Monday, March 07, 2011

Worthy of Malvolio or Uriah Heep

Nick Cohen, Oxford graduate, basks in the schadenfreude of the resignation of the LSE's Howard Davies.

Yes, indeed, Davies was alone in taking money from the Libyan dictator. Never mind the often very good argument, "if he's going to give money away, better he gives it to us than someone worse." Or the other persuasive argument, "if Libyan students come here (to the LSE and the UK) perhaps they will return to Libya with broadened minds."

Libya: Lord Mandelson says Tony Blair was right to bring Gaddafi 'in from the cold'. Telegraph, nice pic of Tony Blair and the Colonel.

US brings Gaddafi in from the cold. Telegraph again, from 2004.

ANALYSIS: How Britain's Blair brought Gaddafi in from the cold
. From something called 'EarthTimes' but the copyright is Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Scapegoating much?

Nick's prose now reads like a parody of newspaper journalism.

Davies' successors will need to open all the windows and let fresh air blast in if they are to remove the sweet smell of corruption that hangs over what was -- until only yesterday -- one of Europe's great universities.

Surely the rot started earlier than the day before Nick wrote his post?


Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I cannot find precedent for the collapse in liberal and academic standards.

Indeed, British academia was once a byword for lack of prejudice. Ben Cross doing the Harold Abrahams thing. John Gielgud and Lindsay Anderson particularly fine. "A financier. What's that supposed to mean, I wonder?"

3/07/2011 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Off topic, but Nick's coblogger Mad Mel is now accusing David Miliband of anti-Israel bias.

Both Mel and Nick allude to the New Testament. Not sure this means anything, just an observation.

3/07/2011 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Never mind the often very good argument, "if he's going to give money away, better he gives it to us than someone worse." Or the other persuasive argument, "if Libyan students come here (to the LSE and the UK) perhaps they will return to Libya with broadened minds."

I don't find either of those arguments particularly persuasive, to be honest. I'd be rather more interested in the points that there's nothing particularly exceptional about a university taking money from a dubious individual, that there's not much merit in people who knew about it at the time getting all worked up about it when the bad guy finally runs out of time (i.e. there is an awful lot of humbug about) and that things like this are likely to become more common, rather than less. But "we take his money because somebody else will if we don't"? I'd have thought we could aim a little higher.

3/07/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Trebor Klapp said...

I was at the Cohen/Mandelson talk last night for London Jewish book week- incredibly dispiriting. Was reading Cruel Britannia and its almost impossible to imagine that books author tamely nodding while Lord Mandelson complains of Ed Miliband's being insufficiently New Labour. I asked about Mandelson's closeness to the Gadaffi family and Nick seemed very unarsed about pursuing this

3/07/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

This memo from Fred Halliday is worth reading. Going by what essays of his I've read Halliday was a fair minded principled guy.

"While I am in favour of British government and business attempts to develop links with Libya, and support LSE work that is of a consultancy and advisory character, and while encouraging personal contact with whatever Libyan officials we meet, I have repeatedly expressed reservations about formal educational and funding links with that country.. …

The most important issue of all is that of reputational risk to LSE. I have myself defended acceptance by the School of grants from some authoritarian countries (e.g. Arab Gulf states): but there should be clear limits on this, depending on the degree of political and human rights abuses perpetrated with them and on their ongoing foreign policy conduct. Here I would draw attention not just to the prevailing consensus in Whitehall and the City, which are now happy, for their own legitimate reasons, to do business with Libya, but to broader reputational concerns in regard to British and American public opinion, particularly with regard to Lockerbie."

"if he's going to give money away, better he gives it to us than someone worse"

A similar argument to "if we don't sell arms to him, someone else will."

3/07/2011 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Never mind the often very good argument, "if he's going to give money away, better he gives it to us than someone worse." Or the other persuasive argument, "if Libyan students come here (to the LSE and the UK) perhaps they will return to Libya with broadened minds."

A case for the second argument can be made in relation to some authoritarian regimes such as China. Huge numbers of Chinese students now spend extended periods in Britain and there is some interesting research looking at how the experience changes them. On an episde of PM last week a Chinese student remarked on how his experiences of studying in Britain had led him to see the Chinese government and its control of the media and free speech in a much more critical light. Other research has pointed to changes in student perceptions of gender relationships and attitudes towards the welfare state - both in a relatively progressive direction. When you consider that these students are children of the elites who are likley to be key opinion formers in the future I actually think that this is a process with some real positive benefits.

3/07/2011 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Following the links to Mandy/Blair/etc:

Never mind the often very good argument, "if he's going to give money away, better he gives it to us than someone worse."

am ith EJH on this in general. I don't approve, but it's very understandable in light of what New Labour did to universities, i.e. actively encourage them to find (very scarce) alternative funding and actively promote Libya whenever possible. In this instance I find it hard to believe the acceptance of this cash wasn't at least tacitly encouraged by New Labour. And as EJH says, it'll become even more common in future, given that a university like the LSE is going to have its entire teaching budget axed.

