Night of the Living Lefties: How Nick Timothy writes chilling culture war fairy tales for Telegraph readers

A break down of one culture warrior's column reveals the tricks they all use to ignore facts and stir up feelings...

Securing a job in politics — either as an MP or an advisor — has become like getting a spot in a popular reality TV show. Once you’re done with it, you’re set for life — you’ll probably get a newspaper column or a slot on talk radio, and you’ll definitely be able to ‘review’ the papers whenever you fancy. It doesn’t even matter if you were an incompetent MP or a terrible advisor, you’re part of the system and it’ll find you things to do forever.

One of the best examples of someone turning their fleeting proximity to power into a column for life is Nick Timothy. One of Theresa May’s two Muttleys (alongside Fiona Hill) at both the Home Office and during the early part of her premiership, Timothy will go down in history as one of the most catastrophically crap counsellors a UK prime minister has ever relied upon. He got a CBE for services to being crap in May’s resignation honours.

Timothy co-authored the Tories’ tremendously dim 2017 manifesto and took a central role in sat-navving his boss into losing the party’s parliamentary majority, forcing her to rely on the knuckle-dragging whims of the Democratic Unionists. He started writing his Telegraph column in August 2017, two months after he resigned as May’s advisor. And ever since he’s been issuing proclamations about what he thinks on a weekly basis.

The columns follow three templates:

  1. Look! Brexit was brilliant and Europe was awful

  2. ‘Why I’m much cleverer than anyone in government’ (with a side order of settling old scores)

  3. Culture war! Culture war! Wokery! Wokery! Wokery!

The third one is Timothy’s favourite as, while he had no idea what the country wanted, he’s very clear on what Telegraph readers like — scare stories about Bolsheviks under the bed and excuses for why their grandchildren don’t call them anymore.

Timothy’s latest offering is a category 3 column with a headline that could have been written by a basic machine learning algorithm trained on his previous output — In the heat of the culture wars, we have lost our moral compass.

Quite what a man who was up to his neck in the ‘Go Home Vans’ scandal during May’s time at the Home Office (he later tried to make excuses for her over the farrago) knows about moral compasses is a mystery.

We’re going to go paragraph by paragraph through Timothy’s article because it’s a textbook example of how ‘culture war’ stories in the British press are made. He begins, as these columns so frequently do, with a strident but unsupportable assertion about how terrible things are:

One of the sickest aspects of Britain’s culture war is that the Left accuses the Right of starting each battle. Yet the reality is that from cancel culture to the denigration of British history, from gender fluidity to the racialisation of almost everything, it is always the Left firing the first shots.

Day in, day out, The Telegraph and its weekend sibling The Sunday Telegraph publish comment pieces designed to foster and foment the culture war. Three of Timothy’s last columns alone have been on ‘culture war’ topics. But the tactic requires writers to pretend that it is, in fact, the Left that pushes these divisions.

It’s a modern take on Margaret Thatcher defining the miners as “the enemy within”. For a right-wing that has control of the vast majority of the political and press power in the country, claiming that the Left are secretly and insidiously defining culture is both an excuse for their failings and a catalyst for policies that they want to implement anyway.

Timothy continues by piling on more wild assertions that he knows Telegraph readers will gobble down like red meat thrown to yapping dogs. He goes on:

“But what about flags?” scoff Left-wing culture warriors. “You can’t see ministers these days without a Union Flag behind them.” But this only proves the point. The Tories have realised that flying the flag sends their opponents into paroxysms of fury, and this suits Conservative electoral objectives.

Yet recall pictures of past Labour leaders with the flag, like Attlee and Wilson, and you see that it is the Left that has changed, not the Conservatives and not the country.

Firstly, as columnists of Timothy’s stripe tend to do, he avoids actually quoting any living, breathing left-wingers and opts instead to ventriloquise with a set of strawmen of his own clumsy construction.

Secondly, he says the quiet part loud and admits that the Tories are wrapping themselves in the flag, not because of their patriotic bones but their calculating minds. But it’s the Left that stokes the culture war, right? Nick just said so.

Thirdly, Timothy claims that former Labour leaders — Atlee and Wilson are the ones he gropes for — were forever striding around with the Union Flag. But search for those pictures — click here and here — and you’ll find those images are fairly thin on the ground. In fact, you can find far more images of Tony Blair with the Union Flag than any of the Labour leaders that came before him. More, in fact, than most of the Tory Prime Ministers that preceded him too.

Timothy’s tactic of making assertions that are unconcerned by evidence or the burden of context continues. He writes:

It is weird that national symbols, traditions and institutions should provoke indignation and outrage. They are things that are unremarkably good, that we share, that forge a common identity, and their goodness should not be contentious. But for a minority of nihilistic ideologues, they are icons that need to be smashed.

