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in 2005 in which he questioned whether “date rape” — defined by him as when a woman has initially consented to sex but withdrawn it afterwards — should be a criminal offence.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.)
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.)