Libby Purves starts with the hurricane of 20 years ago and ends with a parable.
When things are wrong there are certain necessary actions: safeguard life, reduce immediate harm, put the tiles back. After that you stop and think. Are there promising undergrowths yearning towards the new light? Would a bit of light judicious weeding help them to grow, rather than ploughing everything in and sowing new seed according to a Grand Plan? Do tidiness and symmetry really matter? Might the debris of the past fertilise future growth?
She is marking out here the rather hazy dividing line between the conservative and progressive minds. In fact, most people, parties and politicians are neither entirely one or the other. This is a good thing. The consequences of a too rigid adherence to either are often devastating.
On the one hand, you have the attitude that says, "As it was, so shall it always be". The most visible banners of this camp fly these days from the Middle East. On the other, there are the disasters of the 20th Century utopias in which the bureaucrats would plot the Big Solutions for the future from the terra rasa upwards.
In this country, we are more fortunate in that most people have a foot in both camps and the consequences, either good or bad, are rarely widespread. However, for some time now, the Big Solutions foot has trodden more heavily than the other. The cry of "What's the government going to do about it?" is heard daily, and New Labour always has an answer. Libby Perves gives this example:
“Reading Recovery” (RR), an intensive programme for slow readers at 6, had worked in New Zealand and was piloted here in the early Nineties, studies showing rapid improvement within weeks. It was due to become universal but in 1995 the Conservative Government pulled the plug on its funding and designed its own National Literacy Strategy, focusing not on the worst readers but on all children – whether they needed it or not.
Evidence shows that this works far less well, particularly for those in most need. In 1997 Labour looked at bringing back RR – having championed it in Opposition – but decided to refine the Literacy Hour instead. A limited RR now struggles on, scratching the surface, and teachers trained in it can’t get posts. Thus a promising shoot is trampled by the restless boot of innovation.
It's one of many. Now Gordon Brown is told that he has to project a vision, show that the government is not tired, innovate. Nothing wrong with that; it's just that the "vision" always involves the government doing more, never less. I'm waiting for the day that a minister, put on the spot by John Humphrys with his "What are you going to do about it?" actually has the nerve to say, "Nothing. It'll resolve itself".