Thursday, 27 October 2011

If you want to make good policy, you have to understand your history


I'm always banging on about poor policy-making.

Think about its ubiquity. Overly sado-masochistic economic policy in the early 1980s? European Exchange Rate Mechanism debacle? Iraq War? Tuition fees foul-up? All good instances of where a historian might have helped. Respectively, experts on the Great Depression, British Governments' attempts to avoid devaluation between 1961 and 1967, the Suez Crisis (above) and inter-war health charging might have all said: er, don't do this. It'll go awry.

Whitehall and Westminster don't listen all the time. But they should.

Recently, historians have begun to sharpen up their act, and the History and Policy group at King's College London, with whom I am remotely associated, are a good example.

I could give you lots of examples of their work, but let me zero in on just a few.

Want to know why we'll need a fundamental overhaul of our politics, re-creating a sense of community and shared sacrifice, if we're to fight global warming? Read Mark Roodhouse of York on the 'blitz spirit' and wartime rationing.

Want to know why the Conservative Party in Scotland is unlikely to make a comeback, new name or no new name? Read David Torrance on the manner in which the Scottish Nationalists have (bizarrely) moved onto the intellectual ground the Unionists used to monopolise.

Want to understand the possible conditions under which the Euro could survive and, indeed, thrive? Read Richard Roberts of King's College London on the Austro-Hungarian currency union and the powerful central bank that made it work.

These are all examples of how history (and History) should guide decision-making. Have a good look round the site. Wouldn't it be better if Ministers browsed here before they acted?

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