Zahawi vows to 'crack down hard' on university academics pushing Kremlin propaganda

14 March 2022, 17:16

Leeds and Edinburgh universities. Inset: Nadhim Zahawi
Leeds and Edinburgh universities. Inset: Nadhim Zahawi. Picture: Alamy
Theo Usherwood

By Theo Usherwood

The Government will "crack down hard" on universities that allow their academics to push Kremlin propaganda, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has told MPs.

Mr Zahawi said his colleague - the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan - has been tasked with following up with Edinburgh, Leeds and Leicester as to exactly what they are doing about three academics LBC found last week were pushing Moscow’s lines.

In an exclusive report with the Community Security Trust, LBC found Tim Hayward at Edinburgh had retweeted a senior Russian official to the United Nations describing a report about Vladimir Putin’s forces attacking a hospital in Mariupol as "fake news".

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Meanwhile, Ray Bush from Leeds, questioned assertions by the United States that they did not have chemical warfare labs in Ukraine.

The original allegation that they did came directly from the Kremlin and is believed to be the pretext for a chemical weapons attack by Russia in Ukraine.

And then there was Tara McCormack from Leicester, who LBC discovered tweeted about "ludicrous disinformation on all sides".

In each of the three cases, their universities insisted the academics were tweeting in a personal capacity and that they would not be taking action.

But now it looks like following a question from Rob Halfon, the Tory MP and chairman of the education select committee, ministers will be asking the vice-chancellors at the three universities to explain why they have not acted sooner.

Mr Zahawi said Ms Donelan was "already on the case" and was in contact with the institutions.

"Putin and his cronies are a malign influence on anyone in this country buying their false narrative, and I have to repeat it is a false and dangerous narrative, and we will crack down on it hard," he added.

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In education questions on Monday, Mr Halfon said the LBC investigation had exposed "pro-Putinist propaganda at some of our leading universities".

He asked whether these universities would be contacted directly by Mr Zahawi, to stop them acting as "useful idiots" for Vladimir Putin's atrocities.

In the session, ministers were also told that teachers were being "aided and abetted" by "politically-motivated trade unions" to push a "far-left agenda".

Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis said that a "minority of woke warrior teachers think it is acceptable to push extremist nonsense onto pupils such as white privilege and try to cancel important historical figures such as Sir Winston Churchill".

"However these teachers are also aided and abetted by some trade unions such as the National Education Union (NEU)," he added.

"The failed and disgraced NEU demanded the welfare state was reformed before approving pupils going back to school in their ridiculous 100-point plan and its president blames Nato instead of Vladimir Putin for the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine," he said.

He asked schools minister Robin Walker if he would hold unions to account to prevent them using teachers to push a "far-left agenda".

Mr Walker said Mr Gullis, who is a former teacher, "always speaks out bravely and from his own personal experience", adding: "Pupils must form their own political views. Schools should not indoctrinate. They should not encourage children to pin their colours to any particular political mast."

He said that the Government's new guidance on political impartiality in schools would help them to ensure that "any engagement doesn't breach their legal duties".