Speech from The Freedom Dinner with Rod Liddle Tue, July 12
ROD LIDDLE is associate editor of The Spectator, former editor of BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, and columnist for The Spectator, The Sun and Sunday Times.
MANY THANKS for inviting me here tonight. I have been told that I was picked to deliver this address from among a very large list of people, solely because I have children and am a mother. This gives me great empathy and understanding and also the right to amend my CV whenever the feeling takes me.
That was a star which rose and fell rather speedily, wasn’t it? Before we even learned how to pronounce her name.
We live in interesting times, do we not? It is quite possible that within a few months England’s most long-standing political leader will be a man called Tim Farron. I heard Tim on Any Questions last week and he spoke with great uncertainty and anxiety, like a man who fears that he may have left the gas oven on at home and is contemplating calling the emergency services. Soon we will have to regard him as a titan of politics, a colossus.
And then there is my party, Labour, which is fine fettle, no? There will be a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s sane and rational leadership from a woman called Angela Eagle – swoop, swoop. She is the sister of the former cabinet minister Maria Eagle, which prompted one MP to say that Angela was the lesser of two eagles. And also that she wasn’t even the best politician in her own family. Not even the best … Well, who could imagine Labour making that sort of mistake?
Angela is also a lesbian, which is fine by me. But this is presumably the next stage in the lesbian takeover of British politics. Both the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Conservatives are led by lesbians. I don’t know the sexual preferences of Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru – any port in a storm, I would guess.
But this is all very commendable, especially as I read recently that lesbians are actually much scarcer than is popularly thought; almost endangered and that we should perhaps consider a reintroduction policy in selected areas, much as has been accomplished with red kites in the Chilterns. It will be a fine sight to see lesbians once again soaring on outstretched wings across Beaconsfield and Henley, gimlet eyes scouring the terrain for carrion. But rumours of their scarcity have clearly been exaggerated.
All of this is keeping Labour from its most important work, which is kicking me out of the party. I was suspended a month or so ago for the crime of having suggested that adherents of Islam were not always entirely kindly disposed towards Jewish people. I know, it beggars belief how I could have possibly reached this conclusion. I’d probably had too much to drink.
Anyway, I got an email shortly after from a man called Harry who said I was suspended but could present my case at a “fact finding” hearing. I would be allowed to take a friend with me, but the friend wouldn’t be allowed to speak. I suggested that suspending me before the initial fact finding hearing had a slightly, how can I put it, Soviet ring to it. And Harry replied that my suspension was a “neutral” act. I would have thought a neutral act would have been to NOT suspend me, but there we are.
This was all part of Labour’s frankly hilarious investigation in anti-Semitism which gave the party a nice clean bill of health and was presided over by a woman who presides over all of us, Shami Chakrabarti. Shami is also Chancellor of Essex University, visiting fellow at Nuffield College Oxford, an honorary fellow at Mansfield College, master of the bench of the Middle Temple, governor of the British Film Institute and holds honorary degrees from three more universities.
It’s nice she was able to squeeze Labour’s Jew-bashing into her packed schedule. Indeed so prolific is Shami within publicly funded bodies, quangos, the third sector and education that I was able to create a parlour game called Six Degrees. Basically choose any arts council, charity or quango, look down the list of trustees and you’ll be able to get to Shami within an absolute minimum of six moves and more usually two.
This is because it is a very small pool of people who run all this stuff and they are all chosen for the same reason – they share precisely the same bien pensant opinions. And, usually, affluent background. This is the new establishment, the people who in a sense govern our country. People who are appointed to stuff, who are on the boards of all of our universities, who run the arts programmes, the charities, everything which costs the taxpayer money. Always appointed – no interview needed. The same names, over and over again. The new great and the good.
Gramsci would have been proud of this march through the institutions. When you dig away at each name it’s not easy to find a reason why they’ve been appointed. I was rooting through the names on the BBC Board of Governors a while back and came across a woman of whom I’ve never heard. So I searched out her biography to find out her back story. All it said was Mahmuda has spent her career upholding standards in public life. You can imagine meeting her at a party, can’t you?
