James Cornford

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Biographical Information

James Cornford (died in 2011). "In 1976 he was appointed director of a policy unit created by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. He called it the Outer Circle policy unit, a name encapsulating both its location in Regent's Park, London, and its unconventional thinking about public policy. It studied the future of devolution, the NHS, taxation, the hidden economy, producers' co-operatives, quangos, nationality and, most notably, the Official Secrets Act and its replacement by an information act. After four years, he became director of the Nuffield Foundation, a grant-making charitable trust, where he cut costs by moving to a less prestigious address and rationalising its research programmes. The Campaign for Freedom of Information was at the forefront of his reforming zeal, and from 1984 to 1997 he was its chairman, working with its indefatigable director Maurice Frankel. It was an effective combination.

"As the first director (1989-94) of the newly formed Labour-leaning thinktank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, Cornford deployed his well-honed organisational skills and imaginative intellect to the full, applying them in a practical way to the policy formation of a future government. His deputy was Patricia Hewitt, and David Miliband was a researcher. Both became cabinet ministers, and the institute played an important part in the transformation of the Labour party that began under Neil Kinnock and was continued by John Smith and Tony Blair...

"After three years back in the world of grant-giving as director of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the advent of a Labour government in 1997 led to his appointment as an adviser to David Clark, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, with responsibility for constitutional reform... deeply influential were his early years spent in Totnes, Devon, with his socialist foster parents, Lil and Les Ramsden, and at Dartington Hall school, which had been set up by his guardian, Leonard Elmhirst. He was removed from the school at the age of eight when his grandmother discovered he had not yet learned to read or write, and he regarded it ever after as a paradise lost.

"From King's College choir school and Winchester college, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, as an exhibitioner and later senior scholar. He gained a first in history in 1958, and for the next six years undertook postgraduate work, both as a prize fellow at Trinity and as a Harkness fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, and at the University of Chicago.

"In 1964 Cornford was appointed lecturer in politics at Edinburgh University, and then, within four years, was catapulted into a professorship. It was a rapid translation, given that he had only one journal article and one chapter in a book to his credit, and had abandoned his doctorate. However, he had acquired a patron – the vice-chancellor and principal, Michael Swann, later Lord Swann.

"During the eight years' tenure of his chair, he wrote a further seven short pieces and edited two books that covered a range of subjects. This rather desultory published output meant that his earlier scholarly assiduity had been allowed to atrophy. He knew he could write scholarly works if he so chose, but was always drawn as much to practical action as study.

"Nonetheless, Cornford remained preoccupied with ideas, provided they had practical implications, and so enjoyed a long association with the Political Quarterly from 1976 to 1999, first as its literary editor and later as its chairman.

"He also threw himself into many university committees. These included student discipline, a delicate issue during the protests of the late 1960s. He contributed greatly to the work of the newly formed Social Science Research Council, where he joined forces with another Dartington alumnus, and an old friend and mentor, the council's first director, Michael Young, later Lord Young of Dartington. If Cornford had a patron in Swann, he had a role model in Young...

"In addition to reformist politics, Cornford worked tirelessly behind the scenes on many projects that combined idealism and practicality. He was chairman from the 1980s to the end of apartheid of the Southern African Advanced Education Project, which organised placements for ANC members in the UK to prepare them to take over the reins of power. He was also director and then chairman of Job Ownership Ltd, which promoted the cause of industrial co-ownership, and deputy director and then chair of trustees of Young's brainchild, the School for Social Entrepreneurs. In 1998 he returned to Dartington as trustee and later chair of Dartington Hall Trust. In all his endeavours, his kindness, humour and charm made him much loved by students, colleagues and friends..." [1]

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  1. Guardian James Cornford, organizational web page, accessed March 29, 2012.