THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

An enemy of sanity

An Enemy of the People starring Matt Smith extends at the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre | West End Theatre.

Enemy of SanityThings are better in my world. The Misses P are back in my life and that was the only real reason (my divorce having gone through with goodwill on both sides) for me to be sad. The ex-Mrs P is remarried and I sincerely wish her and her new husband every joy. 
 
Last night the Misses P took me to the theatre as my birthday present. The birthday was last month. The actor who played my favourite modern Doctor Who, Matt Smith, is in the final week of an extended run of Ibsen's "Enemy of the People."
 
Not that Ibsen had much to do with it, beyond the hyper-naturalism of the acting, the Norwegian names of the characters or the fact that no-one cares what happens to any of the miserable Nordic mofos in the dreary plot.
 
The production was modern, featured some badly-performed Clash and Bowie, and led to a deranged political rant by the leading character to open an audience participation town-hall meeting. 
 
I was not convinced that the audience participants were genuine but my daughters assured me they were. A gent from Northern Ireland immediately behind me launched into a terrifying speech about filthy privatised water versus the angelically-pure stuff that flowed from our taps when morally-flawless public servants were in charge. His thinking was not even reality-adjacent. It sounded like he'd never met a non-Marxist in his life. And he was by no means the wackiest loon to stand up.
 
We're in an election year. I sat with my head in my hands, unable to look at the theatre-going madmen engaged in a Highland Games of lunacy; tossing ever greater rhetorical cabers and cheering each other on while pumping clenched fists in the air. 
 
People like them must find The Guardian far-right. I told myself repeatedly that "nothing is less representative than a West End audience". London's theatre-loving young bourgeoisie could not be less like the British people I keep trying to love. 
 
I thanked the Misses P for their gift as we parted. I had loved being in their presence, even if the play had driven me first to boredom, then to sleep and finally to despair. I anxiously urged them to remember that they live in a better world than they were born into. That life-expectancy keeps rising, poverty keeps falling and that their lives are well worth living and becoming more so by the day. 
 
Then I stood waiting for a taxi on the other side of the street as the actors, including Mr Smith of whom I was so recently a fan, came out to sign autographs for adoring theatre-goers who might as well have been Mao's Red Guards for all their attachment to Enlightenment values and a free market economy.
 
I've never slunk before, but there was no better verb to describe how I went home. What kind of world has such people in it? 

The origins and consequences of “hate crime”

In the wonderful 2006 TV series Life on Mars, Sam — a modern detective inspector — is mysteriously transported back to the 1970s. He finds himself working for tough-guy Detective Chief Inspector Gene Hunt. Writers intended Hunt as a bad guy example of the horrors of the un-woke past, but his character became very popular. At one point DI Sam uses the phrase “hate crime” and Hunt sneers in response,

“as opposed to what, an I really really love you crime?”

The introduction of hate crimes was a mistake. It requires analysis of a criminal’s intent in order to assess if some opinion behind his actions somehow made them worse. Which in turn requires analysis of which opinions are hateful. Once the principle was established the whole racket becomes a game for politicians to signal their love of community X vs community Y. 

To the victims of a crime, it provides no benefit. If I’m cut and bleeding on the floor after a beating, why would I care what was going through the criminal’s mind? I’m no more or less hurt by his being convicted of assault and battery with hateful intent, than without. I’m with DCI Hunt on that point.

To society in general, the disbenefit is division. If a gay friend and I are assaulted on our way home from the pub, our suffering — and the moral impropriety of our attacker’s actions — is the same. If the attacker is punished more for hurting my gay friend than me, society is saying — in effect — that he matters more. 

The only equality that matters is equality before the law. The concept of hate crime undermines that — and was intended to. It is not a bug but an evil feature. All kinds of scam artists and scoundrels are making good livings by playing on inter-community fears and prejudices. They pretend they're against such things, but in fact they live on them and therefore promote them.

Identity politics is not about righting wrongs — not even in the crude way of collective punishment euphemised as “social justice”. It’s about sowing division and reaping political power.


Battle of Ideas Festival , Day #2

Some optimism must have been revived in my cynical old heart yesterday, as I actually joined the Academy of Ideas — the organisation that stages these festivals. I rose early and headed off to Church House for yet another day of debate.

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The first session I chose to attend today was on “Gender Ideology and Criminal Justice,” which I accept was asking for the opposite of a chilled Sunday morning. I did not expect to be reduced to tears however.

The discussion was not about criminalising mis-gendering. It was about the practical effects of trans ideology on criminals and in the prison estates in particular. The fastest growing element in the female estate comprises biological males identifying as women. Are they genuine? Gender dysphoria is a thing, right? Well consider this fact. There are no trans-men in the male prison estate. It seems safe to infer that the “trans-women” inmates at best want access to safer female prisons and at worst want access to female prisoners. 

