The View From Here

There should be a Kennedy Scholar in every Cabinet
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Just as the government was changing hands from Conservative to Labour in 1964, an arrangement was put into place with the agreement of all the UK political parties to create a permanent memorial to the assassinated President John F Kennedy. It took two forms: a prime piece of UK soil rich in the compost of history (a swathe of hill above Runnymede on which the JFK memorial stands - land given by Act of Parliament to the people of the United States); and a human memorial, annually replenished, in the shape of around 10 Kennedy Scholars a year sent to Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To my intense and continuing pleasure and pride, I went as a Kennedy Scholar to Harvard in 1971-72. And, again, to my intense pride and pleasure, I now chair the Kennedy Memorial Trustees who select the scholars and ensure the maintenance of the Runnymede bequest.

Last month, while on a visit to the current scholars in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I conducted a swift audit on the Kennedy Scholars who will, in one way or another, be involved in tomorrow's events should the possession of the state change hands. In its way, it's an intriguing test of the purposes of the UK memorial to the President. For the scholars (of whom there have been 325 since 1966) should be well represented where politics and administration meet - classic JFK terrain.

They are. Thanks to the recent updating of the Kennedy Scholars' Directory by the Trust's administrator, Anna Mason, I was able last month to outline tomorrow's likely scene to the current scholars and to a group of former ones who met at a reunion reception in the World Bank in Washington (where there is a shining cluster of them, both in the Bank and at the International Monetary Fund down the road).

For me there should always be a Kennedy Scholar around the Cabinet table. That is taken care of. Should William Waldegrave be dispatched to the Opposition benches, Chris Smith will be in the Cabinet room of a future Thursday morning. We have both the policy advisers to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in David Miliband and Ed Balls respectively.

As for Whitehall, the permanent government, it is as you would expect stiff with former Kennedy Scholars. If today's vote goes the way it is almost universally expected to, one of ours, Moira Wallace, the Economics Private Secretary, in Number 10, will be taking part in that singular ritual whereby the Private Office lines up to clap Mr Major off at about two as he leaves for the Palace to resign - with but an hour's gap before they welcome in Mr Blair fresh from "kissing hands" with the Queen.

Broaden your gaze and you will see still more of our number - Una O'Brien, in the Prime Minister's Efficiency Unit, Ruth Kosmin heading up public sector pay in the Treasury and David Forrester in charge of further education and youth training at the Department of Education and Employment. And along the river in the City we have Mervyn King, chief economist at the Bank of England, a member of my own 1971-72 cohort, who sits with me as a trustee to find the cohorts still to come.

We may not quite amount to a British equivalent of the legendary French Emarquies - but we're getting there. At the World Bank reception last month I told Senator Kennedy that I thought his brother would be pleased. He agreed and went on to address us in immensely warm terms about how much the scholars meant to him and his family.

And it is the scholars who make the British memorial to JFK so special (other countries, like us, dedicated beautiful bits of countryside but no other nation coupled land with people). Lords Harlech, Franks and Sherfield, the Trust's founding fathers, got it absolutely right 33 years agon

Peter Hennessy is Professor of Contemporary History at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London and Gresham Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London.

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