Academic raid by Blairite powerhouse

2nd January 1998 at 00:00
After a successful academic raid on Oxford, and a rash of new senior appointments from across the world, the London School of Economics is staking its claim to be an international centre for the study of the social sciences. And of Blairism.

Despite cutbacks and worries about the new tuition fee, the school's Blairite director, Tony Giddens, has apparently found enough money to entice two leading Oxford professors to the school: Steve Nickell, director of the Oxford Institute of Economics and Statistics, and political philosopher John Gray. The celebrated German sociologist Ulrich Beck from the University of Munich and Perry Anderson, a leading analyst of British nationalism and founder of the journal New Left Review, have also joined the staff.

Dr Giddens, who moved from Cambridge to take over at the LSE a year ago, seems set on turning it into a powerhouse of Blairism. Professors Gray and Beck have, like him, been influential in the thinking of the Blair coterie. A new position has just been named after Ralph Miliband, the academic father of Blair think tank chief David Miliband.

In addition, the LSE is for the first time establishing a centre for the study of the media, under Roger Silverstone, who has been poached from the University of Sussex. Further appointments of "special school professors" with wide-ranging academic remits are in the offing.

New visiting professors include Lord Puttnam, the film magnate and frequent visitor to Number 10, who is advising the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Chris Smith, on arts and film policy.

A month ago, the LSE established a centre for the analysis of social exclusion, whose director, Professor John Hills, in turn attended the launch last week of the Government's new Social Exclusion Unit.

But Dr Giddens denies there is any political flavour to recent academic appointments.

"The aim," he has said, "is to attract people for their scholarship. The special school professorships are open only to scholars of outstanding distinction."

LSE's location in central London, minutes away from Whitehall and Westminster, make it a favoured intellectual venue whoever is in power, although permanent secretaries were less in evidence attending LSE seminars during the Conservative years than they are now.

Founded in the 1890s by Fabian Sidney Webb, the LSE has long had a reputation for being Left of centre, even though many of its most famous professors, such as Lionel Robbins and Friedrich von Hayek, were distinctly right wing. Under Giddens's predecessor, the biologist Sir John Ashworth, attention was paid to getting the LSE's finances in better shape, and recent fund-raising campaigns seem now to have paid off.

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