It seems trans ideology was trialled in the prison system well before it reached wider society. Why? Kate Coleman suggested it was because no one cares what happens to prisoners (especially, in her view, female prisoners) so the ideas met less resistance than could have been expected in schools or hospitals. Once established in the Prison Service and Ministry of Justice, it was easier to roll the ideas out into other parts of the public sector.

This was shocking but not tear-inducing. It was Ceri-Lee Galvin who turned on my waterworks with her account of her tragic life. The father who abused her sexually decided in prison to transition legally and has been able to leave his history behind him on release, while retaining both his paedophile proclivities and his male genitalia. Her courage in refusing to be a victim and insisting on coming forward (under constant and vicious attack for transphobia from trans activists) to protect other young women is as inspiring as her story is terrifying.

Horrifyingly we were told that trans rights transcend child safeguarding in that one need not “deadname” oneself in a DBS report required before working with children.

In search of light relief my next session was “Why do comedians keep siding with the Establishment” featuring Miriam Elia, Dominic Frisby and Graham Linehan. 
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Dominic spoke of the history of the Edinburgh Fringe from the uninvited eight to the present day when the only event selling more tickets than the Fringe is the Olympic Games. He made an interesting comparison of the main (curated) festival vs the (uncurated) fringe to today’s BBC and YouTube. Cat videos would never have been commissioned by BBC Light Entertainment!

Another interesting insight was triggered by a question from the floor about where working class comedians had gone. Dominic said they were early victims of cancel culture driven by the sneering of the likes of Ben Elton.

Miriam had a successful time at the BBB until she wrote a surreal Gardeners Question Time sketch in which militant Muslim vegetables rose up and attacked the other plants on behalf of ISIS. She was told to change it to fundamentalist Christians and refused on the grounds that it wouldn’t then be funny. She left, became independent and has succeeded. She sounded disappointed not to have been cancelled but as Peter Boghossian had advocated yesterday for academia, she’d effectively set up her own parallel institution where she couldn’t be cancelled.

I am a huge fan of Father Ted and was delighted to be in the presence of Graham Linehan. Naively, he feels that our woke censors are imaginary. I pointed out to him from the floor that the Equity Diversity and Inclusion concerns expressed by a BBC producer in rejecting his latest sitcom were not just a fad on Twitter. There were real ESG rules as discussed in the session I attended here yesterday, which could get employees of corporations and institutions fired for any satirisation of protected minorities.

I suggested comedians gave up on the established outlets and went the Boghossian/Elia route of establishing parallel spaces to work in. The chair, Andy Shaw, said that was all well and good up to a point but shows needed venues and when his comedy show featuring Graham had been cancelled at the last Fringe, no one else would offer space.

Linehan has a theory that spell checkers would end the world. It used to be that people complaining to the BBC wrote misspelled letters in green ink that made it obvious they were crazy. Now spellcheckers and Grammarly allowed them to appear serious enough to be listened to.

Miriam has found an outlet for her satirical artworks in Eastern Europe. She found it funny that a British Jew whose ancestors fled that part of the world to find liberty now had to go there to find freedom of artistic expression. As someone who lived and worked in Eastern Europe for 11 years, I could have told her they all recognise what’s happening to us from their recent experience of Communism. They are both inoculated against Soviet thinking and horrified that the West is falling back into it in a slightly different guise.

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After lunch I listened to Peter Hitchens in conversation with Austin Williams on the topic “A Revolution Betrayed.”  He has written a book about the destruction of selective education in Britain. I can’t say there was a debate. To the evident frustration of his interlocutor, all contributions from the floor were supportive of his view that this had been a massive mistake and that British state education is a disgrace. Asked how to fix it, he said “that’s up to you, I’ll be dead soon.”  In his view it can’t be fixed without overturning the leftist cultural revolution that has transformed the country since the 1960s and given us an Establishment that rumbles leftwards regardless of how we vote.

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My next session was “I dissent! Challenging the Culture of Conformism”, featuring Peter Boghossian, Jennie Bristow, Abbot Jamison, Helen Joyce and Lord Moylan. This was one of the most interesting discussions. It seems to me that the radical progressivism of what Frank Furedi calls “the pronoun elite” has done civilisation one favour. In refusing to engage with people who believe in free speech, they’ve pushed us together to have more discussions than we might have had without them. This weekend, old-style Labour, traditional Conservatives and classical liberals like me have engaged in polite but forthright discussions of the issues of the day.

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My final session was chaired by Claire Fox. The title was “Against Fatalism: How can we create a new Enlightenment?” 

Professor Jonathan I. Israel set out the characteristics of the original Enlightenment.

Munira Mirza of Civic Future told a story of dining with a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur who is involved with creating a new town in California. He told her that if you say to someone in the Valley you’re working on general AI they’ll assume it’s possible and will congratulate you. Tell them you’re building a new city however and they’ll say “you’re crazy! You’ll never get permission!” That illustrates the failure of our political system. Our politics are broken, our young are in despair and people are looking for scapegoats. Our universities are place of conformism and you can’t have a new enlightenment if you’re not thinking. 

