‘People don’t know how hard it is for them’ – Clarissa, Durham.
Ever heard of a council farm?
No, me neither. Today I find about these publicly-owned farms, and spend time with one farmer who introduces some of the difficulties facing farmers today.
I awake at the home of Clarissa, a leading academic at a nearby university. Her home is stuffed with intriguing books and scintillating Victoriana, and it’s a pleasure to spend time in this unique place filled with rich and hearty conversation.
Over breakfast we discuss the transformation of universities, and the type of work that happens in them. It’s a subject I have thought about in some depth, and it’s an opportunity to compare my own concerns, indicated below, with the observations of another.
The values of business management have infected great swathes of public life with devastating consequences. The values of public service, or research for the sake of knowledge, are under threat by the pusillanimous influx of overpaid managers determined to screw every last drop of productivity and impact out of their underlings. Though discussion within universities has focused on a unique experience of marketization, for instance by Andrew McGettigan or Martin McQuillan, I see a shared experience with primary and secondary teaching, local government, healthcare, and the civil service.
Governments of the last seventeen years have increasingly intervened in the basic operations of these social institutions. There has been a plethora of new laws, new priorities and new restructures that have each transformed, often in contrary ways, the daily running of hospitals, or schools, or local governments. This has been undertaken by individuals who largely have no practical experience and little knowledge of how these institutions work. Today we do not speak of MPs but politicians. It reflects a cultural and social homogeneity of elected representatives: largely white men, privately-educated, with a modicum of life experience as PR spinners, lawyers or hacks, before becoming professional politicians. Empathy, truth-telling and humility are early casualties in such occupations.