With Muammar Gaddafi’s son likely to face trial in Libya, we look at the shameful roles that British academics and politicians played in giving him respectability.
Ignoring Saif’s vulgar interest in pet lions and high-class call girls, his Western admirers lapped up his almost parodic capacity to walk their walk and talk their talk.
For having become bored of engineering – which he studied in Tripoli in the early 1990s – Saif decided to dabble in business (an MBA was awarded by an outfit in Vienna for an unintelligible thesis written in 2000) and the vacuous nostrums of “globalisation”.
He alighted upon the London School of Economics, mainly because one of its recent directors, Lord (Anthony) Giddens, had already pronounced upon the moral health of the Gaddafi regime after it had renounced support for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Bringing Gaddafi père in from the cold in 2004 was the career highlight of the senior MI6 personality Sir Mark Allen, a romantic Arabist who went on to advise BP while dabbling in academia – including the LSE’s own grandly named Ideas centre. Allen was reportedly at the heart of the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted Lockerbie bomber, following which BP was awarded contracts. The future chairman of the LSE’s governors was BP’s chairman at the time.
The greedy machinations at a leading British university are perhaps the least surprising aspect of Saif’s saga. The LSE has been accused of easing the rules to accommodate people with sub-standard English for years, as long as, like Saif, they could pay its exorbitant foreign fees. It is basically a finishing school for rich Eurotrash.
The guru behind New Labour’s market socialist “Third Way”, Giddens gave a major part of the game away when he boasted that Muammar Gaddafi had talked with him for three hours, rather than the 30 minutes usually reserved for world leaders. Saif’s mentor at LSE, as he worked on a PhD thesis The Role of Civil Society in the Democratization of Global Governance, was Prof David Held, with whom Giddens had founded the highly lucrative Polity Press. The allegedly “collective” authorship of this thesis is the subject of a University of London investigation. Upon its conclusion, Lord Woolf’s separate inquiry into the LSE’s dealings with the Gaddafis may or may not be made public.
For in 2009 the LSE Council accepted a donation of £1.5 million from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Fund, chaired by Saif and with Held on the board of trustees. Warnings from the resident “holy fool” Prof Fred Halliday – who would go off to tend a bar in Barcelona in his retirement – were considered and ignored. LSE Enterprise also accepted £2.2 million to train Libyan civil servants, part of a bonanza that rained on several other British universities and the SAS, who trained elite Libyan troops.
A podgy little man who has since decamped to Durham University, Held played host when in May 2010 his “friend” Saif delivered the Ralph Miliband lecture. This celebrates the obscurantist tenured Marxist radical sociologist who fathered Labour leader Ed and brother David.
Looking directly at Saif, Held praised his respect for “human rights” and his belief in “dialogue, debate and peaceful negotiations”. Saif smiled modestly at this fustian guff, before delivering a talk which duly recycled Held’s own academic vacuities back to him.
That December, the LSE hosted the Brother Leader himself, beamed into Houghton Street by video link from Tripoli. Gaddafi called the Lockerbie bombing a “fabrication and creation” of Thatcher and Reagan, which did not deter his young academic hostess from presenting him with an LSE stamped baseball cap to mark this great occasion. Her words could have been scripted by seniors too cowardly to appear themselves.
Academics have always leached upon power. They were attracted to the Nazis and Soviets like moths to a flame, because such regimes dealt in implementing big, bold schemes – such as wiping out populations. No wonder they are tantalised by ideas like “global governance”.
But Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was also taken up by people who are much more worldly operators than such ambitious academic pimps as Giddens and Held. Even Princes Charles and Andrew were co-opted in a “meet and greet” role as Saif toured our little Ruritania.
Tony Blair continues to regard his “deal in the desert” with Gaddafi as a high point of his foreign policy. How convenient that the former PM’s lucrative portfolio of careers after he left office enabled him to continue meeting the Colonel. Was he wearing his Quartet peace-broking hat? Or the £2 million a year one he wears for JP Morgan? Was he checking that “mad dog” was still defanged, or did the talks revolve around Russian aluminium investments and the development of luxury tourist resorts?
And what did the likes of Peter Mandelson, Nathaniel Rothschild or Oleg Deripaska discuss with Saif, when they entertained him on a shoot or aboard Deripaska’s yacht off Corfu? For sure, Saif was just another extremely wealthy man – Libya’s Investment Authority was worth £65 billion and had Jacob Rothschild on its board – but there was also the frisson of ruthlessness attached to the family name. How revealing that some compared Saif with Michael Corleone in the Godfather trilogy: the modernising don reluctantly dragged back into murder and mayhem.
For the most depressing thing about Saif’s squalid story is what it reveals about everyday corruption in a country that loves to moralise its way through the world, dispensing praise and censure to all and sundry.
In reality, Britain’s elites have become everyone’s pliable whore, whether Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern autocrats. If Saif gets a trial, then we should all hope that a harsh light is shone on his elite British friends, for you can bet that not much will be revealed by the inquiries of the likes of Lord Woolf.
And before anyone imagines that this tale is restricted to New Labour, let’s not forget that Tory grandee Charles Powell is the chairman of Magna Holdings, which built Gaddafi Towers in Tripoli. The name will have changed by now, but the pathologies in Britain it reveals haven’t.