Is it any surprise that a milk-faced mook who spent five years at the Home Office — central government’s most consistent racism factory — would ignore that other people’s experience of the Union Flag might differ from his? Or its role as a symbol of colonialism or as something that the far-right wrapped around themselves as they chanted, “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”?

This is how the Conservative culture war works: Flatten out on all complexity, nuance, and context. That’s why we’ve just spent almost a week unpicking the horror of the race report that Boris Johnson’s administration ensured would conclude that “institutional racism doesn’t exist”.

And now we come to Timothy’s turn denying that the Right actually has any power when faced with the sheer cultural clout of the Left. He writes:

The trouble, increasingly, is that despite Conservative successes at the ballot box, this minority is starting to override the values and interests of the rest of us. The ideologues have either taken over the decision-making positions of important organisations or frightened others to the extent that powerful people have lost their confidence, moral compass and ability to judge what is reasonable.

Consider Pimlico Academy in London. There, pupils led a strike against the head teacher over a “racist” school uniform policy, a curriculum focused too much, supposedly, on “Caucasian” kings and queens, and the fact that the Union flag flew on school premises. The school appears to have done nothing out of the ordinary. Yet forbidding hairstyles that “hide the face” was said to be racist and requiring hijabs not to be “too colourful” apparently Islamophobic.

There are two reasons that Pimlico Academy’s internal issues are national news: 1) It has a number of notable alumni (politicians and politicians’ progeny, writers, footballers, actors and comedians among them)

2) Raising controversy over the uniform policy and the flying of the Union Flag into a national issue suits both commentators on the right like Timothy and the centre-left reporters at The Guardian that first highlighted the situation. Its story was published just as the Union Flag debate was flaming up again following the joke about Robert Jenrick’s flag on BBC Breakfast.

There was a time when this kind of thing would have stayed confined to the local newspaper. But those days are long gone.

Timothy uses another common trick in this section — using partial quotes and condensing the story to make one side (the pupils and the unions) seem entirely unreasonable compared to the other (the headmaster). But things are more complex than Timothy and other right-wing talking heads including Nigel Farage want to accept. It’s much easier for them to decry Marxist infiltrators than to look at the other issues at play:

The headteacher at Pimlico Academy joined the school last summer and appears to have attempted to make changes to its culture far too quickly. Other senior leaders at the school have resigned since he took up the role and it seems there have been consistent failures of both leadership and communication that led up to the student protests.

Continuing his distorted take on the situation, Timothy writes:

After pupils tore down and burned the Union Flag, hundreds staged a walkout and videos were posted online of the headteacher fleeing an aggressive teenager, the school backed down. The uniforms policy has been amended and the Union Flag will no longer fly. The pupils, carrying Socialist Worker placards and daubing graffiti complaining about “white schools for brown kids”, have been backed by the National Education Union, which organised a successful vote of no confidence by teachers in the head.

The Socialist Workers Party will turn up and distribute placards at any protest of which they even get a sniff so that part is easily explained. The SWP turned up, handed out placards and those placards have now been photographed, offering an easy target for The Daily Mail and yet another distorted ‘data point’ for Timothy’s big brain to crunch on.

The burning of the flag — which, according to The Guardian, occurred in September 2020 — is elided with last week’s protest because Timothy wants to produce the effect of a situation rapidly escalating rather than a long-simmering problem. Similarly, the vote of no confidence in the head seems to be related to a far wider set of issues than simply the changes to uniform policy or the flying of the flag. And the video of the head being pursued by an ‘aggressive’ teenager? Well, that’s a matter of perspective:

Does that teenager sound aggressive to you? Because he doesn’t to me. And the head could have engaged with the young man. In fact, he should have engaged with him as working and communicating with the school community is such a key part of being an educator and a leader.

Timothy doesn’t link to the video because he knows if he did at least some of his readers would realise that his description is overblown. The same goes for an assertion he makes about the National Education Union (NEU):

The very same union has remained silent in the case of Batley Grammar School, where a teacher remains suspended and living in hiding with police protection after giving a lesson on blasphemy and – perfectly legally and in line with past school practice – showing pupils pictures of the Prophet Mohammed… it seems that the school threw the poor teacher to the wolves, with potentially disastrous consequences for his safety. Yet the union that represents him did not say a word.

That’s not true though, no matter how many times Timothy, Brendan O’Neill, or Julia Hartley-Brewer says so. Here’s Dr Mary Boustead, the NEU’s joint general secretary making a statement on 30 March:

The union’s job in supporting its members is not to make statements to the press about what it’s doing for them or to further inflame a very dangerous culture war story that’s being exploited by people on both sides. But Timothy goes on:

In one case the union was noisy, in another it was silent, but in both it sided with a mob that sought to intimidate teachers. No doubt the union was itself afraid, but it is as likely that its decisions stem from its own ideological conviction. The NEU has arranged “decolonising education” conferences and supported the Marxist Black Lives Matter campaign. It has hosted training sessions for staff from Mend, a Muslim campaigning organisation accused of extremism, and made a £3,000 donation to Purpose of Life, the charity that named the Batley teacher and encouraged violence against him by likening his actions to terrorism.

