The politics professor Matthew Goodwin made an interesting comment on Twitter earlier this week. He pointed out that many of the elements of the ‘paranoid style’ in politics – a phrase coined by Richard Hofstadter in a famous essay to describe right-wing populist movements – are now as common on the Left as they are on the Right. Goodwin mentioned ‘Remainia’ as being particularly susceptible to the paranoid style, which is characterized by ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy’, according to Hofstadter. That struck me as an astute observation and I’ve tried to flesh out the idea in my Spectator column today. If you allow for the fact that some Remainers have become infected by this virus it helps explain why they’re so convinced that the 2016 referendum result was due to sinister foreign influences – data mining companies, Kremlin bot factories, the Koch brothers, Vladimir Putin, and so on – rather than widespread skepticism about the EU among the British electorate.
Hofstadter was a history professor at Columbia, as well as a public intellectual, and his essay, which was published in 1964, proved highly influential. (There is even a garage band named after it called The Paranoid Style.) The reason it has endured is because the right-wing movements he analyzed haven’t disappeared from American politics. In 2018, for instance, Paul Krugman wrote a column for the New York Times entitled ‘The Paranoid Style in G.O.P. Politics’. However, until now no one has sought to apply Hofstadter’s analysis to the anti-Brexit campaign. (To read more, click here.)
I was surprised to read the article by Ben Macdonald in last week’s Spectator urging Britain’s grouse moor owners to ‘rewild’ their estates. It argued that these Tory toffs had spent the past 100 years ‘destroying our natural heritage’, that the UK land under shoot management is an ‘economic desert’ that is ‘destroying both jobs and wildlife’ and that the ‘acts of desecration’ involved in the creation of grouse moors is a ‘debt’ that has ‘never been repaid’.
There was a big clue that Macdonald might not know what he’s talking about early on in the article. Berating the aristocracy for the ‘terrible mistake’ of transforming their hunting estates into merciless charnel houses, he writes: ‘They decided to turn red grouse into the equivalent of living clay pigeons — and shoot them, without skill, in their thousands.’
Without skill? Clearly, Macdonald has never tried to shoot one. They fly towards you at up to 70 miles per hour, usually at head height, and rarely in a straight line. Shooting one involves predicting where it’s going to be by the time the shot reaches it, which varies according to its speed and angle of approach. And given how quickly they are upon you, often in conditions of poor visibility, your window of opportunity is rarely longer than a few seconds. Not for nothing is the red grouse known as the ‘king’ of game birds. (To read more, click here.)
The failure of Western universities to stand up for free speech is now so commonplace it’s difficult to feel much outrage when another dissenting professor is tossed to the wolves. But on this occasion the university in question is so distinguished we really ought to sit up and take note. And for once, I don’t mean Cambridge. The vice-chancellor of Cambridge has done so much to destroy its global reputation in the last few months – what with the defenestration of Jordan Peterson and Noah Carl, and the decision to investigate the university’s links with the slave trade – that he has allowed himself a few days off. No, the university that has disgraced itself this week is Harvard. That’s right, Harvard, which has topped the Times Higher Education supplement’s World Reputation Rankings since 2011.
The story begins last January when the African-American Law School Professor Ronald Sullivan joined Harvey Weinstein’s defence team. Now, it isn’t unusual for Professor Sullivan to represent unpopular clients. In the past, he has represented Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots player accused of a double murder, and the family of Usaamah Rahim, a man accused of being a terrorist who was shot by the Boston Police. But his decision to represent the man at the centre of the #MeToo scandal proved too much for some radical students, who began organising protests in Harvard Square. The chant heard most often at these rallies is ‘Believe Survivors’, the same phrase that activists used when campaigning against Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. The implication is that the presumption of innocence should not be extended to men accused of rape or sexual assault. (To read more, click here.)
Anyone watching the BBC’s News at Ten on Monday would have been surprised to learn that economic growth poses a dire threat to the future of life on this planet. We’re used to hearing this from climate change campaigners, but I’ve always taken such claims with a pinch of salt, suspecting that the anti-capitalist left is distorting the evidence. Apparently not. ‘One million species at risk of imminent extinction according to a major UN report,’ intoned the BBC. ‘It says the Earth’s ecosystems are being destroyed by the relentless pursuit of economic growth.’ So does this mean the Extinction Rebellion protestors are right?
I decided to do some digging to see if one million species really do ‘face extinction in the next few decades’, as the BBC put it. That claim is based on a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), but it hasn’t been published yet. All I could find online was a press release put out by the IPBES and a ‘summary’ of the report ‘for policymakers’. The press release states: ‘The report finds that around one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.’ It gives no source for this beyond the as-yet-unpublished report, but the summary makes it clear that it’s partly based on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. (To read more, click here.)
On Monday, I appeared on Good Morning Britain to debate President Trump’s forthcoming state visit with Asad Rehman, the executive director of War on Want. I was surprised to learn that War on Want, a charity in receipt of lottery funding, is a partner in the Stop Trump Coalition, the group behind the anti-Trump demonstration last year. It is hoping to organise an even bigger protest next month.
The reason this came as a shock is because the Charity Commission issued an ‘official warning’ to the Institute of Economic Affairs in February for a report on how to create a prosperous post-Brexit UK that wasn’t sufficiently ‘balanced’ and ‘neutral’ and therefore fell afoul of the rules regarding ‘political activity’. The IEA is the second think tank to be told off by the regulator for being too ‘political’ in the past 12 months. Last year, it ordered the Legatum Institute to take down a report on UK trade policy that, like the IEA report, argued for a particular post-Brexit strategy.
