Obituary for Professor Ken Young

kenyoungProfessor Bleddyn Davies, co-founder with Ken Young of Policy & Politics, pays tribute to his former colleague and friend in celebration of his life and work.

Our idea of establishing a journal emerged when Ken and I were members of the Greater London Group.  By that time, the group’s focus was research for the Royal Commission on Local Government in England.  Ken, Andrew Barton and I collaborated in work published by the Commission in Local Government in South-East England, the first in its research studies series.  The contacts continued, Janet Lewis (in effect the third founder of Policy & Politics) becoming increasingly involved.  But what I associate the early history involving Ken and Policy & Politics were meals, networking, and Ken getting himself to the right place at the right time. 

First the more scrumptious of the meals. I am not just thinking about the annual meetings of our Board (‘advisory committee’), always accompanied by a meal at the Reform Club or Rules in Covent Garden.  The idea of establishing a journal became real after an extraordinary dinner at the Reform Club hosted by John Maddox, head of Macmillan’s Journals, the editor under whose guidance Nature attained its pre-eminence in its field.  There were equal numbers of younger academics from a range of social sciences and leading older academics.  Each younger academic was placed between two of the older ones.  We younger academics had little idea why we were there, but the conversation was about the potential contribution of social science in our areas to policy and society and how it could be improved.  As dessert was about to be served, John Maddox tapped his glass for silence.  He told us that he was considering establishing a new journal to help social science contribute to policy and social development, and that one of us younger academics would be offered the chance to take on the editorship.  We were each asked to speak for five minutes about its focus and goals.  The vague ideas I had worked on with Ken and Janet were the ones which had gained most acceptance.  No doubt the historical timing was right. There was a strong belief in the potential of modernised local government.  Many national politicians were conscious of the destructive effects of inequalities in life chances and wellbeing in pre-War Britain and the government was committed to achieving greater equality.  The focus which we had in mind for a journal was broad but clear.

Then were the meals to build interest among those who would help us.  There was the meal with James Cornford in the Edinburgh Staff Club with the fascinating – and entirely appropriate – history.  But Ken’s gift for networking often over a meal was particularly influential in recruiting friends for the journal overseas.  Many made important contributions.  Particularly memorable was the lunch at the LSE with Elinor and Vince Ostrom.  Not many of the journals launched at that time in the younger social sciences had a Nobel prize-winner on their boards, one who was to become an author of two of its papers.  Ken did more than me to build the interest and involvement of eminent American scholars in politics and related fields: for example Doug Ashford, Edward Banfield, perhaps Terry Clark who contributed papers and edited a special issue, perhaps Carrolle Estes and Harry Specht.  Likewise there were recruits from Europe and elsewhere.

At no stage was Ken’s gift for getting to the right place at the right time more valuable than in setting up a home for Policy & Politics at Bristol. The Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) at the LSE and Universities of Kent and Manchester was still too young to provide sufficient resources itself, though there was a period when two of the 1972 generation of social or public policy journals were edited from there.  Bristol proved an ideal home.   Not only did Bristol mobilise the range of intellectual resources needed, it also contributed to a transition already under way before the move: the broadening from the original focus on local government and its services.  Policy & Politics was productively and safely occupying a wider and more important space long before there was any danger of what David Runciman was to call ‘the strange death of municipal England’.

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