This stuff has a point right now. You will probably be aware of the sort of weirdo authoritarian censoriousness currently gripping our students. The banning of speakers from left and right because they transgress some fatuous shibboleth these cossetted and mollycoddled idiots think of as sacred. Feminists banned from campuses because they’re not sure about transgendered people. Islamists banned because they’re not mad on feminism. Jews banned because they’re not sure about Muslims. Sombreros banned because they might offend Mexicans.
The idea is to create a safe space where these people – supposedly our intellectual elite – can exist without anything, ever, challenging their world view. As if they have a right not to be contradicted or offended. As if what they believe is it, and there’s an end to it.
We sometimes portray this hilarious – but genuinely totalitarian tendency – as being an affliction of youth. I’ve written about this and said much the same thing. But it’s not, really. The universities in which these kids are taught are scarcely better. The same political and cultural hegemony applies, a suffocating refusal to allow freedom of speech and dissenting views.
It’s there in all of those quangos and third sector bodies I mentioned before – an absolute refusal to tolerate dissent from the approved socially liberal views. It’s there in the BBC. You can see it in the Guardian which has recently started denying readers the right to comment on articles which it thinks might be controversial – the site called, with exquisite irony, Comment is Free. Its writers were miffed when people started posting opinions which ran counter to their own. So they banned the comments, all of them.
And more than anything it’s there in the deranged and apoplectic response from some Remainers to our vote on June 23. It’s not enough that they may disagree with the decision to withdraw from the EU. I can understand that: it was a close call for me. But the screaming tantrums and the bedwettings, the toys thrown out of the pram, the tears before bedtime and the stamped feet! The demands that because working class people were allowed to vote the whole thing should be run again. Oh DO fuck off.
And you are left with the same conclusion you reach with those students. That these people are utterly unused to being contradicted. They have no experience of being gainsaid, of being told that they might be wrong, of being on the wrong side of the argument. And so they react with an incandescent fury and a sense of outrage and also, in this particular instance, with the massed ovine bleat of raaaacccist, like lobotomised sheep. Very angry lobotomised sheep. And they gather in Parliament Square and they sign petitions which somehow they think is more democratic than the actual vote. They are deranged, I think, these people.
Still, we are out, although for the next two years stuff will proceed as normal as we are still beholden to European Union directives which insist that the tobacco industry and the sugar industry and the fast food industry are basically agents of Satan tempting a gullible and cretinous public with evil.
No more so than with cigarettes, of course. I think I was slightly angrier with Tony Blair for banning smoking in public than I was with him for invading Iraq, which is a rather selfish way of looking at the world. But one adapts as a loyal consumer, much I have done with the packaging issue. These days I always ask the tobacconist for a packet of cigarettes that has that chap with an enormous tumour growing out of his throat. I much prefer that to the one which shows inadequate semen.
The argument has always been – from the same neck of the woods as those people I’ve mentioned before – that you are, to quote a smug and complacent phrase they often use, on the “wrong side of history”. That, in essence, freedom of choice, like freedom of speech, is actually a tyranny rather than benediction. They think it is not a freedom at all because other people – never themselves – are somehow oppressed by it, oppressed by freedom.
And so they demand ever greater restrictions on your products, more regulations and, best of all, price hikes so that it is the poor who really cop it. They are the ones who suffer through paying more for their treats – the smokes, the burgers, the alcohol. Because they are the stupid ones whose lives need to be regulated. Other people. It is always other people who binge drink, isn’t it? We just have three or four rather agreeable bottles of Sancerre. That’s not binge drinking. Cheap cider is binge drinking.
And they do all this because of course they know best. Like the students with their safe spaces and the Guardian restricting free speech for other people, and like the howls of outrage from the anti-Brexit mob, they cannot bear to gainsaid. You’re on the wrong side of history.
Ah, well. As we have seen, one can be on the wrong side of history until history suddenly and rather capriciously switches sides – as it did on June 23 this year. The other people, particularly the poor, became sick of being told what to do. And they rebelled. It may not seem so to some of you Remainers worrying about your overseas contracts right now, but in the end that rebellion is good for you too. It was a vote for freedom of choice.