Monday, September 30, 2013

Many thanks to the Edinburgh University Philosophy Society

. . . for the invitation to speak again to their wonderful group. It's been the 4th talk in 6 years so I'm beginning to feel like a regular. I highly recommend them as a group worth engaging with if in the Edinburgh area.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thom Brooks appointed to Executive Committee of the Society of Legal Scholars

Dr Thom Brooks has been appointed to the Executive Committee of the Society of Legal Scholars for a three-year term (2013-16). The Society of Legal Scholars is a learned society with charitable status established in 1909 whose aim is the advancement of legal education and scholarship in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Society is the learned society for those engaged in law teaching and/or legal scholarship. The Society is legal education's principal representative body to the professional bodies and the Government.

For more information, see here and Durham Law School announcement is here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fabian Society elections - vote!

Readers will know that I've been a member of the Fabian Society for as long as I've been in the Labour Party. It's that time of year where the Fabian Society conducts its annual election to its Executive Committee - and I've decided to stand. All candidates must provide a brief statement and this is mine:

“I’m standing for election because I believe that I can deliver new contributions, especially on immigration and criminal justice policy. I’m originally from the US earning UK citizenship two years ago and made international headlines exposing serious flaws in the “Life in the UK” test. I lecture at Durham University’s Law School where my research has defended a new framework for restorative justice and developing improvements for effective prison reform.”

The Committee is currently a who's who of some leading lights in the Labour movement and it would be a privilege to serve. Results will be announced in November.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Academic consultants could save government time and money

. . . is a story covered in this week's edition of the Times Higher Education magazine HERE. This piece includes an extended interview with me concerning a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago on this subject. The THE piece says [an excerpt]:

"[. . .] Writing on the London School of Economics’ British politics and policy blog, Thom Brooks, reader in law at Durham University, notes that according to newspaper estimates, the UK government spent up to £800 million on private consultants and short-term staff in 2012‑13.

Dr Brooks says this bill could be greatly reduced by tapping into the specialist knowledge of UK academics. Using them as consultants would also allow the government to demonstrate it was serious about the impact agenda, giving academics a genuine opportunity to influence policy by incentivising them to communicate their ideas in “non-technical” language.

“Most academics I speak to say they would love to air their ideas about policy to ministers,” he told Times Higher Education.

Dr Brooks suggested that academics from within and across institutions could form semi-permanent research policy units – which might also include private consultants – to tender for specific Whitehall projects. [. . .]"


Friday, September 13, 2013

Keynote address at Political Studies Association--Political Thought Group's annual conference

I'm delighted to be giving this year's keynote address - "Justice as Stakeholding" - to the Political Studies Association's Political Thought Group annual conference. The event takes place on 26 October 2013 at King's College London. Full details are here.

Conference: Authority in a Transnational Age

The Modern Law Review Seminar on the theme 'Authority in a Transnational Age', and is being held on 8 and 9 November 2013.

It is being hosted by the Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context at the Department of Law, Queen Mary, University of London.
Details, including the program, are here:

Booking information is here: 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Policy Proposal #3: Commitment to greater use of academic consultants

This post is part of a series of policy proposals submitted to the Labour Party by me for inclusion in the 2015 manifesto.

Government should make greater use of university academics as specialist consultants

Central government spent over £500m on consultants and staff on short-term contracts across 17 departments in 2012/13. This figure was reported to be about £800m if staff "off payroll" were included. This is not surprising. Modern governments require specialists to assist the effective management of complex programmes. Specialist consultants have a valuable role to play for government. The challenge is how to more effectively support the use of consultants benefiting improved efficiencies and reducing burdens on taxpayers.

University academics are a largely underutilised resource for Whitehall. Recent years have seen the launch of a new so-called "impact agenda" rolled out by higher education bodies, such as HEFCE and RCUK, where research "impact" is assessed and a factor in determining higher education funding. The role of this assessment of research impact has been contested and some argue it presents higher education funding with problems difficult to avoid.

These activities operate against a backdrop of supportive rhetoric by successive governments for university academics to demonstrate their research impact as one important part of what public funding for higher education should demand. SEE MORE

UPDATE: The Times Higher Education magazine has run an interview with me about this proposal here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Arizona State - Happy Memories

Many happy memories at Arizona State University - where I studied for a MA in Political Science from 1997-99 - relived in a short interview appearing in the current e-newsletter of the ASU Alumni pages.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Policy Proposal #2: Improve Immigration Tests

This post is part of a series of policy proposals submitted to the Labour Party by me for inclusion in the 2015 manifesto.

Improving the Life in the UK test

The 'Life in the United Kingdom' test is an important part of British immigration policy attracting cross-party support. This report is the most comprehensive and rigorous examination of the test available. The report considers how the current edition compares with previous editions and it identifies several problems that should be addressed in a future edition. The report supports 12 recommendations.

I would be very keen to lead a new revision of this test - as a university academic and academic lawyer who actually passed the test and knows first hand how immigration to the UK works - as part of a larger conversation about British citizenship for the 21st that is fair and accountable.....


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Policy Proposal #1: One Nation Politics and the Stakeholder Society

This post is part of a series of policy proposals submitted to the Labour Party by me for inclusion in the 2015 manifesto.