She said we’re a society that gives a lot of status to the “sneering professions” who deconstruct and criticise, rather than people who build.

Frank Furedi said that the original Enlightenment was as good as it gets in terms of the progress of ideas, but was subject to a shared anti democratic idea, which favoured aristocracy.

Guest speaker Coleman Hughes (of podcast Conversations with Coleman) said when we really need to apply Enlightenment values was when the issue under discussion raised our blood pressure. When the subject makes us uncomfortable is precisely the moment to lean in and have courage.  

Coleman also said that in Pirates of the Caribbean there’s a scene where Captain Jack Sparrow sails by a gallows with pirates left swinging as a warning to others. In truth, very few pirates were caught so the warning was hollow. In a similar way, if someone is cancelled we all sail past the horror show of their punishment on Twitter or other social media. That’s meant as a warning too, to discourage us from speaking our minds. We need to remind ourselves that most people are not cancelled and steel ourselves to be brave and speak out.

That’s as good a summary of the message of the weekend as any!


Battle of Ideas Festival, Day #1

Back in 2012 I attended an earlier version of this event at the Barbican. It was depressing and things have not improved on the liberty front since then. In fact our “Conservative” government has made things considerably worse. This year's festival is at Church House in Westminster. 

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Ben Delo opened the keynote by commending Claire Fox of the Academy of Ideas for staging these festivals. He then depressed me by citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the beginning (rather than as seems to me more likely, the eventual end) of the right to free speech. It doesn’t help if the advocates of fundamental freedoms believe they are in the gift of governments, rather than being the inalienable natural right of every human. Where those rights are denied, it is governments that do so.

He and Claire Fox both referenced The Westminster Declaration, which may perhaps be a beginning in the fight back for free speech.  

In her keynote address, Fox spoke of the dark cloud over this event from the recent pogrom in Israel.

The first session I attended went straight to the point of my current despair by asking the question “who really rules today?”  Matt Goodwin author of “Values, Voice and Virtue” said there is a crisis of morality and authority among our ruling elites. Our old establishment was not really ideological. However from the 1970s we’ve seen its authority drain away. The new British Establishment that has replaced it is highly ideological. It is searching desperately for moral legitimacy after 40 years of failure on every front. Only 20% of the British public shares its values so we’ve now entered a post-democratic era in which voters feel both unrepresented and disrespected.

Pamela Dow, of Civic Future, an ex civil servant, said we might tolerate the elite more if they were elite. But they’re not. They’re hopeless. Her organisation was founded to change that;

Our goal is to identify and empower a wide range of talented young people with the tools to be effective in public service, in all its forms. We will host a range of events and activities to broaden and deepen the understanding and capabilities of all those in, or considering, public life. For example, we will convene informed debates on the defining political and philosophical issues of the day, and practical sessions on effective politics and government. 

Anand Manon was not convinced. He said talk about "elites" is an excuse for the incompetence of a very powerful government that prefers to do "soundbite politics" rather than govern competently. 

Harry Lambert of New Statesman said the problem wasn’t the cultural left but the economic right. He trotted out the old Labour line on redistribution of wealth by taxation as if it was just after the war. To listen to his naive nonsense, you'd never have believed that our oppressed productive minority is already taxed so heavily to fund a massive state that many are shrugging their shoulders and giving up. The poorest US State is now richer per capita than the UK.

My later question from the floor was to ask him where the time machine was parked that had brought him from 1948. Claire Fox, in the chair, accidentally revealed her idea of what taxes are for when she responded to my observation that I’d been taxed to death and my money given to people I detest by saying “I was with you until you said that - I’ve been on the dole a few times.” Of course it’s not benefit claimants I resent my earnings being given to, but such parasites as woke civil servants and state-funded social science  professors intent on destroying our civilisation!

Frank Furedi challenged Lambert's daft idea that the economic world was unaffected by the elites' culture wars by referring to the Harvard Business Review, which these days reads like it was written by a Marxist sociology lecturer. The “pronoun elite” is completely in charge. They seek cultural hegemony by demoting us from citizens to passive "stakeholders" in various neat categories, which (rather than reason or intellect) govern our every thought. The real question, he said, is how do we get our voice back so we can decide the future of our society.

All I really gained from the first session was that I need to read Matt Goodwin’s book.

There was some degree of agreement (except from the young idiot from the New Statesman) that we’d gone too far in suppressing speech. Even he, in fairness, said he didn’t defend the radical progressive extremists (though I suspect he just wanted to change the subject back to his pet theme of increased redistribution of wealth from "the rich" who will of course just sit still as the percentage of their earnings taken from them by state force is even further increased). I really wished I could introduce him to my many friends from Poland with whom I worked on reconstruction of their nation's economy after growing up under state socialism. Not that I think Lambert would learn anything from them, but just because they would find him hilarious!