Again, Timothy elides, reshapes, and decontexualises to suit his argument, making it seem as though the union’s donation to Purpose to Life occurred after the charity named the Batley teacher rather than months before. Is he proposing that the NEU invest its members’ dues in a Delorian and a Flux Capacitor?

That same tactic of conflation, omission, and exaggeration is at work in the next section when Timothy discusses the police:

With the police, matters are a little more complicated. While officers danced with Extinction Rebellion protesters as they broke the law by blocking public highways, took the knee during violent Black Lives Matter protests and chose not to enforce the law when protesters gathered outside Batley Grammar, in London last week, they enthusiastically – and almost certainly illegally – broke up a Good Friday church service after officers claimed it contravened coronavirus regulations.

Notice there’s no mention of police violence in Bristol or the now excused heavy-handed treatment of the Clapham Common vigil for Sarah Everard. Nor, in fact, of the Everard case at all — in which the accused is a serving police officer. Timothy has to cherry-pick his ‘facts’ because he knows that context and nuance would make his arguments fall apart quicker than that 2017 Tory manifesto.

His next argument highlights his willful disconnection from context even further:

This might be an example of the classic policing problem of the tendency to pick on soft targets. But in a sense this is the point. Christianity, even at Easter, is an unfashionable cause for what might be called the activist “community”. In fact, as a part of Britain’s long national story it is a ripe target for those who want to smash the connections with our past. It has no seething mobs to pressure the police into giving up their promise to act “without fear or favour” and no front organisations to provide “education” for officers.

The ‘seething mob’ that puts pressure on the police about ‘traditions’ is called the right-wing British press and Timothy is using this very column for that purpose. The British media does this a lot; it’s what I like to think of as the ‘invisible man strategy’ where it both boasts about its ability to force the establishment to change course while pretending that it doesn’t exist at all.

Timothy continues his distortion of events, facts, and statements in the final section of the column. He claims:

This is the context – of the influence of radical ideology and the fear it engenders – in which the Government’s report into racial disparities was published last week. It is possible to disagree with the report’s central argument – that racial disparities can be caused by discrimination, but most are caused by wider social and economic factors – but the Left’s response was hysterical in the extreme. The report’s lead author – Tony Sewell, a black educationist – was denounced as a member of the Ku Klux Klan by a Labour MP and compared to Josef Goebbels by a Left-wing academic.

Sewell was not ‘denounced as a member of the Ku Klux Klan by a Labour MP’ — Clive Lewis mocked the idea that there is no institutional racism in Britain, by tweeting “nothing to see here” with a picture from a Klan rally:

Meanwhile, Professor Priyamvada Gopal — a frequent obsession for papers like The Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail — referenced Goebbels to make a provocative point about the relevance of a PhD to the worthiness of someone’s ideas. I would have thought that a strident defender of free speech like Nick Timothy — 🤣 — would understand that and defend the Professor’s right to use words for rhetorical effect.

And so we come to Timothy’s kicker — three paragraphs that sum up the distortion, elisions, and outright deceptions scattered through the rest of his abjectly awful article:

In fact, the Sewell report reaffirms that “outright racism still exists”. It accepts controversial concepts such as unconscious bias and institutional racism. And it concludes that Britain is not yet a “post-racial society”. The report’s recommendations – including the creation of an Office for Health Inequalities and the liberalisation of some drug laws – go further than any Labour government has in the past.

And yet it was rejected and its authors smeared. All for challenging the idea, now ascendant on the Left, that every social and economic problem is racial, and every racial disparity is caused by systemic discrimination in which we are all culpable.

As ever, this latest battle in the culture war is caused not by conservatives but the rapid recent radicalisation of the Left. And, as ever, the Left will go on getting their way, because sensible people and moderate organisations have, through the accommodation of extreme ideologies and fear of angry and violent mobs, surrendered to their cause.

Once again Timothy asserts something — the Left believes “every social and economic problem is racial and every racial disparity is caused by systematic discrimination” — without quoting anyone saying that or defining who he believes the Left to be.

While the Right is allowed to be split into a broad set of political positions and factions, ‘the Left’ is a homogenous blob for columnists like Timothy to toss spears at and declare the monster that is eating everything.

Timothy’s piece, like so many in The Daily Telegraph, is not designed to teach the reader anything or change their mind; it is a scary story for a readership in love with being terrified. Timothy gathers his audience around him, places a torch beneath his chin, and tells the spooky tale of the intolerant Left who are waiting under the bed to tell your grandchildren it’s okay to be gay and force you to read Marx every morning. As with any fairy story, facts have very little to do with it.