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4 March 2011

Why Howard Davies had to go

The LSE’s links with Muammar al-Gaddafi were not just financial, they were personal.

By Duncan Robinson

Sir Howard Davies is the latest figure to fall victim to a toxic association with Muammar al-Gaddafi. The former director of the LSE resigned last night over the damage done to the university’s reputation by recent revelations of its ties to the Libyan government.

When Gaddafi switched from international pariah and supporter of terror to, er, staunch ally in the war on terror in the middle of the Noughties, it was open season for accepting investment from the oil-rich North African state. The LSE was one of many institutions to take Gaddafi’s money. Indeed, it took rather a lot of it.

The university accepted a contract worth £2.2m to train Libyan civil servants (of which £1.5m has already been received). It also received a pledge of £1.5m from a foundation ran by Gaddafi’s son Saif. Although LSE pledged to give away the money it has already received from this (some £300,000), it was not enough to save Davies’s skin.

This is partly because LSE’s ties with Libya were not just financial, they were personal. Gaddafi’s son Saif studied for both an MSc and a PhD at the university. His supervisor, Professor David Held, described Saif as “someone who looks to democracy, civil society and deep liberal values for the core of his inspiration”.

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Held distanced himself from these comments when video footage emerged of Saif stood on top of a tank, brandishing a rifle and pledging to “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet” against rebels in Libya last week. “The man giving that speech wasn’t the Saif I had got to know well over those years,” said Held. Presumably Saif left his AK-47 at home during tutorials.

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Colonel Gaddafi spoke to staff and students at the university as recently as last December, as unrest in North Africa was already beginning to flare up. The LSE audience is seen applauding the Libyan leader and laughing at his jokes in the video below.

Anthony Giddens, who taught at the LSE for much of his career, wrote a fawning profile of Gaddafi in the New Statesman in 2006.

“The Green Book is based upon a theory of direct democracy,” wrote Giddens, in an analysis of Gaddafi’s political philosophy. “Representative democracy, Gaddafi argues, is an inadequate form of government, given that it means rule by a minority and in which the majority have little direct say.” Gaddafi has revealed himself to be not very keen on his people having a “direct say” in recent weeks, however.

It is highly unlikely that the LSE was the only university to benefit from Gaddafi’s generosity. With student activism on the rise, I imagine one or two other vice-chancellors will be nervously checking through their institution’s accounts in the next few days.