Kwarteng ‘vetoed appointment of Oxford college head to lead ESRC’

Business secretary reportedly concerned by Jonathan Michie’s ‘left-wing’ associations

二月 7, 2022
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The appointment of a leading academic to head the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council was vetoed by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, according to a report which said that the proposed candidate was considered too left-wing.

Jonathan Michie, president of Kellogg College, Oxford and professor of innovation and knowledge exchange, had been chosen as the ESRC’s next executive chair by an independent selection panel, the Financial Times reported.

However, Mr Kwarteng blocked the appointment and ordered the reopening of the selection process, the newspaper said.

According to its report, Mr Kwarteng was concerned by the suggestion that Professor Michie had once been a member of the Communist Party and had – in 1989 – co-authored a book with Seumas Milne, who was head of communications to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It quoted an ally of Mr Kwarteng as raising concerns about whether the ESRC would be politically impartial under Professor Michie’s leadership and “what sort of research” it might fund.

But Professor Michie is known not to be a member of any political party and to have avoided political interventions during his academic career.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “While the initial recruitment campaign returned a strong field of candidates, none were ultimately deemed suitable. Another campaign will start shortly with a view to attracting a wider range of candidates.”

The ESRC has been led for the past year by interim executive chair Alison Park, formerly professor of social research at UCL.

Mr Kwarteng’s intervention is likely to revive concern over the politicisation of key sector appointments under the Conservative government.

Last year a Tory peer, Lord Wharton of Yarm, was named as chair of the English higher education regulator, the Office for Students. The former MP, who led Boris Johnson’s party leadership campaign, declined to resign the Conservative whip in the House of Lords.

Prior to joining Oxford Professor Michie was director of Birmingham Business School and head of the School of Management and Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London.



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Reader's comments (1)

Everyone should refuse to be appointed to the ESRC