Saturday, November 21, 2015

It won't be easy, but there are ways to fight this barbarity

. . . is the title of my NEW COLUMN for The Journal and my topic is what the UK should do post-Paris attacks. The Journal is the 2015 UK regional newspaper of the year. [READ ARTICLE HERE].

Friday, November 20, 2015

Many thanks to Harvard University and its Political Theory Colloquium

. . . for the kind invitation to speak on "Punitive Restoration" yesterday at the School of Government. An enormously productive discussion that was highly useful - and much fun. My particular thanks to Michael Rosen - a massive influence on my understanding of Hegel and so much else - for inviting me to speak.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Many thanks to Suffolk University

. . .  for hosting my talk "Rethinking Just War" talking aim at just war theorists like Jeff McMahan. Special thanks must go to Nir Eisikovits for helping organise my visit. Excellent discussion and a fabulous time at a great university.

Many thanks to Vanderbilt University

. . . for hosting my talk "Why Hegel Matters". A full house and some fabulous discussion. Special thanks must go out to the brilliant Robert Talisse, an old friend, for the kind invitation. Nashville is a wonderful place and a real delight to visit while I was in the US!

Many thanks to Arizona State University

. . . for organising a series of talks I delivered in Tempe, Arizona last week. I gave a staff seminar on "Rethinking Just War" taking aim at a popular view of just war theory developed by Jeff McMahan and others in the School of Politics and Global Studies. I spoke with graduate students about academic publishing and finding a university position. I also gave a talk on democracy beyond borders - the case of the EU.

Along the way, I had opportunities to speak with some fabulous people including (no particular order) Jeffrie Murphy, Avital Simhony, Elizabeth Brake, Jack Crittenden, Terry Ball, Rick Herrera, Cameron Thies, Doug Portmore and several others.

And it is worth saying that ASU's Tempe campus is still the most gorgeous university campus I've seen yet - and even better than it was in 1999 when I was last there. If you haven't seen it, go now. You will thank me.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The friends that Jeremy Corbyn never knew he had

. . . are the Labour Peers in the House of Lords. From my new column in the Journal (regional newspaper of the year 2015) - READ MORE HERE.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

I'm visiting at Yale Law School this semester

. . . and so blogging will be even lighter than normal. Some readers will know that I'm from New Haven so being here is very much a homecoming. I come under the wing of the brilliant Scott Shapiro as a visiting fellow in the Yale Center for Law and Philosophy in the Law School and thoroughly enjoying my time thus far - and looking forward to my time here. An inspiring place with inspiring people.

Many thanks to Johns Hopkins University

My thanks to the great staff and students I met at John Hopkins University in Baltimore earlier this week - and a very big thanks to my old friend Dean Moyar.

I spoke at two events. The first was Dean's class on Hegel's Philosophy of Right where grad students have been reading it alongside my book Hegel's Political Philosophy - received some great questions and discussion. The second was with all the philosophy grad students to discuss how to publish - which went much longer than planned as the discussion flowed and flowed.

A highly enjoyable trip and hope to be back again soon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Government's strategy for tackling extremism is more Little Britain than Big Society

. . . is my latest for the Newcastle Journal (and published with the Evening Chronicle too) HERE. [[Read More]]

Monday, October 12, 2015

Great British Pub Quiz - Sedgefield Labour

The event of the week!

Join us for the Great British Pub Quiz - with questions from the British citizenship test and some surprises. Entry costs £2 - and open to everyone. A great night out and chance to see Phil Wilson MP.

The event is hosted by Thom Brooks - and sponsored by the Sedgefield Constituency Labour Party.

Political Theory and Its Impact -- Special Issue of Political Studies Review

I am delighted to see out today a special issue of Political Studies Review on the topic "Political Theory and Its Impact".  According to the journal's editor, the catalyst for this issue is my article "In Defence of Political Theory: Impact and Opportunities" published in 2013 and which attracted the most debate of the papers published in that year's special issue on political science and impact more generally. The full contents of the new special issue are:

Ben Holland, "Political Theory and the Impact Agenda" (intro)

Andrew Vincent, "The Ideological Context of Impact"
This article sketches the ideological backdrop to deliberations on higher education over the last century; it then situates the concept of ‘impact’ within contemporary ideological debate. It argues, in the final analysis, that impact is an aspect of an anomalous ideological hybrid, still emerging in 2015, which remains worryingly capricious in terms of the way in which it is trying to reconfigure the character of university life. The article argues that political theorists should be critically alert to this reconfiguration.

