I have never advised anyone to use the English libel laws. I spent years helping the campaign to reform them, and am proud of the liberalisation I and many, many others helped bring. I have to admit, though, our achievement was modest.
The silencing of Stephen Daisley has nagged away at journalism in Scotland for months. His employer, STV, holds the ITV licences for central and northern Scotland, and is staying very quiet. The Scottish National Party rolls around like a drunk who has won a bar fight. Its politicians and its claque of Twitter trolls celebrate their power to bully and tell direct lies about the journalist they have humiliated. The BBC endorses them. The National Union of Journalists supports them. Everyone behaves as if they are living in a one-party state.
There are two theories about racial prejudice. Most people talk as if there is a fixed block of people ‘the racists’: always white and extreme right wing, and usually covered in tattoos. They are ugly to be sure, but they are just a few irreconcilables in the otherwise merrily diverse land of multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain.
The alternative is less cheering. Prejudice can overcome all or most of us in the right circumstances. It just lies there, like a virus waiting to be triggered. We may not know we have it, but we are capable of succumbing in the right circumstances.
Spectator 10 June, 2016
In England after the Norman Conquest the worst insults you could throw were class insults. So long has feudal prejudice survived that we unconsciously echo the Anglo-Norman aristocracy when we use ‘villainous’ (from villien) and ‘churlish’ (from ‘churl’).
The churl of the 1300s might have reflected that, however miserable his life, it was not his fault that he had been born into servitude. His suffering was the result of an unjust society not a real reflection of his worth. No one shouts ‘churl’ or ‘rustic’ or ‘villien’ today. We live in a meritocratic country and feudalism is long gone except for a few gaudy spectacles around the monarch. So they shout ‘loser’ instead.
It takes an achingly long time for the British to see a lickspittle of mass murderers for what he is. For years, you jump up and down shouting ‘look at what he’s done!’ All but a handful ignore you. But he’s a character, the rest cry. He’s not like those poll-driven, focus-group–tested on-message politicians, who speak in soundbites. He is passionate about his beliefs.
So he is, you reply, and that’s the problem. Since the marches against the Iraq war of 2003, I have written against George Galloway. He has supported Baathist regimes it is fair to describe as fascist: Saddam Hussein’s Sunni Arab dictatorship in Iraq after it had gassed the Kurdish ethnic minority, and Bashar al-Assad‘s Shia Arab dictatorship as his terror provoked revolution.
The Euston Manifesto appears a noble failure. It was clear in 2006 that the attempt to revive left-wing support for internationalism, democracy and universal human rights did not have a strong chance of success. Looking back a decade on, it seems doomed from the start. The tyrannical habits of mind it condemned were breaking out across the left in 2006. They are everywhere now. They define the Labour Party and most of what passes for intellectual left-wing life in the 21st century.
To take the manifesto’s first statement of principle: the left should be ‘committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures’. An easy statement to agree with, I hear you say. Not so easy when the leader of the opposition, feted by his supporters as the most ‘left-wing’ in Labour’s history, will excuse dictatorial regimes or movements, however reactionary, if and only if, they are anti-West.