One Nation politics is about creating a stakeholder society

Stakeholding is not relevant to economic policy alone. In fact, it speaks to a deep rooted fundamental principle of political solidarity that resonates profoundly with Labour's historical record and embedded in One Nation politics. Labour must 'reclaim from conservatives the right to define what makes markets free and fair'; the idea of a stakeholder society can be central to this goal.
Stakeholding is a view about society where those who have a stake should have say. This is no less true over the economy than it is in other spheres of political justice and it reaffirms the value of the
individual. At a time where people have felt alienated, defending stakeholding helps illuminate the problems and their solutions. Only the idea of the stakeholder society reveals why voter alienation and political disengagement is a major problem. The public are stakeholders: it is essential that our political future is a place where they believe have a stake.

Stakeholding is a politics of hope rather than a politics of fear; it unites rather than divides. If we fail to work toward a future that all can and should believe they have a stake, then why engage with politics in the first place? We sow the seeds of further distrust and alienation in failing to create a vision for a stakeholder society for all.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Hegel's philosophy attacked by Australia's opposition parties, or "The Politics of What?!"

There is an election coming in Australia. The coalition parties, led by the right-wing "Liberal" Party, published a press release yesterday:

"A Coalition Government, if elected, will crack down on Labor’s addiction to waste by auditing increasingly ridiculous research grants and reprioritising funding through the Australian Research Council (ARC) to deliver funds to where they’re really needed.

Some of the grants issued by the ARC in recent years have been, frankly, completely over the top.
There will be no reduction in research funding. In fact, the Coalition has announced new research into dementia and diabetes.

The Coalition would look to targeting those ridiculous research grants that leave taxpayers scratching their heads wondering just what the Government was thinking.

Taxpayer dollars have been wasted on projects that do little, if anything, to advance Australians [sic] research needs. For example:
Australians can’t afford three more years of waste like the last six.[. . .]"

There is always a problem with credibility where the call to reduce public spending on education includes errors - such as "to advance Australians [sic] research needs" - that any decent schooling should have corrected before secondary school.

A problem also exists for philosophy - with two of four projects highlighted as "waste" are projects by philosophers. The Vice-Chancellor at one of the universities concerned readily came out in defence of one of the philosophers - and the coalition's press release has already come in for robust criticisms by philosophers more genuinely. I commented previously that:

"The Coalition targets a project on Hegel's philosophy as an example of waste. Of course, Hegel defends a theory of rights based upon the mutual recognition of persons as free and equal. Hegel defends education for all through school and work. Hegel also defends a state responsive to the convictions of its citizens. Perhaps the Coalition opposes rights and equality for all, mass education and the non-partisan state. Or did I miss something?"

There is something familiar about politically right-wing parties attacking academic research wherever it is found: if the research isn't pointless navel-gazing in the arts and humanities, then it might be denounced as immoral in pushing the boundaries of scientific research. But I digress.

It is time philosophers raised their game. Far more attention is paid to the many problems - even crises - in philosophy than its valuable prospects. The defence of philosophy often takes the form of either (a) philosophers are more employable - go read the statistics (but without substantive engagement to explain the numbers) or (b) philosophers contribute to the invaluable project of necessary "blue skies" thinking. Let me be clear: I accept both the employability argument and high importance for "blues skies" research.

Nonetheless, much more can and should be done to demonstrate the strong link between philosophical analysis and impact in ways that citizens (and not only funding bodies) might appreciate. There are several examples on hand - Bhikhu Parekh's work on multiculturalism, Martha Nussbaum's work on capabilities and rights, Jo Wolff's terrific new book on Ethics and Public Policy and I try to make some contribution in this area in my book Punishment, plus an article on political theory's impact in Political Studies Review as well as a forthcoming book on the relevance and impact of political science research (coming to a book store near you next year).

The perception remains of philosophy as an easy target for political point scoring that must be challenged far more effectively. This is a battle philosophers - and philosophy - can win. But there is much more work to be done - and this might involve different approaches. Otherwise, such negative perceptions can become transformed from misinformed prejudices to received "wisdom" - a move none of us can afford to witness.

UPDATE: The state broadcaster, ABC, has called the election for the opposition. Potentially very bad news for the arts and humanities generally and philosophy in particular. The time is now to secure the opposition's commitment to high quality, peer reviewed research! Further details on the election from the BBC can be found here.

UPDATE 2: It has come to my attention that Tony Abbott, the leader of the "Liberal" Party, originally grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, England *and* he earned a MA in Politics and Philosophy from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Monday, September 02, 2013

British Idealism studies - alive and well?

Many apologies for the gap since my last post. Last week saw an important event -- another British Idealism conference at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. The College has hosted several past events on Bosanquet, Green, 'Idealism Today' and now a conference about British Idealism and conceptions about the self. The College boasts the amazing W. J. Mander, author of a magisterial history of the British Idealist tradition, and we remain deeply indebted to him for his work and his work in bringing us together.

British Idealism is usually discussed in the past tense and in reference to a philosophical tradition rooted in Oxford and Glasgow from the late 19th Century until about the First World War when its influence began to wane. These Idealists are credited with introducing Kant and Hegel to an Anglophone audience and also for trying to develop a new philosophical approach bringing various elements of them both together. Leading figures include TH Green, FH Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet and RG Collingwood.

It was a pleasure to see this great tradition alive and well with a new generation of scholars and interest taking root. Conference delegates came from across the UK, US, Canada and as far as away as Japan and Nigeria.

Readers will know of my longstanding interest in British Idealism -- and my efforts, in my book Punishment, and elsewhere -- to start a revival, a new wave of British Idealism redeveloped to face the challenges of the 21st Century. The good news is that I'm far from alone.