From the Spectator 24 May 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.
Spectator 18 February 2016
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.
Spectator January 2016
A few months ago, one of the organisers of the Oxford Literary Festival contacted me.
I may be putting on a free speech event at Oxford Lit Festival 2-10 April 2016 and wondered if you’d be willing to take part? It’s the usual festival deal.
As I have written a book on free speech, and banged on about it to the point of tedium (and beyond) in these pages, I was happy to go to Oxford and bang on some more. I had one small query.
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.
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.