MPs' heinous abuse of privileged position

June 2, 2011

During the Commons debate on human trafficking on 18 May 2011, Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham, 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 Mactaggart, MP for Slough, agreed, accusing Phillips of holding "nauseating views on that issue".

The ineptitude of this exchange - which is now for ever on the official Hansard 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 MPs 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 in order to traduce the reputation of a teacher of political theory is a dereliction of office.

Richard Bellamy, University College London; David Owen, University of Southampton; Michael Freeden, University of Oxford; Christopher Brooke, University of Cambridge; Marc Stears, University of Oxford; and 59 members and supporters of the Britain and Ireland Association for Political Thought:

Simon Caney, University of Oxford

Stuart White, University of Oxford

Aletta Norval, University of Essex

Iain Hampsher-Monk, University of Exeter

Thom Brooks, Newcastle University

Raia Prokhovnik, The Open University

Chris Brown, London School of Economics

Bonnie Honig, Northwestern University

Nicola Lacey, University of Oxford

Elizabeth Frazer, University of Oxford

Martin O'Neill, University of York

Tim Hayward, University of Edinburgh

Mark Philp, University of Oxford

Albert Weale, University College London

Kimberly Hutchings, London School of Economics

Kenneth Macdonald, University of Oxford

Chandran Kukathas, London School of Economics

Hillel Steiner, universities of Manchester and Salford

Christopher Bertram, University of Bristol

Paul Kelly, London School of Economics

Jules Townshend, Manchester Metropolitan University

Emily Jackson, London School of Economics

Gary Browning, Oxford Brookes University

Adrian Blau, University of Manchester

Russell Keat, University of Edinburgh

David Leopold, University of Oxford

Katrin Flikschuh, London School of Economics

Cecile Laborde, University College London

Engin Isin, The Open University

Dario Castiglione, University of Exeter

Clare Hemmings, London School of Economics

Christian List, London School of Economics

Evangelia Sembou, Political Studies Association

David Miller, University of Oxford

Wendy Stokes, London Metropolitan University

Ruth Kinna, Loughborough University

Joni Lovenduski, Birkbeck, University of London

Moya Lloyd, Loughborough University

Cecile Fabre, University of Oxford

Adam Swift, University of Oxford

Vincent Geoghegan, Queen's University Belfast

Jennifer Hornsby, Birkbeck, University of London

Lynn Dobson, University of Edinburgh

David Howarth, University of Essex

Reidar Maliks, University of Oxford

Nicholas Southwood, University of Oxford

Jeremy Jennings, Queen Mary, University of London

Miranda Fricker, Birkbeck, University of London

Reidar Maliks, University of Oxford

Nicholas Baigent, Graz University, Austria

Michael Otsuka, University College London

Susan Mendus, University of York

Robert Jubb, University College London

Duncan Kelly, University of Cambridge

Matthew Kramer, University of Cambridge

Jonathan Quong, University of Manchester

Annabel Lever, University of Geneva, Switzerland

Thomas Jacobi, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Veronique Munoz-Darde, University College London

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