James Alexander, "A Sketch of a System of Theory and Practice"
Most political theorists are committed to one particular view about the relation between theory and practice. It is argued in this article that there are in fact four possible ways of relating theory and practice, which are distinguished in terms of the answers that are given to two distinct questions. Derived from this is the suggestion that all political theorists can be classified according to whether they are sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic or choleric. The purpose of this sketch of a system is to indicate the questionable nature of much of what passes for modern political theory – especially that of the now dominant sanguine tradition, which has for several decades especially concerned itself with the ‘impact’ theory can have on practice.

John Dunne, "The Impact of Political Theory"
Any systematic understanding of politics requires theory: an organised, if not necessarily self-conscious way of seeing and thinking about it. The point of studying and teaching about politics in universities is educational: to help others to understand it better and bring that understanding into their own lives and the lives of the communities to which they belong. Political theorists have a distinctive responsibility to recognise this and show those they teach and those with whom they work how to generate and organise better understanding of why politics is as it is and what it means for everyone's life. The competitive rating of performance to secure university funding deploys criteria that are intellectually absurd, politically disgraceful or deeply corrupting of intellectual and educational purpose. Whatever else they have managed to add to political understanding by their own work, every academically employed political theorist ought at least to have shown those they teach unmistakably why that is so.

Thom Brooks, "What is the Impact of Political Theory?"
I am very grateful for the contributions by Andrew Vincent, James Alexander and John Dunn to this symposium on ‘impact’ and political theory. Their papers provide insightful perspectives and different critical engagements with my recent piece for this journal. Their reflections force me to revisit my central argument that the impact agenda unveiled in the United Kingdom's new Research Excellence Framework (REF) need not be the negative development for political theorists that many fear – and perhaps even that it should be embraced.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Theresa May delivered a tough-talking speech - but it was undermined by her actions

Full link to article is here:

The verdict from former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith:

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The hypocrisy of Theresa May - in a letter

This is a letter Theresa May gave me when I became a British citizen welcoming me to the UK. Note the very different tone of this set against her very disappointing comments at today's Conservative Party conference. #Hypocrisy

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015


My personal website - - received a new look recently and I've updated the links.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Immigration policy - Corbyn style

. . . is the name of my latest piece for LabourList on what kinds of immigration policies we might expect from a Corbyn-led Labour Party [DETAILS HERE].

Monday, September 14, 2015

Now time for the real campaign – and time to come together the title for my new column for the top UK Labour Party blog LabourList. [READ MORE HERE]

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Universities minister should take greater notice of how satisfied students are with their teaching and learning

Today it is widely reported that Jo Johnson is preparing a green paper setting out more radical proposals than have been anticipated. Johnson is perhaps best known for his being a Tory MP and the new Universities Minister than he is for being the brother of Boris Johnson, the London Mayor.

Johnson's concern is that teaching quality is too variable within and across universities with students receiving very different kinds of experiences. He has announced he will introduce a new 'Teaching Excellence Framework' that will provide students with more information about their studies and so, Johnson argues, drive forward competition in the sector.

So where to begin. No one can - or should - argue that it's crucial universities deliver excellent teaching and learning to students. There exist various league tables bringing together information like library spend per student, staff to student ratios and graduate employment.

There is also a National Student Survey that asks students from across all UK universities a whole range of questions. These now figure prominently in national league tables - especially the figure for 'overall satisfaction' - and they provide institutions with crucial anonymous open text comments about the positives and negatives experienced by students along the way.

It could be easily argued that students don't need even more data about university study. If anything, they're probably overcome by a proliferation of it.

While the government is concerned about a 'lack' of sufficient competition between institutions, this seems too one dimensional looking only at the fact the great majority charge the top rate of £9000 per year because they could recruit students willing to pay it. If the government truly wanted greater competition, then it should not only have lifted student quotas but also lifted the top rate of fees to see if going higher would lead to some being able to recruit despite charging more in fees. The fact so many willing to pay the current top rate suggests the government is stifling competition.