The second session was about privacy. It was interesting but, as always, there was no clear plan as to how to solve the various problems. My impression was simply that I trusted no one on the panel to “solve” anything on this subject without creating much worse problems in terms of increased state power. We don't need government, from whom we really need privacy, to "protect" us from corporations who merely want to target us more accurately with advertisements for stuff we might (unlike most state "services") actually want.

After lunch, I changed to the economy strand to listen to discussion about ESG and whether it’s bad for business. I was able to offer an anecdote from my own business life on the subject. This was a more heartening discussion. Only one of the panelists made any attempt to justify ESG as a way to help business make better decisions. Most accepted (as did every questioner from the floor) that it was a burden on business, which tended to make everything more expensive to no measurable good effect. The general view seemed to be that ESG investing was a luxury that had thrived while money was cheap. As the cost of capital is now rising faster than at any time in history, it seems likely that this nonsense on stilts will be cut down. There is pressure on government to reform it. 

I was a business lawyer for decades and I literally don’t care what’s “good for business.” Businesses only exist to serve their customers well in order to deliver a return to shareholders on their investment. History shows us what’s best for those customers is for business to have as much competition (and therefore as many difficulties) as possible. What customers don't need is government adding to that burden by creating bullshit rules to make it look as though they're helping. That's what ESG is.

Just as most HR employees are, in truth, enforcement officials for labour laws and most Finance Department employees are tax collectors for VAT and PAYE income tax, ESG staff are – whether employees or consultants – state officials that companies are forced to pay for. If this hidden cadre of employees who do not serve businesses' customers, employees or owners in any productive way and exist only to exert control on behalf of the state was counted as part of the civil service, the true scope of state power would be horrifyingly apparent. 

I observed in this discussion that governments seem mostly to have given up on the traditional socialist goal of owning the means of production. They're happy to leave businesses in private hands as long as they are entirely directed towards the state's goals. There's a name for that corporatist approach and it's "fascism".

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching a recording of "Free Speech Nation" for GB News, presented by Andrew Doyle of Titiana McGrath fame. That will be televised this Sunday at 7pm apparently. It included a shocking interview with Australian MP Moira Deeming about her experience of being expelled from the parliamentary Liberal Party there, after being denounced by the party leadership as a Nazi. She plans to sue them for defamation and I hope she wins. 

Another interesting interview was with Melissa Chen and Faisal Saeed Al Mutar of Ideas Beyond Borders an organisation "founded by two immigrants to the United States from Iraq and Singapore who made their life mission to make critical thinking, liberty and science accessible to people worldwide". Apparently more books are translated into Spanish every year than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand years and in Iraq (where Faisal was born) there are more books banned than are read. They seek to translate key censored texts to make them available to readers in countries where they are forbidden. Even in somewhere like Iran, people are able to use VPN to get around tech restrictions to access forbidden information.

Faisal offered the interesting perspective that he preferred to deal with open, strict censorship where he knew what ideas would get him into trouble than with the current cancel culture in the West where the boundaries are constantly shifting. 

My favourite part of the day was the interview with US philosopher (and cancelled academic) Peter Boghossian. In September 2021, he resigned from Portland State University, citing harassment and a lack of intellectual freedom. He explained to us that the university had simply made it impossible for him to do his job. He gave a harrowing account of process as punishment, explaining that repeated "investigations" into his alleged breaches had wasted huge chunks of his life. He didn't believe (though Governor DeSantis in Florida, among others, is trying) that it would be possible to regain control of the old universities in the States from radical "progressives". He thought it was going to be necessary to establish new institutions in parallel.

The lady sitting next to me had left her seat just before shooting began saying she'd be back in a moment and asking me to look after her bag. She seemed innocent enough but when she failed to return, I became concerned. Reluctantly, as I didn't want to disrupt the event, I spoke quietly to one of the GB News staff. I must say I was very impressed with how the matter was then handled. A few minutes later, two security guys showed up and discreetly asked me to identify the package I was concerned about. They then thanked me for my vigilance and quietly took it away. I don't think even the people immediately around me were aware that there'd been any kind of security problem. I stayed right to the end and the lady never did return. If I was mistaken about her, I hope she got her bag and coat back!

The tedious process of shooting and re-shooting the segments of the show caused a time over-run of more than an hour so I was late home tonight and exhausted. Still I managed to finish this blog– although it was after midnight before I posted it.

I plan to return for the second day and report my experience. 


How can we conquer cancel culture: afternoon sessions

IMG_5447Mark Littlewood opened the afternoon session. He spoke against the idea of untrammelled free speech. In private places, it’s more a question of property rights than morals. In the public square, much changed by social media, he doesn’t think it’s a legal issue either. It’s a cultural one and there’s a long, messy job ahead to change our culture.

Baroness Claire Fox and Mark Francois MP came to the point of the day under the heading “what can parliamentarians do?” Francois however didn’t address it. He just spoke about his Brexit book being turned down by all British publishers and advocated self-publishing on Amazon. Yay for his personal de-cancellation but he’d nothing to say about conquering it in general.

