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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Kwasi Kwarteng reportedly vetoed appointment of leftwing academic

Kwasi Kwarteng reportedly vetoed appointment of leftwing academic

Oxford professor Jonathan Michie was selected by an independent panel to be chair of a government-funded research body

The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, reportedly blocked the appointment of a leading academic to run a £200m economic research body because he was allegedly considered too leftwing.

Jonathan Michie, the president of Oxford University’s Kellogg College and a professor of innovation and knowledge exchange, was selected by an independent selection panel to be executive chair of the government-funded Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), reports the Financial Times.

But last month Michie, who was awarded an OBE for services to education this year, was reportedly vetoed by Kwarteng, who has restarted the selection process, infuriating academics who fear the body becoming politicised, according to the newspaper.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said none of the candidates were “deemed suitable”.

A BEIS spokesperson 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.”

Boris Johnson’s government has been accused of stoking culture wars, attacking so-called “woke” culture and attempting to stifle debate at cultural institutions.

A Kwarteng ally told the FT that the business secretary feared that Michie, who has connections to the circle of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, had previously been a member of the Communist party. Another reportedly said the business secretary was concerned about ESRC impartiality under Michie’s leadership and “what sort of research” it would finance.

Michie did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

A person who knows him told the FT that Michie did not belong to any political party. Another reportedly said he did not hold extreme political views and has a history of being strictly non-political in academic roles over 30 years.

In 1989 Michie wrote a book, Beyond the Casino Economy, with Seumas Milne, an old university friend and Corbyn’s former head of communications.

The ESRC receives more than £200m a year of government funding for academic research in the social sciences.

A spokesperson for the ESRC declined to comment, saying appointments are dealt with by BEIS. But they confirmed that the council has been led by an interim executive chair, Alison Park, since January last year.

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