Apr 19 2017

Emeritus Professor George Jones

It is with great sadness that we announce George Jones, Emeritus Professor of Government, died on Friday 14 April 2017.

George Jones was a stalwart of the Department of Government for over 50 years, having arrived at LSE as a lecturer from the University of Leeds in 1966, and remaining active – teaching on GV311 during 2016-17 while attending seminars and other events until the week of his death. His work concentrated on the office of Prime Minister, the Cabinet and, particularly, local government. He believed in intellectual integrity and the straightforward expression of ideas – he would, on occasion, describe someone as a ‘simplifier’ of a particular complex field. He was such a simplifier himself. In 2009, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the School.

His doctorate was about the borough politics of his home town, Wolverhampton, published as Borough Politics. His intense interest in politics and the interaction between the personal and the political led him to write, with Bernard (now Lord) Donoughue Herbert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (London Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973) which was re-issued with a foreword by Morrison’s grandson Peter Mandelson in 2001.  He much admired Morrison’s approach to politics and government.

He wrote about advising the Prime Minister and Cabinet with Michael Lee and June Burnham in At the Centre of Whitehall (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); and edited a study of prime ministers entitled West European Prime Ministers (London: Frank Cass, 1991). He was author of the first study of the private secretaries of prime ministers in “The Prime Ministers’ Secretaries: Politicians or Administrators?” which was published in From Politics to Administration, J.G. Griffith (ed.), (London: Allen and Unwin, 1975). In 2013, he wrote (with Andrew Blick) At Power’s Elbow: Aides to the Prime Minister from Robert Walpole to David Cameron (London: Biteback Publishing, 2013).  In all of this, he enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of politics, including insiders’ insights and the easy familiarity within the confines of Whitehall.

George was a critical friend to the UK’s traditional Westminster system, believing in two party politics, vigorous Parliamentary debate, and offering voters clear choices. But he was a dogged critic too of uncorrected defects in the model, especially the chronic over-centralisation of powers in Whitehall, the decline of Cabinet government and collective responsibility, and Labour’s periodic lurches into uncompetitive policy stances.

His final book, written with Steve Leach and John Stewart, Centralisation, Devolution and the Future of Local Government in England, will be published this summer. Its subject is entirely apt, because a concern for the autonomy and democratic protection of local government was a major element in George’s work throughout the period since he had sat on the Layfield Committee from 1974-76.  He and Professor John Stewart (University of Birmingham) were long-time co-authors of books and articles. For many years they co-wrote a column in Local Government Chronicle.

George was a fast, generous and precise editor. Chapters and articles would be turned around within a day or so, and he always delivered material on time.  He was also a mentor to younger colleagues and was never distant or grand. Latterly, he played Father Christmas at the School’s annual children’s party each December.

His teaching style was clear, authoritative and even combative. He provided an objective analysis of aspects of British government, but made it clear where his personal sympathies lay. He was not, for example, particularly keen on Parliamentary select committees, preferring the floor of the House of Commons as a forum for the exposition of politics and the achievement of accountability. Nor was he an enthusiast for directly-elected executive mayors, preferring more dispersed leadership.

In the years immediately before his retirement, he co-chaired the Greater London Group with Professor Derek Diamond of the Department of Geography.  Throughout his long career at LSE, he was responsible for sustaining the School’s study of London, having spent many hours in Monday afternoon seminars (held in room ‘A588’ as it was then called) led by the Group’s founder, Professor William Robson.  Robson was a protégé of Sidney and Beatrice Webb – thus, George was one of those colleagues who embodied a linear connection with the School’s founders.

He was also much involved with other academic institutions at home and abroad, notably the Institute of Local Government Studies at the University of Birmingham. Beyond universities, he sat on a number of committees and boards. He had been on the executive committee of the Royal Institute of Public Administration and in the 1990s was appointed to the National Consumer Council. He received an OBE for his work at the latter.

Outside work, he loved the cinema – Laurel and Hardy were a favourite. He was an expert on American film noir and Westerns, and kept a methodical record of films seen and his reviews of them.  He was also a keen reader of political biographies and diaries.

His presence at LSE seminars, in the SDR and at reunions will be much missed.

