Daily archives: April 27, 2007

Dundee University a Tool for New Labour?

I had been more than a little disconcerted by what I discovered of the administration of Dundee University since I became Rector two months ago. In particular, at my first University Court meeting, held the first working day after I took office, the University administration forced through the closure of undergraduate teaching in modern languages and in town planning, and adopted a five year framework of cuts. Accepting hypothetically that short term savings were necessary, I could not see the need for the immediate adoption of a five year programme before their Rector had even had time to read through the papers (which I received two hours before the meeting). Interestingly every academic and graduate representative on Court voted against the cuts, but they were rammed through by an array of co-opted members, who appeared without exception to be either businessmen or from the government’s educational administration establishment.

The atmosphere at the meeting really was an appalling bulldoze. I waited some time before catching the Chairman’s eye, and was astonished when, one minute into my first observation, the Chairman rudely interrupted me to allow the Principal to “Correct” me. This happened several times in the meeting, to me and to others. I wondered who this chairman could be – his name was John Milligan. More on that later.

In short, the Univeristy appeared to have come a long way from being the self-governing democratic community it is supposed to be. In the analysis given by the University administration of different academic departments, they were viewed solely in financial terms. Just what they cost and what they brought in. There was no mention of educational values or wider societal considerations.

It also was plain there was an inner group who were running things, and each subject was introduced with people primed to support. I was sitting close enough to the Chairman to note that while he acknowledged those wishing to speak and ostentiously was writing a list of names, he would vary the order of the list when he felt a need to influence the debate.

It was also plain, from numerous little indications, that this was not just a clique in charge, it was a New Labour clique. This became even more plain at my second Court meeting on Monday, when the Principal, Sir Alan Langlands, spoke of a recent visit to the Life Sciences Department by the vacuous Scottish First Minister, Jack McConell, in quite blatantly electoral terms.

(In Scottish parliamentary elections on 3 May the Labour Party looks set to lose political control of Scotland for the first time in fifty years).

I might have let that go, but for what followed. The University has been in discussions with the Victoria and Albert Museum about the possibility of opening a branch museum in Dundee. It is a wonderful idea – the V & A has vastly more than it can display, and it would bring jobs and tourists to Dundee.

However Sir Alan Langlands said to the Court that a public announcement would be likely to be made by Jack McConnell in the context of an election promise.

That really is too much. This has nothing to do with New Labour – the discussions have been between the University and the V&A. To try to use this University initiative to New Labour advantage is completely illegitimate. The University of course sits in Dundee West, a key Labour/SNP marginal. I therefore said at Court that the University needed to be careful to avoid identification with any political party.

I was still wondering who this Chairman of Court, John Milligan, was and how he had got the job. I have been a member of the University since 1977, and had not come across him. He is not a man who exudes the mores of higher education.

Then today all became clear. As’I am currently in Ekaterinburg, I saw it several days late, but I came across reports that one John Milligan, ex-Chairman of Atlantic Power, on the Sunday Times rich list, and (wait for it…) a high profile donor to the Labour Party, had organised and paid for an advertisement attacking the idea of Scottish Independence, signed by a lot of rich people, some of them very unpleasant indeed.



The move was widely reported to be inspired by Gordon Brown and timed to coincide with his electioneering breakfast in Edinburgh.

Among those who had signed for Milligan and Brown was the Principal of just one of Scotland’s thirteen universities. You guessed it, Milligan’s team-mate, Sir Alan Langlands of Dundee University.

As these two are so keen to help New Labour by entering into the hurly-burly of politics, let us treat them to some of the heat.

Alan Langlands has questions to answer. After retiring in August 2000 as Chief Executive of the NHS, in March 2001 he quickly reemerged as a Director of Patientline, the disgraced rip-off company which enjoys a monopoly of patient personal communications in the NHS. They charge the ill – who are disproportionately poor and elderly – 26p a minute to make a call and 49p a minute to recieve one. They also provide personal televisions at great cost, and, worst of all, have campaigned succesfully to have mobile phones, pay phones and communal TVs removed from hospitals. Langlands was a Director of Patientline when I was in Westminster Hospital for two months in Autumn 2003 and unable to talk to Nadira as Patientline phones won’t call, or receive from, Uzbekistan. He resigned in 2004.


Patientline is one of the most appalling examples of greed triumphing over the needs of ordinary people in Blair’s Britain. But for Langlands to move so quickly from heading the NHS which gave Patientline its monopoly, to the board of Patientline, is in my view of the world a disgrace which in a civilsed country ought to be be criminal. What do you think?