Fox was depressed in the wake of the recent pogrom in Israel by calls from all sides for more hate speech laws. The police have all the power they need. They just don’t enforce it — and certainly not consistently. As I have so often said here, she said we need fewer, better laws — properly enforced.

Still neither speaker really addressed the issue until a questioner asked about loss of democratic control of the civil service. In response to this Fox said it was more insidious than public servants simply refusing to enforce laws they didn’t like. They draft all the laws and have been warping them to be woke-compliant. The politicians were “too busy” to read them in detail she said, to a sharp intake of breath from the audience!

Rafe Heydel-Mankoo of the New Culture Forum said that cancel culture is the most powerful and effective weapon of the radical left. There is no path to victory unless young minds are won over. Our young are more left-wing than ever, and they’re not changing their minds as they used to. The battle has been lost in the primary and secondary schools even before they come to university. These are fragile, risk-averse children unaccustomed to living unsupervised. This makes them vulnerable to the woke mind-virus. Much in the same way that they suffer more physical allergies because they’ve been screened from infection in sterile environments.

The “woke madrassas” in his view are the teacher training colleges. They were fine when small and independent but have now been taken over by universities.  These should be closed and training should be done on the job in schools. All good ideas but hardly like to feature in the Labour manifesto on which the next government’s first King’s Speech will be based!

IMG_5461Nigel Farage was keynote speaker and on fine form  

Thirteen years into what’s laughably called a Conservative government the state has grown beyond our imagination. Drive your own taxed car down the Embankment at 23mph at 2am and you’ll get a fine. If you stole it however, nothing will happen. We’re punishing the good people not the bad.

He advised the TFA to resist digital currency. Control of your money is the ultimate control and it’s coming. We can blame the Marxists all we like, he said, but in his view;

Conservative cowardice is the biggest cause of cancel culture in our country today. 

He spoke of his most recent experience with Coutts and more than ten other banks when he tried to move his accounts. More than a million people have been debanked, which is the ultimate form of cancel culture.

Farage predicted the Tories will be crushed  at the next election. They deserve to be crushed and they need to be crushed so the pendulum can swing. A choice between “two cross-dressing parties” is no use and he predicts that after the Tories are smashed there’ll be a much needed rethink of what politics is about. It is a long game though and  you first have to win the battle of ideas.

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Farage was followed by Nick Buckley, founder of Mancunian Way who was accompanied by Ben Jones a lawyer from the Free Speech Union (of which, like the TFA, I am a member).

The charity Nick founded fired him because he wrote a blog post criticising Black Lives Matter. He took on the charity with the help of the FSU and won. His rather optimistic view is that cancel culture is all just a fad and not to be taken seriously. From his own experience, the woke are bullies and fade away if resisted. His slogan is:

Be a ninja not a whinger.

by which he means don’t lose your job by full on confrontation with he woke in your HR but resist in small and subtle ways.

FSU’s lawyer reported they have dealt with 3,250 cases of people losing their jobs. The bad news is that it’s a bigger problem even than we fear, but the good news is that they have won 73% of those cases. 

IMG_5472Dr David Starkey said we are suffering from the casting down of heroic masculine courage in favour of the more feminine virtue of the Magnificat

The proud will be brought low, and the humble will be lifted up; the hungry will be fed, and the rich will go without (Luke 1:51–53)

We used to glorify heroism and need to do so again because freedom is not a birthright. It’s an achievement. It has to be won. 

We are ruled by bureaucrats and experts and forget history  China fossilised once the mandarinate — a bureaucracy — was established. Rome fell when the pay of its army was doubled. As for experts, an ancient philosopher told us

The judge of the meal is not the chef [the expert] but the eater.   

He said memorably that

Woke grows like fungus in the dark turpitude of bureaucracy.

We have put quangos and bureaucrats in charge of all the key decisions; ranging from the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England to Natural England on town and county planning.

He’s not as optimistic as Nigel that this can be turned around, but reminded us we are the only nation in the world ever to have reversed a revolution without outside intervention. Our present problems stem from changes made by New Labour. He asked why the conservatives have  not reversed all the terrible damage they did  

He stressed the difference between healthy capitalism and our present corporatism is a proper understanding of property rights, which we seem to have lost. He urged us to return to England’s key characteristics:

Freedom individuality and eccentricity!

I left with spirits lifted, but as I said to my near neighbour during a break, I had heard a great deal of analysis and some optimism but no actual plan. At best, I am persuaded that this horror can be undone, but I doubt I shall live to see it.


How can we conquer cancel culture: Morning Sessions

IMG_5437Lembit Opik, former LibDem MP spoke first. He’s joining The Freedom Association's council in a return to the issue — free speech — that brought him into politics. His family’s background in Soviet Estonia is why he cares about the issue. He spoke of training he had at the BBC not to challenge climate change, even with facts. He was rebuked by producers for pointing out to a climate change campaigner that the polar bear population was at a record high. It was true, but not ever to be said. Cancel Culture is about suppressing all arguments — good and bad — against the “liberal” (ie left) establishment narrative. 

