The Conservative MP’s letter to universities was part of a wider attack on dissentby Christopher Grey / October 29, 2017 / Leave a comment
We may never know exactly what Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris intended to do with the information he tried to obtain on academics who teach about Brexit. But it certainly shouldn’t be treated as “just a polite request for information” as if this were some routine event.
To the best of my knowledge there is no precedent for a politician—and a member of the government—asking every university head for the names and syllabuses of those teaching a particular topic, let alone one of major political controversy. And given that Heaton-Harris is a leading member of the European Research Group, which has particularly extreme pro-Brexit views, it is not a stretch of the imagination to suggest he wanted to monitor individual academics for anti-Brexit sentiment.
That, at least, is what the Daily Mail follow-up on the story has sought to do. Those Brexiters failing to see anything sinister in this might want to consider how it would have seemed to them had something similar occurred at the height of controversy over Iraq WMDs after the suicide of David Kelly, when the Labour government was locked in a bitter dispute with the BBC. Suppose, then, a Labour Whip known to be passionately in favour of the Iraq war had asked for the names and teaching materials of anyone covering that issue? Would it really seem so anodyne?