[Colleagues in the United States are used to the phenomenon where academic lectures and reading lists get pored over by Republican politicians and “operatives” keen to undermine academic freedom and redbait intellectuals. But it is sad and shocking that in the UK, Denis MacShane MP, who was elected to Parliament as a Labour Party candidate, has recently indulged in the same kind of thing. The Association of Political Thought has now issued a statement about MacShane’s behaviour and it is to be hoped that he now does the right thing, and issues a full apology to the scholar concerned, Anne Phillips. I was very pleased to be able to add my name to the list of signatories. CB ]

Denis MacShane and the LSE reading list: a statement from the Association of Political Thought

During the debate on Human Trafficking on 18 May 2011 (Hansard Col 94WH) Denis MacShane MP, quoting from the list of essay titles for an academic political theory course at the London School of Economics, accused a distinguished professor, Anne Phillips FBA, of being unable to tell the difference between waged work and prostitution, and of filling the minds of students ‘with poisonous drivel’. Fiona McTaggart MP agreed, accusing Phillips of holding ‘frankly nauseating views on that issue’. 

The ineptitude of this exchange – which is now forever on the official record – is extraordinary. Students are asked why we should distinguish between the sale of one’s labour and the sale or letting of one’s body. That condones neither the latter nor the former. It encourages students to reflect on how to draw an important line between things appropriate and things inappropriate for market exchange.  Asking such questions, far from being ‘nauseating’, is central to public debate about policy and legislation.  If Members of Parliament cannot tell the difference between an essay problem and an assertion of belief how can we trust them to legislate effectively?

Parliamentary debate is a cornerstone of our constitution and political culture. However, using the privilege of a Parliamentary platform ignorantly to traduce the reputation of a teacher of political theory is a dereliction of office.

[signatories below the fold.]
[click to continue…]