He disagreed that cancel culture came from the US. Certainly the word “woke” did (a good word hijacked by bad people) but the ideas are thoroughly Soviet. 

IMG_5440The next speaker, Matt Goodwin is a politics professor who has moved from advising Labour and mostly speaking to the left to mostly speaking to people on the right. He hasn’t changed. The left has radicalised and closed itself off. Radical progressives probably represent 10-15% of society. They’re focused obsessively on race and rewriting history and they are prepared to suppress opposition in pursuit of social justice. They concern him, but he’s more concerned by the failure of the moderate left to oppose them. He’s particularly concerned about its effect in education. These ideas are being pushed heard in primary and secondary education.

I asked him if the ideological imbalance in academia was really an accident. He insisted there was no conspiracy.  The radical progressives were relentless and their opponents simply weren’t. Things are changing and non-woke academics are, for example, turning from the traditional universities and towards new institutions such as the universities of Buckingham and Austen. 

There is an argument that radical progressivism is filling the gap left by religion. Once people signalled virtue by reference to their religious piety.

IMG_5442The surprise guest at the event was Jacob Rees-Mogg. Out of complacency — total confidence in our constitution — he said we’ve neglected to protect it. There have been creeping law reforms that undermined it — eg the evolution of a privacy law inimical to free speech. 

He agreed with a questioner that the Online Safety Bill was a threat to free speech. It was almost impossible to oppose because it was presented as protecting children.

He presented himself as a victim of New Labour reforms that elevated quangos and over politicians and made it impossible to move away from left-wing policies. As he said, Brexit had removed all superior legal forces to parliament and created the opportunity to sweep bad laws away but no one challenged him as to why Conservatives had been in power so long without doing (as he said) enough or (as I would say) anything to do just that.

Eric Kaufmann, a professor much-cancelled at Birkbeck who has moved to Buckingham spoke about how woke our universities are. Only Buckingham in the UK has any academic diversity. Elsewhere his research shows leftists outnumber non-leftists in academia 9 to 1. Most professors would not hire a Conservative or (worse) Brexit supporter.  He said only government could fix that (which made me, if anything, gloomier).

Charlie Bentley-Astor, a recent Cambridge graduate, spoke of the situation there. She felt there was a “poverty of bravery” that prevented students from putting their heads above the parapet.  My own daughter who studied there too was clear that she would be penalised academically if she did so. With a dominant leftist majority in academia, I am not at all clear that legislation coupled with courage could make a difference. Students who speak up and go to Ombudsmen to uphold their right to do so may “win” only to lose when their degree is awarded.

The final session was about the limits on free speech. Tom Slater, editor of Spiked Online took the radical US style view, that all speech short of incitement, should be free. Lembit Opik was vaguer, but keen to advocate a push back.

I agree with Slater and was delighted to hear his view from the youngest person present, but can’t imagine any politician standing successfully on a platform to legalise hate speech.

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Dr Alma Seghal Cuthbert, Director of Don’t Divide us, stood for the Brexit Party and experienced a “chilling effect” on her academic career in consequence. She spoke about being disinvited from an education conference because seven anonymous participants (from five hundred) claimed to be “scared” by Don’t Divide Us’s ideas on the subject of critical race theory.  She thought the fundamental problem was the prioritisation of emotional safety — by the way on a selective basis.

At the end of the morning session, I remain — alas — pessimistic. I hope for better this afternoon.


How can we conquer cancel culture?

I am attending the Freedom Association's conference on this subject at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster today. I am here in the hope of recovering some optimism on this subject. As I wait for proceedings to begin I frankly despair.

It’s not a good sign that TFA had to conceal the location of the event until the last moment. Nor is the fact that, at 66 years old, I’m one of the younger people in the audience. It looks like a nostalgia-fest for what we’ve lost, rather than a rally to fight the good fight.

The usual suspects are here. David Campbell-Bannerman, TFA chair. Mark Littlewood, outgoing Director-General of the IEA. Baroness Fox of my home town in Wales, Director of the Academy of Ideas. Nigel Farage. Dr David Starkey. I’ve heard them all speak before. Their hearts are good, no doubt, but they (and I, in my tiny way) are the very people who — I fear — lost this battle before we even knew we were fighting it.

Hope springs eternal of course. I have never more desperately wanted to be wrong. Let’s hope I can report something to lift the spirits of the would-be free. Watch this cyberspace.


The Football Association and Israel

The Football Association was asked to light up the iconic arch at Wembley Stadium in the colours of the Israeli flag. They refused. This has been widely condemned. In my view sport should never "do" politics. When a friend asked me to write to the FA in support of the request to light up the arch, I politely refused on those grounds. So, in a sense, I think the FA is right. However, having virtue-signalled relentlessly on other non-sporting issues for years, there is something sinister about the fact that it won't in this case.

