The real case for public values – Tony Judt

If you’re desperate to rise above the clamour and confusion of the election campaign, read Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares The Land.” Or at least dip into the extract and reviews. The great US based British historian now quadriplegic from advanced motor neurone disease, calls for a revival of public values whose rejection led to the credit crash. The introduction to the book is memorable.

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose. We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth….

We cannot go on living like this. The little crash of 2008 was a reminder that unregulated capitalism is its own worst enemy: sooner or later it must fall prey to its own excesses and turn again to the state for rescue. But if we do no more than pick up the pieces and carry on as before, we can look forward to greater upheavals in years to come.  And yet we seem unable to co+nceive of alternatives. This too is something new.

 Although Judt is making a social democratic case on behalf of the benign State, former Tory chairman and NI minister Chris Patten is able to say:

While Judt is proudly a man of the left, with a romantic view of a world now gone, in which national solidarity and comradeship were underpinned by pre-Beeching railway lines, there is plenty in this marvellously written book that has an old-fashioned Tory like me nodding in enthusiastic agreement

 What a pity the party leaders are now on election auto-pilot. An hour with Judt would lift their sights and raise the level of debate.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London