10 Feb 2013 at 08:52
There’s a story in today’s Mail on Sunday with the headline
MARY’S REVENGE ON LABOUR PEER WHO ATTACKED CAMBRIDGE
Simon Walters, the Mail on Sunday political editor, alleges that Professor Mary Beard, a judge at this year’s Paddy Power/Total Politics Political Book Awards , effectively vetoed the Book of the Year prize going to Andrew Adonis, for his book ‘Education. Education, Education. I attended the judges lunch and it is entirely untrue. Yes, there was a spirited discussion about the merits of the various books and you would hardly expect the likes of Mary Beard, Adam Boulton, Keith Simpson, Chris Mullin and Carolyn Quinn to go into the meeting all with the same viewpoint. But by the end of the meeting there was a unanimous winner, and it was Caroline Shenton. There were no vetoes, no spats, no walkouts. Let’s lightly fisk the Mail on Sunday story…
Cambridge academic Mary Beard was embroiled in a new row last night after she opposed awarding a £10,000 book prize to an ex-Cabinet Minister who accused the university of failing poor state school pupils. Lord Adonis, an Education Minister in Tony Blair’s Government, had been shortlisted for Total Politics magazine’s Political Book of the Year award alongside little-known author Caroline Shenton.
True to the extent that she also opposed giving it to 8 other shortlisted books.
However, Professor Beard, a judge on the panel, criticised his book, Education, Education, Education, published by Biteback, and Miss Shenton was awarded the prize for The Day Parliament Burned Down, published by OUP. One source said: ‘Mary rubbished Andrew and his book and made it clear he’d get the award over her dead body. ‘When his book made the final two, it was virtually impossible for him to win because it had to be a unanimous decision.’
It was impossible for any book to win if there was disagreement. All judges agreed that Caroline Shenton should win.
However, the other judges did not know that months earlier the academic and TV presenter – known to millions for the BBC series Meet The Romans – had attacked Lord Adonis for ‘bragging’ after he blamed Cambridge for failing to boost poor state schools.
Wrong. They did. Because she told them.
The pair clashed at a Cheltenham Literary Festival debate last October when the Labour peer savaged the university for not backing the Teach First initiative – of which he is a trustee – whereby top graduates are sent to teach in tough comprehensives. Prof Beard accused him of ‘silly social engineering’ and ‘political nonsense’. A festival source said: ‘It seems there’s a feud between them.’
A policy disagreement does not imply a feud. Unless your name is Brown or Blair, of course.
Prof Beard confirmed she had rowed with Lord Adonis, but denied she should have stood down as a judge. In a statement, she said: ‘I did have a bit of a good humoured “set to” with Adonis. But that is what debate is all about … and it certainly wouldnt [sic] determine my judgment of what he says in the future.’ Lord Adonis said: ‘I find the whole thing very amusing. Prof Beard’s comments suggest Cambridge should be more open to criticism.’ The row comes weeks after Prof Beard was targeted by internet trolls about her looks after an appearance on Question Time.
And had she not been attacked by trolls, I suspect this non-story would never have appeared in the Mail on Sunday. I spoke to Simon Walters about this story on Wednesday and told him it was total rubbish. But it was clearly doing the rounds, as two other judges mentioned it to me during the awards event on Wednesday evening and were quite upset about it.
I suppose it’s much ado about nothing, but it is highly regrettable that one of the 8 people in the room for the judges lunch felt it necessary to leak proceedings and do it in such and inaccurate malicious way. Such is life, I suppose.