The FA had footballers kneel in solidarity with a single foreign criminal who was unlawfully killed, but won't express sympathy with more than a thousand murdered innocents. After the terrorist attack in Paris in 2015, the FA's officials lit up the arch in French colours. They were happy to express the support many of us felt for a nation that, if presented with a big red magic button that would erase England from history, would lose lives in the stampede to press it. Yet they choose to remain neutral between the vicious, anti-semitic, baby-butcherers of Hamas and their victims. 

Wembley-arch
It was undoubtedly a mistake ever to mix sport with politics. I should not be put into a position at Craven Cottage where the nice young asian guy who sits next to me has to wonder if I am a racist when I don't stand when our players "take the knee." My refusal to acquiesce in virtue-signalling at the behest of the Marxist monsters of BLM isn't racist at all but I am not at the Cottage for a political discussion. I'm there for the joy of sport and an escape from the tedium of my politically-polluted life. I deeply resent the Premier League, Football Association and indeed the club putting me in an awkward political position at a football match.

The truth is that the FA's inconsistency arises from cowardice. On the day of the Hamas invasion, its supporters were dancing for joy (as captured on video by Countdown's Rachel Riley and published on her Twitter feed) on a street 0.6 miles from where I live in West London. According to the 2021 census, our city's cultural diversity is enriched by the presence of 1.3 million adherents of "the religion of peace." Quite a few – it seems from such celebrations – take pleasure in Hamas barbarism. The FA is unsure of how many fall into that category and – given their history of violent response to perceived slights - is afraid to annoy them.

The FA might also be justified in worrying that The Metropolitan Police force service is so afraid of offending British Muslims that – if they did kick off at Wembley in the non-football sense – it wouldn't hold them to the same legal standards as other Londoners. I wouldn't personally be surprised to see the Met – firmly a part of Britain's Leftist Establishment – side with them.

I don't agree with those calling for the police to suppress pro-Hamas celebrations or demonstrations. Hamas is legally designated as a terrorist group in the UK and it is a crime to support them, but I think that's a legal mistake. They are no more revolutionary, violent or bloodthirsty than many social science lecturers in our universities and no-one is calling (nor should they) for their vile Marxist ideology to be suppressed. Besides, I welcome their free speech. As a practical matter, I need to know who are the murderous sorts among my neighbours. I need that knowledge to inform my decisions about my socialising, my shopping and indeed whether I choose to keep living where I do.

I have every confidence in the Israel Defence Force's ability to respond appropriately to Hamas. I am on Israel's side – as every civilised human should now be – and simply wish them (as they would wish themselves) a speedy victory with minimum bloodshed. I am more interested in what I have learned in the past week about the state of my own nation and its capital city. Evil is among us and our response to it is – as evidenced by the FA's pusillanimity – far too naive, timid and weak. I fear we are going to pay a price for that before too long.


Lionising the lionesses

Football has kept me sane during a difficult part of my life. There have been weeks in the past two years when the only place I’ve left my home to visit has been Craven Cottage. I know it’s just a game. I know much about it is excessive and perhaps a little crazy, but if I couldn’t be bothered to use my season ticket, that was a warning sign to family. They always asked about the game for that reason. They don’t care about Fulham, but they know I’m hanging in there if I still do  

If your game is cricket, golf or rugby or even tennis, then good luck to you. Mine is football. It takes me out of myself and gives me something to believe in and hope for. Please don’t make me think about how trivial that is or how little it really matters. It’s mine and it matters to me.

I am obviously delighted if someone shares my enthusiasm. Who isn’t? I don’t care who or what they are. If they’re football fans, and especially if they’re Fulham fans, I’m inclined to think better of them. It made me smile to learn this morning that Margot Robbie of Barbie fame is of the Fulham faithful. It wasn’t a movie I was going to watch, to be honest, but maybe I will now I know she’s one of our own.  

So the growth of the women’s game is great. I’m all for it. I don’t watch it, just as I don’t watch school football. I would have done if my daughters were playing, but they never did. So I didn’t. And that’s my relationship with the women’s game. I would show up to support any female friend or relative that played, but not strangers. I even might go to a match with a friend who supported a women’s team. If I had any. Just like you, probably, I don’t. I can’t name a member of the Lionesses and neither — if you’re honest — can you (probably).

I was therefore surprised to fall out with an old friend on the subject. It came up during a day we spent at the Oval watching that other game. I mentioned how irritated I was by the way women’s football is being forced on us by our clubs and the media. There are pages of it in my daily paper, which I swipe by as quickly as articles about tennis. My own club relentlessly promotes its women’s team, when the difference in attendances and ticket prices confirms that nothing has changed — except for yet another political drive to make us all pretend something is true that isn’t. 