The regulator’s targeting of these think tanks is a little baffling, given that it hasn’t reprimanded other charities, such as the Institute for Public Policy Research, which have published reports on the UK’s post–Brexit trade policy. Where was the ‘official warning’ for the Resolution Foundation, a charity that published a report claiming the vote for Brexit had left the average UK household £1,500 worse off? Could it be because the IEA and Legatum are right-of-centre, whereas the IPPR and the Resolution Foundation, which is run by a former Labour party policy director, are left-of-centre? It would be ironic if a UK government regulator wasn’t being ‘balanced’ and ‘neutral’ in its choice of which charities to reprimand for being insufficiently ‘balanced’ and ‘neutral’. But it certainly looks that way — particularly when you dig into the activities of War on Want. (To read more, click here.)
I was disappointed to learn that St Edmund’s College, Cambridge has decided to capitulate to a mob of woke student activists and terminate the fellowship of Dr Noah Carl, a social scientist. This follows two investigations carried out by St Edmund’s, one into the process that led to Carl’s appointment, the other into a series of allegations made by left-wing students. The students repeated the charges set out in an ‘open letter’ to the college last December signed by over 200 academics – some of them in fields like ‘gender studies’ and ‘critical race studies’ – in which Carl was accused of producing work that is ‘ethically suspect’ and ‘methodologically flawed’.
Noah Carl’s crime, in case you haven’t guessed, is being a conservative. Academics who are right-of-centre are becoming increasingly rare, as Carl himself documented in a report for the Adam Smith Institute in 2017. He found that less than 12 per cent of academics employed by British universities vote for right-wing or conservative parties, falling to less than ten per cent in the social sciences and less than five per cent in the humanities and arts. The authors of the ‘open letter’ claimed Carl was guilty of ‘racist pseudoscience’ for making links between ‘race’, ‘criminality’ and ‘genetic intelligence’, but failed to provide any evidence to substantiate these allegations. A counter-petition defending the young scholar, endorsed by such eminent professors as Peter Singer, Jonathan Haidt and Cass Sunstein, attracted over 1,200 signatures. (To read more, click here.)
You’d think the British Left would hesitate before taking the side of President Maduro in his latest clash with Juan Guaido. After all, Jeremy Corbyn’s warm words for Maduro’s predecessor – “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared” – have come back to haunt him. When Chavez assumed power in 1998, 40 per cent of Venezuelan households were living in poverty.
Last year, thanks to the legacy of the man Diane Abbott once lauded for showing “another way is possible”, that figure had climbed to 82 percent. The rate of inflation is predicted to hit 10,000,000 per cent this year and starvation is so widespread that Venezuela is one of the few countries in which infant mortality is on the rise.
Happily, Chavez’s own family won’t be visiting a food bank any time soon. His daughter Maria Gabriela is reported to have $4 billion hidden away in secret European bank accounts. Is that what John McDonnell had in mind when he praised the Chavez regime as “socialism in action”? (To read more, click here.)
he fall of Sir Roger Scruton was a drama in two parts. Act One began last November when the 75-year-old conservative philosopher was appointed Chair of “Building Better, Building Beautiful”, a commission established by the government to try to improve the design of new homes, villages and towns. The beady-eyed commissars of political correctness immediately sensed an opportunity and, within hours, they were hard at work, digging through everything Scruton had ever said or written in the hope of finding material they could be “offended” by — ideally, anything that would make him look like a racist, homophobe or misogynist, even if that meant wrenching it out of context. Given that Scruton has written more than 50 books and enjoyed a long career as a prolific journalist and public speaker, they had plenty of material to sift through and, sure enough, they soon found a treasure trove of “hateful” comments. For instance, he’d once described “Islamophobia” as a “propaganda word” and — in a column for the Telegraph in 2007 — said homosexuality was “not normal”. He’d also given a lecture in the United States in 2005 in which he questioned whether “date rape” — defined by him as when a woman has initially consented to sex but withdrawn it afterwards — should be a criminal offence.
I thought he was a goner, partly because I’d been taken out in an almost identical manner when the government appointed me to the board of the Office for Students, the new universities regulator, 11 months earlier. As soon as it was announced, my enemies on the Left started searching for evidence that I’d once held “unacceptable” views and it didn’t take them long to find it. For instance, someone went through the Spectator’s archive and read everything I’d written, dating back more than 20 years. Sure enough, they discovered a piece from 2001 entitled “Confessions of a porn addict”, which they then photographed and put on Twitter. Within 15 minutes, the Evening Standard ran an article headlined: “New Pressure on Theresa May to Sack ‘Porn Addict’ Toby Young from Watchdog Role.” After eight days of this, with Labour’s front bench gleefully seizing every opportunity to denounce me, Downing Street began to wobble and I had no choice but to resign. I hoped that would draw a line under the affair, but I ended up losing five positions, including a Buckingham University fellowship and my full-time job running a free schools charity. (To read more, click here.)
Until now, I haven’t been too worried about Jeremy Corbyn. True, he exceeded expectations two years ago, but that was because no one thought Labour would win. It was a protest vote, a way for Remainers to signal their disapproval of Theresa May’s approach to Brexit. If the good burghers of Kensington thought there was the slightest chance Labour would be elected they never would have returned a Labour MP. And since then the bloom has gone off the rose. It has finally dawned on Remainers that Corbyn has his own, hard-left reasons for wanting to leave the EU and that behind his ‘anti-Zionism’ lurks something more sinister. Not so much ‘magic grandpa’ as a relic of toxic, 20th-century ideology.
But that was before the government committed hari-kari. Thanks to May’s inability to get Brexit through, Corbyn may well win the next election and my thoughts have been turning to the terrible aftershocks that would follow. I don’t mean the calamitous economic impact: capital flight, a run on the pound, asset prices tumbling. No, I mean the threat to free speech. What would a Corbyn victory mean for me and other outspoken critics of the loony left? (To read more, click here.)