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Historians respond to the budget


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Erin Gill of Aberystwyth University and contributing editor to Environment Analyst warns the vehicle scrappage incentive could be a faux green measure:

"This is being presented by the Government as a 'green' measure, but there is a real risk that it will not deliver environmental improvement. What is needed is a 'transitional' shift in the types of cars people drive in the UK, similar to the shift that occurred in the 1960s and 70s when residential heating moved from coal to much cleaner oil and gas. This change in fuel source delivered rapid and significant improvements in air quality. If the vehicle scrappage incentive is environmentally as well as economically ambitious, the type of cars eligible for the incentive will be limited to those that are genuinely 'greener': those with small or hybrid engines and, hence, much lower emissions. History teaches us that very rapid environmental improvements are possible, but the vehicle scrappage incentive risks being a faux green measure."

Dr. Richard Toye of the University of Exeter evaluates Conservative leader David Cameron's claim that "all Labour governments run out of money":

"David Cameron's claim that Labour governments always run out of money should be taken with a pinch of salt. No modern government of any party has ever literally 'run out of money'; Britain came close to actual bankruptcy at the end of the Second World War, but was rescued by an American loan. Ramsay MacDonald's first Labour government fell in 1924 for reasons unrelated to the economy. Cameron may have a point in relation to MacDonald's second government. In 1931, a financial crisis caused a cabinet split and the fall of the government, although by today's standards the projected budget deficit at the time looks quite sustainable. When Clement Attlee's government fell in 1951 the economy was pretty healthy in comparison with 1945, but the Korean War was causing political and financial problems and Labour had split over the issue of NHS prescription charges. On Harold Wilson's 1964-70 government Cameron is not too far off the mark, given that financial crisis led to devaluation of sterling in 1967, but again, the economy was not doing too badly by 1970. On 1974-9 he does have a point, as the crisis of 1976 meant the government had to turn to the IMF for assistance, but recovery was underway within a couple of years after spending cuts were made. The Callaghan government was brought down by industrial action, not financial crisis – its problem was not that it was spending too much but that it insisted on tough pay restraint to control inflation. The question is not 'will Gordon Brown run out of money?', but 'can he find fresh reserves of confidence at the bank of public opinion?' "

H&P co-founder Professor Pat Thane comments on the announcement of improved pension rights for grandparents caring for grand-children:

"It is good to see some reward for older people who have suffered particularly from low interest rates on often hard-earned savings. Grandparents have always made a big contribution to caring for grandchildren; at last they are being noticed and rewarded. It is difficult to see though why only grandparents 'of working age' should be rewarded. 'Working age' is surely an outdated concept when it has long been recognised that unpaid work in the home, such as child-care is often demanding work, and when many older people past the conventional, if outdated, retirement age are fit and active and remain in paid work or care for grandchildren or still older relatives. History should not only remind us about the past, but tell us when to stop being trapped in the ideas of the past."

Dr. Fiona Kisby, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Winchester, discusses the implications of politicians' use of history for history teaching:

"During the Budget debate, Alistair Darling, David Cameron and Nick Clegg all invoked specific histories and versions of the past, which is a great way to stimulate a debate and, perhaps more controversially, reconstruct a present and envision a future. But their references to history draw attention to three issues concerning history education today: the wider importance of giving future citizens a good history education, what the definition of 'good history education' should be and why history should be an essential and perhaps even a core, compulsory subject on British curricula. One reason often used to justify the inclusion of history in school curricula is that it helps us learn lessons from the past - a laudable goal, which could have a major impact on the shape of the curriculum in schools. But when we see all three main political parties promoting particular versions of history to suit their own agendas, it begs the question 'what or whose history should we teach?' It will only be those trained to construct and understand historical arguments - not just memorize a fixed body of arbitrary knowledge - who will become the critical thinkers that are needed to make British democracy work in the twenty-first century."

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author.

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