My stance on this is Bill Burr’s. I’ll take it seriously when women fans show up. The men’s game is subsiding the sport with my money. Not that anyone asked my permission. I’ve done more than enough and it’s just “not my job” to watch it for them too. 

It’s partly Australia’s fault for not batting well enough to engage our interest, but my friend at the Oval went off on me about this (though he’s watched as many live minutes of women playing as I have — i.e. zero). He’s not woke in any other way but he’s really bought into this narrative. He’s even taken to texting articles at me in a spirit of maaate!! to correct my  thinking. Then responding like a humourless wokester when he gets a humorous reaction.

The culture war of identity politics is being waged on so many fronts that reasonable people find it hard to resist on all of them. I used to play mind games in business negotiations by structuring agendas to create long sequences of concessions by my side so that I could argue when it came to an issue that really mattered to us that “it was time they gave us something too”. Such is the human desire to be fair that this trick often worked. 

We are of a generation that doesn’t need submission as a condition of friendship. We’ll get past it, I hope. If stadia fill with fans to watch women play our beautiful game (he’s a fan too, albeit of the Villa) I will be as pleased as he is. Perhaps more so. Because it will then be real and worthy of celebration, rather than just an opportunity to signal not “virtue”, but submission. 


A journey finally ends

I set out in Speranza (my 2009 Ferrari California) on May 21st to drive to Cannes via Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. Regular readers will recall it was quite an adventure. Speranza made it to Germany, where her brakes failed at 150mph on an autobahn. Exciting but not injurious — save to wallet and pride. 

I continued my journey in hire cars after she was recovered to the nearest dealer back in Luxembourg, where she remained until last Monday — almost two months!

The carbon ceramic brake disk that cracked is a “lifetime” item. It’s quite possible — as my car is approaching 100,000 miles — that I was the first customer ever to require a replacement. Many owners have a collection of several Ferraris with less mileage in aggregate than Speranza. She is a rarity for having been used as designed; a grand tourer, taken on grand tours. I can easily imagine Maranello having to order a pair of the disks from the manufacturer. For whatever reason, it took weeks.

Then diagnostics revealed two more issues. A worn wheel bearing needed replacing — another wait for parts. And a software update mandated by Maranello caused an engine sensor to fail. Fortunately that only required a software patch to fix – after yet another delay by Ferrari. If the responsiveness of their parts department reflects that of the Formula One team, it's no wonder no Ferrari since Speranza was built has been entitled to the "Constructors' Champion" badge she bears on her dashboard.

I flew to Luxembourg last Monday to collect her. I’ve put on a lot of weight post-COVID and post-WEXIT (my name — Wife Exit— for my divorce). Heathrow seemed bigger than I remembered and I was exhausted by I got to my plane. Sulking in metaphorical tents is good for neither physical nor mental health.

Public transport goes from not quite where you are to not quite where you want to be via places you've no desire to go. It was great to get back to independent private transport for the return journey. I must remember what that plane trip felt like though. In my heyday I flew several times a month and never once felt like that. It was quite a shock. If I’m to enjoy my remaining life, I clearly need to take better care of myself. 

I was unsure how I'd feel about driving Speranza after the late unpleasantness. I was done with the dealer within 90 minutes of landing so found myself with an afternoon to kill before dinner with my friends. So I drove out along the Moselle Valley towards Germany and enjoyed the wine country scenery. Monday was a bad day to do it. All restaurants and all but one of the vineyards were closed. I managed to buy some "thank you" wine for my host and then spent an hour at a view point overlooking the river. It was probably only 80 km or so, but by the end of it I was completely at ease with Speranza again. She was a joy – as she has been for most of the almost 90,000 miles I've driven her.

IMG_5246Arriving late afternoon at my friend's house, we had a glass before the other dinner guest arrived; a mutual Russian acquaintance from when I was my friend's bank's lawyer in Moscow. We spent a pleasant evening chatting in a delightful restaurant. We sadly remembered a time when we all thought – with what now seems foolish optimism – that Russia was becoming a normal country.

Our Russian friend has left his country. Having passed his language and other tests, he's waiting for his Luxembourg passport to come through. Russia doesn't do dual citizenships, so then he won't technically be Russian any more. He made no complaint, but talked cheerfully and knowledgeably about a wide range of subjects. Still, I felt for him. During twenty years as an expatriate I often enough missed my home culture. How much worse to be, not expatriated, but exiled?

The war in Ukraine has terrible consequences – and not just for the Ukrainians. As the truth slowly dawned on international investors, few of the Russian lawyers I trained to do such businesss were using those skills even before the war began. Now, it seems vanishingly unlikely that they ever will. They and the other citizens of one of the world's great cultures are suffering – as so often – because of the corruption at the heart of their polity.

 

I've no sympathy at all for the evil and/or clinically-insane Russian leadership. At the risk of being de-banked by some half-wit with the political understanding of a sixth-former, I do feel for the Russian people. They can't all decamp to Luxembourg.