Professor Tony Travers
Director LSE London

(With acknowledgements to Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary)

 

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7 Responses to Emeritus Professor George Jones

  1. Martin Loughlin says:

    I first got to know George in the early 1980s in a campaigning rather than purely academic capacity as we worked with local government organisations in opposing the centralising reforms of the first Thatcher government. George then seemed to me a model of an engaged academic: passionate, clear-sighted, and able to deliver his message in simply, forthright, direct prose. I especially loved the way he used his bundle of index cards as prompts to ensure he kept to the point and didn’t waste a word: power points avant la lettre! After I joined the LSE in 1984, I also came to appreciate the depth of his knowledge of government as he steered the Greater London Group through an ‘interesting’ era in central-local government relations. Like Tony, I’ll greatly miss his pertinent – and often confrontational – contributions to discussions in seminars and over SDR lunches; to the end he remained as passionate and direct as when I first met him 35 years earlier. I offer deepest condolences to Diana and his family.

    • Raffaella Nanetti says:

      George was a dear friend and a mentor. I first met George in 1991 when I was visiting from Chicago. With my husband Robert Leonardi, then one of his colleagues in the Government Department, I was invited by George to lecture in his course. Our personal and academic friendship will last beyond 14 April 2017.

  2. Helen Roberts says:

    Over almost 40 years, I saw a side to George less evident in Tony’s account. This was George the family man. George was rightly proud of his wife Diana and his children Max and Becky – (and what is less common in academic chaps, he wasn’t afraid to show it.) He was a fortunate man and he knew it. I’ll miss our robust discussions, the banter and the stories.

  3. A number of things that I remember about George:

    (1) Tony is right to comment that George was authoritative and even combative. I remember when I presented my research on Britain’s repeal of the Corn Laws (the subject of the book that I had been finishing) at a department seminar, George challenged me by asking, “What has this book told us that we did not already know?” That question forced me to up my game to explain myself better in the conclusion (and indeed I even repeat George’s question in the concluding chapter, giving George full credit!).

    (2) He was a true leader in our department, but could be a menace in our meetings to review exam papers. Over the years, I could anticipate where he would challenge the wording of wayward questions, as George’s style was legendary. As for being a menace in these meetings, well, I found myself taking up George’s very objections when he was no longer to offer them himself. (Sometimes being a menace works!)

    I will, however, confess that I had no idea that he served as Father Christmas at the School’s annual party for the children of staff. My own children very fondly remember coming to this party when they were young. Indeed, my daughter is now a student in our department, and was heartened to find out that the kindly Father Christmas of years ago was none other than George Jones. He will be missed in so many ways.

  4. Francisco Panizza says:

    I knew George when I joined the LSE in the mid-1990s. For someone like me, coming from a different culture, he looked gruff and perhaps a little intimidating. I soon discovered beneath his appearance one of the kindest and most generous colleagues I have met throughout my academic career. He once got hold of a paper of mine and, without my asking, he thoroughly edited it. Nobody has done a better job since!

  5. Raenette Taljaard (Gottardo) says:

    Prof. Jones was my remarkable and memorable supervisor at LSE and played a great role in my decision to enter the South African Parliament as its then youngest female MP in 1999. He was always available for these intense conversations of what a life on the floor of the House would be like. I will never ever forget him and the impression he has left in the deepest intellectual tracts of my mind and in the lines of my life as a public servant.. My condolences to the Department of Government and all his treasured colleagues and to the School on the loss of a giant of a man.

  6. Jo Howey (Jocelyn Thomson) says:

    I was saddened to hear of the death of George Jones, but it was typical of him that he ‘died in harness’.
    As a student in the Govt. Dept. in 1975/6 George was my personal Tutor. I don’t know who arranged it, but we were about the same age, and I grew up within five miles of Wolverhampton, so we understood each other. We both had that Black Country approach – speak plainly, and keep everything in perspective, perhaps with a chuckle!
    Obviously, he was way above me academically, but his head was never ‘in the clouds’. I had many friends in local Govt. politics at that time, and I shared his ‘Borough Politics’ with them, which resulted in many interesting discussions. I grew to know The Fulton Report rather well! I really approved of his thoroughness in work, and the standard he expected from others; there was never any sloppiness allowed in thought, word or deed.
    One topic on which we did not agree was his passion for the Carry On films. He once told me, with shining eyes, that he had won a national competition to identify clips from all the films, and had therefore been able to spend the whole day on set with the actors.

    We lost touch until fairly recently, but sadly did not manage to arrange a meeting.
    Thank you for your example George.

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