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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: The LSE was right to take Gaddafi's money

"O wad some pow'r the giftie o' foresight gie us". In its absence, we must make the best judgments we can. Predictably, Lord Woolf has criticised the LSE for accepting money from Saif Gaddafi. Equally predictably, he has produced an unimpressive document, full of thoughtless complacency, taking the fruits of hindsight for granted. Confronted by complexity, his Lordship displays all the intellectual rigour of a maiden aunt when a mouse appears in the drawing-room.

There are two salient points, both too strong-minded for Harry Woolf. The first is pecunia non olet: money does not smell. In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for successful brigands, after a life-time of looting and pillaging, to be overawed by timor mortis conturbat me, and to start endowing Chantry Chapels. When he gave his money, it is unlikely that Saif was oppressed by the fear of death. He had no foresight. But the LSE could have used his money better than he could.

The second is hic Rhodus, hic saltus. We all have to make the most of the circumstances of the time. A year ago, it seemed strongly probable that in the long fullness, Old-man Gadaffi would die in his bed and that Saif might then succeed him. In the meantime, there were some cautiously beneficial developments. Libya had improved. It was no longer a psychotic friut-cake-ocracy, the first global sponsor of terrorism. It had subsided to be a mere grumbling appendix of nuisance. It was also full of natural resources. Why should we leave all those to the French and the Italians?

So there was every reason for constructive engagement, in which LSE academics played a part. Some went too far. Cynical realism is one thing: nauseating sycophany another. Tony (Lord) Giddens's laudations on Colonel Gadaffi gave sycophancy a bad name. Mind you, my Lord Giddens had form. He had professed to find intellectual depth in Tony Blair. But his lickspittle pseudo-intellectualism should not be allowed to discredit the LSE.

Nor should the Woolf Report. When the LSE took the money, it was the right thing to do. Subsequent developments have been embarrassing. In a fallen world, that is always a possibility. But it should not deter universities from raising much-needed cash, even if the donors are dubious.


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