Uniquely among American universities, Harvard University is carving out a reputation for itself as a retirement home for failed Labour politicians, an American writer has noted. His observation follows the appointment of former shadow chancellor Ed Balls as a Senior Fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Ed Balls will in fact be returning to Harvard, as he gained his master’s degree at the university, as did his wife Yvette Cooper, another Labour front bencher. His former boss Ed Miliband, who stepped down as Labour leader following the party’s defeat at the general election in May has previously taught at Harvard, in 2002-3, before he took the reins of the party.
Miliband and Balls got to know each other while working for the former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who became a visiting fellow of the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics (IOP) after his own election defeat in 2010.
Writing for Spectator Life, author James Kirchick comments: “Brown’s idea of a relaxing summer holiday is to immerse himself in the stacks of Harvard’s world-famous Widener library. (David Muir, Brown’s director of political strategy at No. 10, held an IOP fellowship the following year.)”
And the list does not end there – former shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander; former deputy leader Roy Hattersley “(whose 1971 fellows class included Al Gore)”; and the disgraced Buckingham MP Robert Maxwell have all taken their turn at the lecture podium at Harvard.
“William F. Buckley Jr famously said that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty,” Kerchick notes.
“Though, like myself, Buckley was a Yale man, his jibe was intended as a slight against liberal elites in general, not Harvard ones in particular. Still, there’s a grandiosity about Harvard, a smug self-satisfaction dripping from its ivy-covered walls, that lent a sting to Buckley’s quip that would not have been there had he been remarking on the good sense of the common men of New Haven, Connecticut.”
But why Harvard in particular, he asks. “After all, if a British political party ostensibly committed to representing the interests of the working class is going to establish informal links with an American university, why not one of our many fine state-funded institutions?”
Kirchick suggests that a link has been forged between the Brownite wing of the party and the Democrats. “Brown forged his Democratic connections in the Massachusetts summer holiday community of Cape Cod, where he often stays at the vacation home of Bob Shrum. A former IOP fellow, Shrum worked as a speechwriter to the late Ted Kennedy, younger brother of the Kennedy School’s namesake.
“Shrum helped win the 2001 general election for Labour, which must be the finest feather in his cap, considering he lost more presidential campaigns than any other consultant in American history”.
In fact, the only Labour grandee conspicuously missing from the list is one Mr Tony Blair.
“Blair is the only Labour leader to have won a single general election — let alone three — in 40 years, and he is the only Labour leader in two decades not to wind up at Harvard after leaving Westminster,” Kerchick observes.
“I do not find these distinctions coincidental. Blair did what any self-respecting, successful ex-Labour politician would do after quitting politics. He taught at Yale.”