lesson three, avoid becoming too close to rightwing US presidents. And so on.

The response at the LSE was initially enthusiastic. But some academics question whether Mr Blair’s involvement would compromise the university’s independence. One said: “It would need to be de-Blairified before it could go ahead.” The fear is that the retired prime minister might come to be indentified too closely with the LSE.

The LSE has already played an important part in Mr Blair’s premiership; the LSE academic Anthony Giddens was the inspiration for the Third Way philosophy adopted by Mr Blair. But Downing Street’s discussions with the LSE about the school have been conducted mainly through professor Julian Le Grand, an LSE professor involved with social policy and other issues, who was a Downing Street policy adviser. Mr Powell has been suggested as head of the new school but if it was to get off the ground, the post would have to be advertised.

Both Downing Street and Howard Davies, the director of the LSE, last night denied knowledge of a Blair School of Government, even though it was confirmed off the record by various academics at the LSE.

One of those involved in the discussions said it was still a “tender shoot” and feared that premature publicity might kill it off.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The government has no plans to start up a school of government with the LSE. We have a cabinet office school of government.”

But what about after Mr Blair and those around him retire? The spokesman said he spoke only for people in government, not after they left.

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