Claire Fox, censorship and China

In my Observer column this weekend I wrote about how the London Book Fair and the British Council were kowtowing to Beijing by inviting only state approved Chinese authors to take part in their “China focus” events at Earl’s Court this week. I described the run-up to the censored fair, and pointed out that suspicious minds had known that the fix was on for a while.

One of Britain’s leading authorities on China told me that an editor instructed him to not make unflattering remarks about the Communist party in a piece to accompany the fair. Others described a seminar at the British Council in September on how the British should think about freedom of speech in China. It was chaired by Claire Fox, of the Institute of Ideas, the successor organisation to the British Revolutionary Communist party. This sinister clique moved as one from the totalitarian left to the corporate right without stopping at any worthwhile point in between. Observers in the audience predicted that China’s combination of communist dictatorship with capitalist exploitation would appeal to Fox.
They were not disappointed. We should stop talking about human rights and freedom of expression, she said. We should hold our own government to account rather than engage in “China-bashing”. Writers, she concluded, have always benefited from the creative stimulus of censorship. By her logic, there was no need to protest when oppression was good for them. It was “worse than risible”, Jonathan Heawood, director of the free expression charity English Pen, told me. “I was surprised that no one from the British Council was prepared to rebut these absurd assertions.” Now he knows why the council stayed silent. The London Book Fair has been rigged.

Fox has taken to the Web to denounce my account. “It’s hearsay but no direct quote and inaccurate” etc
Well, here is the direct quote Jonathan Heawood, the director of English PEN, gave me. “I was at a British Council seminar last September at which Claire Fox chaired a discussion of Chinese literature. In response to a comment from the floor about the number of imprisoned Chinese writers, Fox asserted that we should stop talking about human rights and freedom of expression in order to talk about literature; that we should hold our own governments to account rather than ‘China bashing’; and that writers have always benefited from the creative stimulus of censorship.”
Heawood then went on to tell me that he found this “worse than risible”. He was surprised that “no-one from the British Council was prepared to rebut these absurd assertions”. I used both these lines in my piece.
For the record Heawood was not trying to remember an argument six months after the event. He was so surprised by what he heard that he wrote as soon as the meeting was over on 23 September 2011 to Susie Nicklin, the Literature Director of the British Council to complain about Fox. Nicklin did not attempt to claim that Heawood had misheard or misunderstood Fox. She did not attempt to deny any part of his account.
For those of you who do not know the Revolutionary Communist Party/Institute of Ideas sect and think it incredible that its members would seek to make excuses for the Chinese dictatorship, remember that these are the people who tried to help Milosevic by claiming that pictures of Serb concentration camps were fakes. For those who want the full, foul story, here is a long and brilliant account by David Campbell on how the RCP and its allies manufactured the modern equivalent of holocaust denial.