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.)
Click here to read my Spectator column about Game of Thrones and the relief of not trying to follow all the labyrinthine plot developments and click here to listen to James Delingpole and me discussing the latest episode. Trigger Warning: Contains some politically incorrect content.
Click here to listen to a conversation between Sir Roger Scruton and me about getting sacked as an advisor to the British Government after making some politically incorrect remarks, and the implications of his defenestration for intellectual freedom more widely.
The news that 83 per cent of Conservative voters are over 45, compared to 53 per cent of Labour voters, is depressing. That was a finding of a poll carried out by Hanbury Strategy for Onward, a right-of-centre think tank that’s just produced a report called ‘Generation Why?’. More alarmingly, Hanbury discovered that the ‘tipping point age’ — the median age at which a person is more likely to vote Conservative than Labour — is 51. That’s up from 47 at the 2017 general election and 34 just beforehand. ‘Yikes!’ as Lynton Crosby might say.
No doubt the Tories’ close identification with Brexit and its stumbling attempts to get over the finish line have contributed to this dire state of affairs, but its cack-handed attempts to appear politically correct can’t have helped. I’m thinking of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the government’s insistence that companies disclose their ‘gender pay gap’, and Theresa May’s ‘race disparity audit’. Trying to get ‘down with the kids’, like a vicar swinging his hips at the church disco, is a guaranteed way of turning yourself into a laughing stock in front of the younger generation. According to Hanbury, just 4 per cent of voters under the age of 24 are intending to vote Conservative. (To read more, click here.)
Monday wasn’t the best day for the government to launch Online Harms, its white paper on internet regulation. As Sajid Javid was proudly proclaiming that Britain would have the toughest internet laws in the world, it emerged that a British woman had been arrested on a trip to Dubai and faced up to two years in prison for describing her ex-husband’s new wife as a ‘horse’ on Facebook. So does the Home Secretary want the UK to have tougher internet laws than the United Arab Emirates? If so, he might find himself at odds with the Foreign Secretary, who has been working behind the scenes to secure the poor woman’s release.
You can see why Javid, one of the front-runners in the Conservative party’s imminent leadership election, thought this would be an easy political win. According to research by Ofcom last year, 79 per cent of UK adult internet users have concerns about going online and the father of Molly Russell, the 14-year-old who committed suicide in 2017 after accessing unsuitable material on Instagram, has been campaigning for laws to purge the internet of harmful content. In addition, the role that ‘disinformation’ and ‘fake news’ played in the EU referendum was highlighted in a recent report by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport select committee. Large social media companies such as Facebook, which owns Instagram, have been given ample opportunity to self-regulate and haven’t got the job done. Isn’t it about time a new sheriff stepped in to tame this Wild West?
But if you read Online Harms it soon becomes clear that it’s very difficult to ‘clean up’ the internet without encroaching on free speech. (To read more, click here.)
I was surprised to learn that the novelist Milan Kundera celebrated his 90th birthday on Monday. I had no idea he was still alive. He has taken up residence in that old people’s home that many former luminaries of western culture now occupy — the one with the sign above the door saying ‘Forgotten, but not gone’. In Kundera’s case, his decline into obscurity is probably connected to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Czech émigré was all the rage in the mid-1980s when he was a critic of his country’s brutal regime. Now that the Soviet Union and its satellite states are a distant memory, he seems less relevant.
I think the time is ripe for a Kundera revival, although not for the obvious reason, which is that communism is back in vogue. I think a good case can be made along those lines — and, indeed, the novelist Ewan Morrison has made it. In a recent essay, Morrison points out that Kundera warned of the dangers of airbrushing inconvenient facts from history in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. We see this today with attempts to gloss over the genocides perpetrated by Stalin and Mao.
In China, for instance, there is only one memorial to the victims of the Great Famine (1959-62), in which up to 43 million people died — a homemade structure, built by a farmer, about the size of a garden shed. As Kundera wrote: ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’
But even more topical than The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is Kundera’s first novel, The Joke. (To read more, click here.)
Listen to the latest Quillette podcast in which I talk to Professor Robert Tombs, author of The English and Their History, about why the English intelligentsia loathe Brexit so much, the climate of intolerance sweeping Britain's universities and whether a politician will emerge in the aftermath of this national crisis to lead the country into the sunlit uplands of its post-Brexit future.