You won't win, you can't speak

Dundee rector and by-election candidate was not invited to UCU debate. Melanie Newman reports

July 23, 2009

An outspoken university rector who is standing in a by-election has criticised the University and College Union after it failed to invite him to a hustings because it thought he had no chance of winning.

Craig Murray, rector of the University of Dundee and a prominent anti-war campaigner, is standing as an independent candidate in the Norwich North by-election on 23 July. The ballot was triggered by the resignation of Ian Gibson, a former member of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, after he was deselected by the Labour Party in the fallout from the MPs' expenses scandal.

Mr Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, said he was excluded from the UCU's education-focused debate earlier this month, unlike several of his rivals.

Matt Waddup, the UCU's national head of campaigns, told Mr Murray by email that only candidates "shown by our poll to have a chance of winning the seat" were invited. However, Mr Murray claims that the poll was conducted before the by-election was officially called and predates his candidature.

"Go to any bookmaker and I'm in the top four. The Lib Dems are not," he said.

A UCU spokesman said the hustings "was about forcing education to the top of the agenda of the political parties as they build for a general election. Craig Murray and the other independents will not be fielding candidates in the majority of seats at the general election. That is why none was invited," he said.

Mr Murray is a member of the university court at Dundee and represents the institution's students. He is also an honorary research fellow at the University of Lancaster.

He was dismissed from his post as ambassador in 2004 after accusing Uzbekistan's Karimov regime of human rights abuses. He has shared a platform with the UCU at numerous anti-war events since.

However, a union source said that a number of comments posted by Mr Murray on his website had not gone down well within the organisation.

In March, when it emerged that Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary, had made an expenses claim for a pornographic film watched by her husband, Mr Murray wrote: "If I were married to (her), I would probably watch a lot of porn, too."

He described making the same remark at a Stop the War conference, adding that "feminists" in the audience had objected.

"When I left I was harangued ... by a young woman who made Jacqui Smith look positively alluring," he wrote. "She told me I was a sexist disgrace. She seemed very proud of being the chair of Glasgow Stop the War. I expect it ... has a rapidly declining membership."

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