As for Milligan, we know the rewards that giving money to the Labour Party might bring. Who is to say that the chairmanship of a University is not that sort of carrot? The University is now sewn up very tight indeed, with all future appointments having to be initiated by a nomination committee of just six people, of whom Milligan and Langlands are two, and at least two others are from their “Trusty” circle. At the last committee it made two appointments – from amongst its six members.

This whole sorry tale of New Labour Croneyism is typical of much of Scotland, but relatively new in the University sector. I do hope that it causes a backlash of revulsion. I urge everybody with a vote to vote anything but Labour on May 3.

View with comments

Labour MPs join calls for anti-terrorism leaks inquiry

From The Independent

By Nigel Morris and Ben Russell

Politicians of all parties are racheting up the pressure for a criminal investigation into the leak of secret information about police anti-terror raids.

Labour MPs joined Conservative and Liberal Democrat demands for a full police inquiry as Downing Street conceded that detectives would have to act if further evidence emerged about the unauthorised briefing.

Peter Clarke, the country’s most senior anti-terror police officer, provoked uproar after he denounced “misguided individuals who betray confidences” about raids in Birmingham three months ago.

He opened a row over spin by suggesting that the culprits were trying to “squeeze out some short-term presentational advantage” by giving secret information. The Tories have seized on a report that an aide to John Reid was behind the leak…

View with comments

Called To Account: A review of the indictment of Tony Blair

‘The Indictment Of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair For The Crime Of Aggression Against Iraq – A Hearing’ is currently playing at the Tricylce Theatre, London. Nicholas de Jongh, reviews the production in This is london.

Blair put on trial over Iraq

There could be few bolder political fantasies today than imagining Tony Blair being investigated by the International Criminal Court to see whether he could be indicted for aggression against Iraq. It could not happen.

Yet such a dream, cherished by hundreds of thousands, now springs to startling stage-life thanks to those remarkable makers of contemporary political theatre, director Nicolas Kent and Richard Norton-Taylor, security editor of The Guardian. The Prime Minister himself is not one of the characters in this production, which considers how and with what legitimacy Tony Blair took Britain into the Iraq war. Even so, he looms over the action like a ghost noisily walking a haunted house.

In the courtroom process, Mr Blair’s reputation – that long-lost prize of his – takes a familiar sort of battering as he is accused of manipulating intelligence and misrepresenting the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war to Cabinet, Parliament and Britain. The apparent discrepancy between the Attorney General’s advice to the Prime Minister on 7 and 17 March comes to seem the crux of the matter.

William Hoyland’s wonderfully patrician Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, former commissioner for the intelligence services, registers critical bemusement. Diane Fletcher, who deftly catches the tone of former International Development Secretary Clare Short, gives an illuminating impression of what it was like to be in Cabinet on 17 March. Her worried queries about lack of discussion were met with Cabinet cries of “Oh, Clare, be quiet.”

Despite the sensational nature of Called To Account, it lacks the smack of conflict that made earlier Norton-Taylor/Kent dramatisations of official inquiries, such as The Colour Of Justice and Bloody Sunday, so enthralling. It was Kent’s conceit on this occasion to imagine Mr Blair investigated by the International Court, with well-known barristers Philippe Sands and Julian Knowles speaking for the prosecution and defence respectively.

The testimony of real subjects from Parliament and the civil, diplomatic and security services, together with the odd journalist and diplomat, was recorded in London this January and Norton-Taylor then edited their evidence for Called To Account. The legal tone is neither one-sided nor shrill, but always cool, clear and shocking in Kent’s restrained production. A few fresh facts emerge, but nothing momentous.

The two lawyers never clash or clamour. They handle each of the witnesses with respectable kid gloves. So the atmosphere is more akin to a lecture hall than a courtroom. For all its clarity, Called To Account could sometimes do with infusions of that absent theatrical commodity – passionate emotion. For these witnesses are, with the exception of Fletcher’s illuminating Clare Short, trained to keep the human touch under wraps.

Thomas Wheatley, who often plays these Kent/Norton-Taylor dramatisations, makes an authoritative Sands. The focus of his questions relate to Mr Blair’s real purpose in warring against Iraq: was it regime change or the elimination of those notorious weapons of mass destruction, details of which he may have, well, dramatised?

The prosecution lacks concrete evidence to make its case. What emerges, shockingly, is a sense of a messianic Blair riding in easy triumph over sheep- and Ostrich-like Cabinet ministers, towards a war that may make us a terrorist target for decades.

See also: Blair on Trial Tonight

View with comments