Thinker's Corner

Exploiting Renewable Energy in London: an overview of renewable energy technologies (London Research Centre, 81 Black Prince Road, London SE1 7SZ, 0171-787 5500, £15) by David Bartholomew aims to show how cities can exploit renewable energy resources. The report hopes to remove barriers to their use and encourage more informed attitudes in local government and the private sector. Sections assess in turn passive solar design, photovoltaic power, active solar design, landfill gas, energy from solid waste and fuel crops, sewage sludge and wind energy. Cities will have to be involved if the government is to reach its target of generating 10 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, for at present London itself uses more primary energy than Denmark, Ireland or Greece.

Before Beveridge: welfare before the welfare state (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2 Lord North Street, London SW1P 3LB, 0171-799 3745, £8.60), edited by David Gladstone, looks at how services were organised in the years before the postwar welfare state in the context of the current interest in welfare reform. The transition from the 19th-century poor law to Beveridge was not a simple "triumph of collectivism over individualism". A whole variety of sources provided services within a "mixed economy of welfare" and the state was only one element. A hundred years ago no one would have predicted a centralised and bureaucratic welfare state. If this is to be abandoned, it is suggested that we may return to the previous system.

Liberal Democrats and the Third Way (Centre for Reform, Dean Bradley House, 52 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF, 0171-222 5121, Paper No 4, £8) by William Wallace and Neil Stockley argues for those hard choices which, it claims, new Labour's Third Way has defined out of existence, and for open democracy, dissent and dialogue. Liberal Democrats should advocate social citizenship, liberty based on unconditional rights, internationalism and a central role for environmentalism. "Creative government action is necessary to tackle problems where the market fails." The report is put forward as a challenge to centre-right Conservatives to engage in the Third Way debate, but the editor, Richard Grayson, concludes that it would be "difficult to see whether many senior figures in the Conservative Party would be interested in such a dialogue with Liberal Democrats". Indeed, Lord Wallace comments: "We should not worry if we sound more 'left wing' than Labour."

This article first appeared in the 15 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, A slight and delicate minister?