I love Nick's timelines on this, though. as you note, 'until only yesterday' implies tht somehow the gift was ok til Cohen wrote about it. Which rather undermines his frequent references to Fred Halliday whose memo was published in 2009. I wonder if Nick's going to suddenly discover the Said business school soon? or the Murdoch endowment? Both at his alma mater...

also, on halliday - his own publishers' blurb:

The burden of history is also invoked, as with the Palestinian-Israeli situation, the festering malaise at the heart of Middle Eastern consciousness and identity.

jew-obsessed! i predict a cohen condemnathon of this dead academic in the near future... (oh wait, he was all for the iraq war, so he's expempted)

3/07/2011 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

"oh wait, he was all for the iraq war, so he's expempted"
Halliday supported the 1991 Iraq war, but not the 2003 one.

3/07/2011 05:06:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

sorry, my bad.

3/07/2011 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OK, unlike many readers, I really do believe the "give it to us" argument is a good one. The only alternative, IMO, is sanctions where anyone who takes a regime's money is penalised. While anyone can, anyone should. I can see the moral argument for not taking the money; it just doesn't seem to be practical for universities to seek a higher moral ground than the government (which anyway supplies most of their funding).

Hooray, say I, for Chicken Yogurt.

3/08/2011 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The thing is, they didn't just take a donation, they really went for it in a big way. They weren't reluctant: they loved it, they couldn't get enough of it. They had absolutely no qualms or discretion.

Moreover, they acted like this while being very seriously warned off by a prominent and senior member of their own staff. Halliday's objection completely does for the LSE on this. You can't get a memo like that, steam ahead regardless because you're in the money, and then talk your ass out of that one. (And that's before we even got on to the question of whether academic standards were entirely upheld in re: Gaddafi fils.)

They behaved in a tawdry manner, it all went wrong, somebody has to resign. And rightly so.

3/08/2011 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Coventrian said...

Have a look at this...

3/08/2011 09:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with EJH: the LSE went overboard, they appear to have loved it, it went wrong so someone should get the chop. It raises questions about the behaviour of an academic institution and the only way to draw a line under that is for someone to resign.

However the risk is that we miss the bigger picture. The UK stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the USA over Iraq and the reward was that the UK was allowed to develop relations with Libya. The reward for foaming at the mouth over Saddam was shaking hands with someone who was just as monstrous. The whole story is an indication of just how desperate the UK state and business is.


3/09/2011 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Is there actually a proper real journalist -- as opposed to various flavours of pundit -- left remaining in the world of decency? David Rose, mortified, jumped ship long ago... and Hitch hasn't really gone in for more than one-off pig-picture magazine essays for years.

I ask because there's a basic element in journalism which decentist punditry -- by a kind Good Cop Bad Cop information policing -- omits: or rather, attempts to suppress. Let's call it A-Cop/B-Cop, since the good/bad element is a bit misleading in this context.

A real journalist may have all kinds of doubts about the info given him by a source: but he never simply moralises it away: villains don't just lie for the sake of it; no one, angel or nazi, acts merely disinterestedly. A source may be a very bad man indeed -- it depends on your beat -- but info is info: the proof is in the testing, the independent confirmation. A journalist untangles the various incompatible interests by weaving the story out of them.

Decent punditry heads for the imaginary high ground, and thus uses moralising as its primary filter: this info matches what this person is saying; a person who -- at another time -- said or did THIS bad thing. Because the person is morally bad, the info can be discarded. It is thus hunted off the radar of Grown-up Discussion. From our exalted tower of superior sensibility, we can instantly discern what we may then treat as irrelevant; effectively non-existent.

It operates in a kind of two-step. The "A Cop" issues a fatwa against someone, for Crimes Against Decent Political Correctness. Some foolish sentence or confused stance is highlighted, dissected and transformed -- not to say confected or distorted -- into a badge of shame.Chomsky, Robert Fisk, Juan Cole, Valerie Plame, the Lancet, Seamus Milne, Amnesty, Julian Assange... the lst has become long down the years, and impressively wide-ranging politically.

The "B Cop" then routinises the fatwa into a generalised anathema. Anything that resembles a claim made by any of these now UnPersons can be casually mocked and rejected, as unserious; as never having quite happened in the bien pensant arena. Thus to the claim he makes here: why oh why has no one discussed such things till now? By "no one", he means "no one who counts"; no one within a predefined circle as policed by -- often unnamed and referenced -- A-cop partners. Those who DID in fact speak of such things.

(Hitch is a very shrewd powerhouse A-Cop; Kamm too, as busy though far more conventional; Cohen is largely -- as here -- a rather shameless and lazy B-cop; Geras combines A and B: Aaro, writing Voodoo Histories, was supplying useful A-cop back-up for his normally B-cop column, and so on.)

I know there's two schools within decencywatch: one is that the subjects basically share an ideology, the other that decents are really quite disparate in political attitude, except for certain specific beliefs and practices. Certainly the apparent pluralism is a feature not a bug -- it disguises a narrowing of discourse as something guilelessly broad. Plus an element of deniability of co-ordination is also pretty important to the effectiveness of the two-step: their ability not to come across as a compact gang with narrow interests. The important thing is that they are careful never genuinely to fall out with one another -- when topics arise that MUST rankle, when one when writes a column that another KNOWS is half-cocked rubbish, they have really admirable, some would say creepy discipline.

3/14/2011 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

big-picture not pig-picture

and apologies for absurd length, i'm not usually quite so tim wilkinsonish

3/14/2011 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

oops that^^^ refers to a giant post presumably in moderation

3/14/2011 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Well maybe you should be. When, as here, the word-count is justified, anyway. Quimbimbulous stream-of-consciousness wittering obviously a different and deprecable matter.

3/14/2011 08:10:00 PM  

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