Government Whip Chris Heaton-Harris has sent a letter to all university vice chancellors asking for the names of academics lecturing on European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit. He also requested copies of all course material and access to online lectures:
This has led to all manner of hysterical allegations, from “sinister” and “idiotic Leninism” to “McCarthyite” and”Stalinist“. It was, to be frank, a bit crass to ask for a list of names of academics, not least because all politics lecturers are invariably listed on a university’s website, along with their subject specialisms and areas of academic interest. Further, these biographies usually boast a list of their distinguished research publications – it’s all already in the public realm: it’s simply a case of asking a researcher to do the trawling.
That said, the latent concern lurking behind Chris Heaton-Harris’s question isn’t without academic relevance. Consider, for example, Oxford University’s current series of lectures ‘Prime Ministers and Europe since Thatcher‘. Margaret Thatcher’s views on Europe will be expounded by Lord (Charles) Powell, her Foreign Affairs Private Secretary (and a Remainer); Gordon Brown’s views will be expounded by Lord (Stewart) Wood, his Special Adviser (and a Remainer); Tony Blair’s views will be expounded by Lord (Andrew) Adonis, his Head of Policy (and a Remainer); John Major’s views will be expounded by Lord (Chris) Patten, former Chairman of the Conservative Party (and a Remainer); David Cameron’s views will be expounded by Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK Permanent Representative to the European Union (and a Remainer); and Theresa May’s views on Europe will be expounded by… well, TBA… (but you can be sure it won’t be Bill Cash).
If you think this is irrelevant, you don’t understand the significance of academic bias or the imperative of conceptual frameworks. Of course, all academics are politically biased (because everyone is): the task of the academic is to be transparent about that bias and to ‘handle’ it. The list of speakers in this Oxford series of lectures were all chosen and invited by someone (or some two), and there you can be sure to find more Remainers.
You can also be sure that Lord Powell won’t be commenting on this letter of Lady Thatcher’s:
Or if he does, he’ll doubtless put it down to the early on-set of dementia (because, of course, had she been Prime Minister in 1992 and refused to sign the Maastricht Treaty, Brexit would probably have come 25 years earlier).
The paucity of Brexit academics is really a symptom of a much wider and more significant problem within academia – the absence of political balance within faculties where politics really matters (ie the Humanities, Social Sciences, Literature and interdisciplinary cultural studies). Universities will bend over backwards to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion when it comes to age, ethnicity, disability, sex/gender and sexuality. But political belief? University educationalists, theologians and political scientists lean overwhelmingly toward what may be considered a ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’ and ‘statist’ worldview (ie left-wing), deploying all the jargon and theories of leadership necessary to bolster their own positions and appoint their successors. The institutional bias becomes that of a self-perpetuating left-leaning elite, which is essentially pro-EU, anti-State, anti-individualist, socialist, federalist, ‘third way’, globalist and ecumenical. How many university review committees on, say, diversity and inclusion actually include an identifiable political/philosophical/theological/educational conservative?
How many Heads of House at Oxford support the Conservatives, or even manifest a conservative worldview?
Baroness Royall has just been appointed Principal of Somerville College (where Margaret Thatcher studied). She is a prominent supporter of the Labour Party. This follows Alan Rusbridger leaving the Guardian to run Lady Margaret Hall; Mark Damazer leaving BBC Radio 4 to run St Peter’s College; former Newsnight editor and Channel 4 executive Tim Gardam is Principal of St Anne’s College; ex-Guardian and Economist writer Frances Cairncross is Rector of Exeter College; ex-Observer editor Will Hutton is Principal of Hertford College; ex-BBC/IFS Andrew Dilnot is Warden at Nuffield College; Labour’s Baroness Kennedy is Principal of Mansfield, and her former student now LibDem peer Lord (Ken) MacDonald is Warden of Wadham.
How many prominent Conservatives ever become head of an Oxford college (notwithstanding that Lord Patten of Barnes is the current Chancellor, but you can be sure he wouldn’t have been appointed to that position if he had been a Brexiteer [or agitated to reverse the University’s 1985 decision not to award Margaret Thatcher an honorary doctorate]). You have to be a certain sort of Conservative to secure academic advancement, as The Lady illustrated when she divided the sheep from the goats:
So, let the vice chancellors shriek about the McCarthyism, Stalinism and Leninism represented by Chris Heaton-Harris’s innocuous letter; of how this odious Tory Brexiteer represents a clear and present danger to academic freedom and freedom of thought. And then let them explain why Conservatives (and conservatives) are so vastly outnumbered by liberal-left-leaning academics in all our universities, and why they are apparently oblivious to the real McCarthyist, Stalinist or Leninist implications of this for academic freedom.