Kwarteng ‘vetoed’ panel choice of ESRC chair

Business secretary reportedly feared that Prof Jonathan Michie was too leftwing

Kwasi Kwarteng reportedly blocked the appointment of a new head of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and ordered the reopening of the selection process. 

An independent selection panel chose Prof Jonathan Michie, the president of Oxford University’s Kellogg College, as the next executive chair of the ESRC, the Financial Times reported.

But the newspaper reported that the business secretary vetoed Michie, supposedly fearing he was too leftwing.

The FT cited allies of the cabinet minister who said Mr Kwarteng feared “what sort of research” the impartial ESRC would pursue if headed by an academic he feared was once a member of the Communist party and had connections to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. In 1989, Prof Michie authored a book, ‘Beyond the Casino Economy’, with Seamas Milne – Corbyn’s head of communications while Labour leader. 

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “While the initial recruitment campaign returned a strong field of candidates, none were ultimately deemed suitable. Another campaign will start shortly with a view to attracting a wider range of candidates.”

Prof Michie is a professor of innovation and knowledge exchange. His research interests include global recessions, employee-owned businesses, the banking crisis, the green new deal and environmental sustainability. Friends of Michie told the FT that he does not have a membership to a political party. Michie recently published a piece that called for tighter regulation of global business and finance to tackle to climate crisis, tax evasion and wealth inequality. 

The ESRC – which receives approximately £200m a year from the government to fund academic research – has been led by interim executive chair Alison Park since January 2021. 

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