And, of course, they want competition on their own terms. Universities out of favour can only charge less - not because students are not willing to pay more, but because the government won't let them. So let's call it competition on the cheap.

So what do students make of their education? The overall satisfaction rates are the wild envy of any government department. Universities scoring 90% or more satisfaction may not do well enough to make the top 10 in a particular field because others score even higher. Go on. Imagine the Home Office or 'BIS' with a satisfaction score that high. Too difficult? Thought so.

If Jo Johnson is so interested in value for money and delivering for students and taxpayers, then let's see two other satisfaction surveys. Let's compare the public's satisfaction with Johnson's department against student satisfaction at about any university in the UK. I'd bet the universities win hands down.

Or better: let's compare the satisfaction of academics working with the UK's research councils against student satisfaction at about any British university. Yes, that's a contest you'll never see because the councils would much rather worry about having the Universities Minister's confidence or that of university management than the confidence of the academics they serve and undertake the research projects. I'd like to be proved wrong, but fear I won't be.

A final point. The Teaching Excellence Framework is to be modelled on the Research Excellent Framework. The later is a complex exercise assessing research quality of departments through weighted consideration of their research outputs, impact and environment (roughly). It is cumbersome and highly time consuming. The 'TEF' looks much more than a quality control mechanism like an Ofsted report branding institutions excellent, good, etc. with each permitting tuition fees up to a particular threshold. Or so I'm reading the tea leaves.

This would make it very different from the REF - and also a bit pointless. It might be better for Johnson to focus more on not more information for students, but perhaps better information. Find meaningful statistics that can be used for genuine cross-institutional comparisons. And then let students vote with their feet on which institutions deserve their money. After all, it is the students that are going to university and not the minister.

It is impossible to see these proposals being rushed out with such thoughtlessness and not think here's yet another minister diving head first into an area he or she knows little about with the aim of making a change that gets some media attention so it raises the individual's profile helping him or her secure a much better ministerial position he or she actually really does want. If we must have a Tory in this position, I'm beginning to miss David Willetts. A lot.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Aylan & EU refugee crisis

Talking about  & EU refugee crisis on  from 42 mins -  

Durham academic wins EU referendum change

The full press release:

David Cameron's government has claimed the EU referendum question for next year's vote should be 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?' This question was presented in a draft European Union Referendum Bill in Parliament.
This was reviewed by the Electoral Commission to consider its wording and general suitability. In a surprise announcement, the Commission published its final report on 1 September and recommends several changes. They were convinced by critics who argued the current wording was not neutral and should be amended.
One of the critics that won over the Electoral Commission is Durham University's Professor Thom Brooks, one of only two academics quoted in the Commission's report. Professor Brooks claimed the wording was inconsistent with other recent referendum questions like the vote on AV nationally and the independence vote in Scotland. He successfully argued that in both cases a vote for 'yes' was for changes and 'no' was for no change. The problem that the current question had this in reverse. This might create confusion and should be corrected.
The Electoral Commission agreed. Their recommendation is that the final EU referendum question becomes 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?' Their proposed choices for voters is no longer 'yes' or 'no', but 'Remain a member of the European Union' or 'Leave the European Union'.
Professor Brooks said: 'I'm delighted to see the Electoral Commission make these recommendations. This is an important vote and it's crucial to get the referendum question right. It's now up to the government to take the next step. But I expect they'll endorse these recommendations in full." 

* Brooks comment is para. 4.19.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Thom Brooks on ITV Tyne Tees - interview on EU refugee crisis

Interview conducted down the hallway from a fabulous conference I was attending in Ghent, Belgium - about 1 hour from Brussels. Link to be added when in hand.

Evening Chronicle timeline of EU refugee crisis

... lists PM, Home Secretary! Great coverage and discussion HERE.

Thom Brooks on "The Week" on Made in Tyne and Wear Channel

. . . the link to the 4 part interview programme can be FOUND HERE (series 7 episode 4 (S7 E4) parts 1 to 4).

We discuss immigration, plans for local devolution and the big stories happening that week.