After Paris, Europe may never feel as free again


The Observer 14 November 2015

The aftermath of a terrorist massacre is the worst time to make predictions. The extremity of the outrage pushes policy-makers and citizens to play with equally outraged responses.

It is worth steadying yourself with the thought that until Friday night, Europe’s response to terrorism has not been extreme. Despite gruesome predictions to the contrary, European democracies have not turned themselves into police states. There have been no backlashes or pogroms against Muslims. EU countries, including Britain, have remained free and good societies overall; nations we can be proud of in our necessarily grudging way, for all the faults and abuses we must tackle.
Continue reading

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t anti-war, he’s just anti-West

From the Spectator 21 November 2015

Before the bodies in Paris’s restaurants were cold, Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War Coalition knew who the real villains were — and they were not the Islamists who massacred civilians. ‘Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East’ ran a headline on its site. The article went on to say that the consequence of the West’s ‘decades-long, bipartisan cultivation of religious extremism will certainly be more bloodshed, more repression and more violent intervention’.

This flawless example of what I once called the ‘kill us, we deserve it’ school of political analysis takes us to the heart of Corbyn’s beliefs. Even his opponents have yet to appreciate the malign double standards of the new Labour party, though they ought to be clear for all to see by now.
Continue reading

The far left laughs to forget


Nothing about the crisis in the Labour party makes sense until you find the honesty to admit that far leftists have taken over its leadership, and the clarity to see them for what they are.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of so many Corbyn supporters, these are not decent, well-meaning men, who want to take Labour back to its roots. Nor are they pacifists and idealists you can look on with an indulgent smile and say, ‘I wish they were right, but their ideas will never work in the real world, more’s the pity’.

To the delight of the Conservative Party, SNP and Ukip, they are genuine extremists from a foul tradition, which has never before played a significant role in Labour Party history. The roots they spring from are the roots of British Leninism, not British social democracy. As their defenders scrabble for plausible excuses, they say that at least Corbyn and McDonnell are an authentic alternative to the focus-group obsessed, poll-driven politics of the Blair days. They are right in their way, but the authenticity lies in authentic far-left prejudices and hypocrisies the Labour leadership is now displaying to an astonished nation.
Continue reading

The silencing of liberal Muslims


The Observer 4 October 2015

Tell MAMA is the only pressure group that undertakes the hard but necessary work of encouraging Muslims to report religious assaults. MAMA stands for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks and its workers use the information it collects to persuade the police to take sectarian violence seriously.

I admire Tell MAMA because it follows the cases that rarely get national attention: reports that Ulster loyalists are behind threats to Muslims in Northern Ireland or news of yobs insulting worshippers when they leave a mosque. It ensures that abuse of Muslims does not become an accepted fact of British life and offers a way into a criminal justice system, which is meant to protect their rights.

Naturally, Tell MAMA and its founder, Fiyaz Mughal, have enemies. They receive, as one might expect, racist abuse from supporters of the English Defence League. The rightwing press isn’t much better. Mughal despairs of the “there’s no such thing as Islamophobia” pieces that do the rounds. But it is not the “Tory press” that is stopping Tell MAMA from holding meetings in mosques. Nor is the EDL threatening to destroy its efforts to contain anti-Muslim violence.
Continue reading

Labour and the child abuse mania

aaTom-Watson-009The Observer October 11, 2015

A few years ago, the Aye Write literary festival in Glasgow invited me to discuss press freedom with Tom Watson. I thought it would be a standard debate until I arrived at the hall and learned it was a set-up.

On one side, there was your humble correspondent, still making the battered old argument that free countries can never allow state censorship. On the other was Watson, his fellow Hacked Off campaigner Brian Cathcart, Christopher Jefferies, the retired English teacher, who was falsely accused of murder by the tabloids, and who, understandably, became a fervent Hacked Off supporter thereafter, and one Ruth Wishart. The organisers had told me she was a journalist, which perked me up considerably, but she turned out to also be a member of Lord McCluskey’s inquiry into the Scottish press, whose recommendations were so authoritarian even Alex Salmond rejected them

Four against one, then. An audience justifiably outraged that the Murdoch and Mirror groups had broken the law and made the lives of innocents a misery. A genuine victim in Christopher Jefferies. And, in Tom Watson, a heroic politician who had fought the unelected Murdoch power. Continue reading

The nationalist attack on learning

Spectator 17 October 2015

In the grounds of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University stands a one-tonne sculpture. Roughly hewn and about five feet high, it carries in its top corner an ill-carved sun. Beneath it are some words of Alex Salmond, half-sunk in the sandstone, as if they were the thoughts of a Scottish Ozymandias:

The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.

This clunky celebration of SNP policy should raise a few doubts. Free higher education is not free for all in Scotland. Edinburgh can afford to pay the fees of only 124,000 students in Scottish universities. Their contemporaries might have the grades, but they must go elsewhere because Scottish universities need fee-payers from England and Wales to balance their books. More pertinently, the Heriot-Watt stone ignores the class warfare in Scottish education. To fund free university education for largely middle-class students, the SNP has hit the budgets of the further education colleges of the working class.

But the biggest question is the most basic: what the hell is a university doing plonking a lump of rock covered with party political propaganda on its campus?
Continue reading

Lord Leveson’s legacy could be the death of investigative journalism

Newspapers on the day that the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems agree a deal on press reform.
Newspapers on the day that the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems agree a deal on press reform.

Spectator 15 October 2015

Later this year, or more probably in the spring of 2016, the following scene may play out on the steps of the High Court in London. An editor will appear before the cameras and say: ‘I am instructing my reporters stop investigative journalism until the law is changed.’
Continue reading