The new director of the LSE provides intellectual legitimacy for Tony Blair's pick and mix politics-both men are attempting to transcend left and right. John Lloyd considers their respective journeys from the left to the radical centreby John Lloyd / April 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Anthony Giddens is the key intellectual figure of New Labour. This does not mean he is a philosopher at the court of King Tony: there is no such figure, beside the homely wisdom of Peter Mandelson. Rather, it means that his themes set a context within which New Labour thinking can operate.
At the same time, the logic of many of Giddens’ positions contradicts and runs against the practice of New Labour. In mapping out the new terrain, Giddens’ work seeks to show New Labour where to go, reveals how much its adaptation of socialism to social-ism is inevitable for a party seeking power, and defines some of the limits of what it has identified as its most urgent, albeit imprecise, task: the modernisation of Britain.
Giddens has spent all of his working life in academia, mostly in Cambridge, where he became professor of sociology and a fellow of King’s College. His output of books and articles has been immense: he has also founded and chaired Polity Press in association with the publishers Blackwell. Polity publishes a range of authors who might be loosely defined as the new political and social theorists.
In December, he was appointed director of the London School of Economics-a post which carries with it a heavy load of administrative work, which he attempts to minimise but which he already finds, three months into his tenure, is cutting into his own writing. As he began his new job, he received the accolade of a day-long conference at the Institute of Contemporary Arts dedicated to his work-a rare event for a living scholar. The choice of the venue shows how much his work is seen to intersect with a cultural agenda beyond academic sociology, more in tune with what remains of the new left, which itself intersects with New Labour, if uneasily.
He is a slightly built man with a mobile, humourous face, a pronounced London accent and a casual conversational and public speaking style, which comes as a a surprise after the density of his prose. He has none of the public gravitas of his best known predecessor at the LSE, Sir Ralf Dahrendorf, nor does he have the latter’s slate of public positions, although he may acquire some of this when Labour is in office. He is self-deprecating, ironic and elusive: when I put to him that one of his major themes was the…