Young guns? Don't do it: The culture war rages on and it looks like Toby Young might get a field commission

As the Telegraph parrots the government's latest line on the 'war against woke', I detect an opportunity for British journalism's most obnoxious man.

Donald Trump was acquitted yesterday in an impeachment trial that included his defence team accusing his opponents of engaging in “cancel culture”. At this point the use of that term and its endlessly debased cousin ‘woke’ — which has been comprehensively hijacked by the right — should be so ridiculous that it peters out. But columnists dressed in full culture war camo aren’t likely to lay down either weapon any time soon.

The ‘war on woke’, which is waged across the pages of The Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Spectator seven days a week, is just too useful to those publications. Despite having a right-wing government which is pushing to complete a right-wing takeover of the top jobs in culture as well as politics, the ‘conservative’ media works by identifying and consistently castigating an enemy.

It cannot blame right-wing policies for any problem, so it has two strategies — 1) to denounce certain politicians as TINOS (Tories In Name Only) and 2) to put the ‘blame’ for the long list of things they don’t like on the shoulders of anyone to the left of Franco. (Side trivia here: The Wikipedia page of Franco’s grandson Francis Franco notes that “he notably is the owner of many parking spaces in Madrid”.)

In The Telegraph, ageing Thatcher fanboy and embalmed corpse cosplayer Charles Moore offered the latest salvo under the headline, The divisive agenda of woke activists is the very opposite of ‘anti-racism’. The column’s topic was generated by picking words that anger Telegraph readers from a large hat. It could just as well have been about Leftie Duchess of Sussex hogging hospital parking spaces for the BBC. I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.

Angered by a debate at Churchill College, Cambridge, which was less than complimentary about the institutions namesake, and the Karl Wilding leaving his job as chief executive of the National Council for Voluntaty Organisations (NCVO), Moore claims that we are all living in fear of offending the woke stasi who stomp around in his imagination.

He writes, seemingly unaware of what his tone implies, that:

There are millions of ethnic minority people in this country doing jobs well and, as a result, often getting better jobs. Some of them, funnily enough, are Conservative MPs, elected mostly by the votes of supposedly racist whites. Several have reached Cabinet level. One, Rishi Sunak, is even Chancellor of the Exchequer. There are no BAME politicians of comparable importance in the Labour Party.

Unsurprisingly, Diane Abbott — the former of Shadow Home Secretary — does not spring to mind for Moore while he praises Rishi Sunak who only had the small helping hands of being educated at Winchester and marrying a billionaire’s daughter in his quest to become an MP.

Inevitably, he turns to and distorts the case of Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, who launched an unjustified public attack on the journalist Nadine White and has yet to offer any apology. Moore writes:

A more junior minister, Kemi Badenoch, eloquently defends British culture against Critical Race Theory, speaking in a language – English – which is not her first. She is also active trying to overcome minorities’ suspicion of Covid vaccines. Like Priti Patel, she suffers a flood of social-media abuse as a result, some mentioning her other “race-traitor” sins, such as being married to a white man. Despite the BBC’s strengthened impartiality policy, Emily Maitlis approvingly retweets the editor whose reporter seemingly attacks Mrs Badenoch at every turn.

There are so many weasel words in that final sentence that I’m surprised they haven’t dug tunnels and started to procreate. Nadine White asked questions of the minister as any reporter on her beat would and her boss, HuffPost UK Editor-in-Chief Jess Brammar, has understandably and rightly defended her.

Whether those defences of ordinary journalistic practice were retweeted by Emily Maitlis is irrelevant, beyond the opportunity for a Telegraph hack to get another kick in on the BBC. I’d also love someone to ask Moore to explain ‘Critical Race Theory’, which has become a buzzword for right-wing columnists who pass it between themselves like the message in a child’s game of telephone, its meaning degrading with each repetition.

For all the words expended by Moore in attacking ‘wokery’, the truth is that he simply does not like anyone offering a view on history that is different to his or arguing for policies that are not red meat for Tories. It is unsurprising that he name checks Spiked sleeper agent and head of the No. 10 Policy Unit, Munira Mirza, or expresses his excitement about the forthcoming conclusions of the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities led by Tony Sewell.

Moore says Sewell’s report is “likely to show reasons other than ubiquitous racism for some disparities. Why, for example, are young black males and young white males doing worse academically than all other ethnic groups? Might it have something to do with weak family structures?” When all you have is a Thatcherite hammer, everything looks like a ‘broken family’ for you to hit.

Of course, what Moore skims over is the other things Sewell has said. In 2006, he said boys were being failed by school because lessons were “too feminised”. In 2010, he argued in Prospect magazine that “much of the supposed evidence of insitutional racism is flimsy” and reiterated that argument 10 years later in July 2020 saying: “They could be rooted in class, different geographies, or… powers.”

Could it be perhaps that the government is using the old trick of ensuring that you appoint someone to conduct an investigation whose conclusions you can easily predict? “Thankfully, the fox we appointed to review henhouse security has told us that it’s all looking great!”

In line with the standard right-wing press template for columns about ‘the war on woke’, Moore offers a portentous conclusion designed to get Telegraph readers screaming into their porridge:

“… within government and officialdom, however, are nervous voices daunted by the task of turning round the oil tanker of nonsense. They need urgently
to understand that if they accept the essential woke premise that Britain is a racist state, they must accept the implied conclusion — that Britain must
be destroyed.”

Last time a strawman was used for such a dramatic ending, Edward Woodward was being burned inside it.

And, as if by magic and certainly just a coincidence, another government-fed exclusive turns up in today’s Telegraph. After Robert Jenrick’s ludicrous and dangerous pontificating about statues a few weeks back, Christopher Hope, who I’ve previously covered in this newsletter, reports that this week will see a “twin assault on cancel culture”:

Ministers will fine universities which stifle freedom of speech and tell heritage groups "public funds must never be used for political purposes" in a major new bid to torpedo efforts at rewriting Britain's history, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.

Gavin Williamson, the Education secretary, will announce this week that a 'Free Speech Champion' will be given powers to defend free speech and academic freedom on campuses.

Colleges or student bodies that try to cancel, dismiss or demote people over their views will be sanctioned in a major Government escalation on the 'war on woke'.

Separately, Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has summoned 25 of the UK's biggest heritage bodies and charities to a summit next week where they will be told "to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down”.

Similar ‘dramatic interventions’ have been made several times in recent months by both Williamson and Dowden. They come at the behest of papers like the Telegraph and Mail and haven’t been followed by any meaningful legislation.

The reason is that it’s much easier to make big bold statements for headlines than it is to actually explain how you’ll “defend free speech”. It’s also abundantly clear that free speech in this case — as so often with the right — actually means “things we agree with that other people don’t”.

In a letter to the ‘Common Sense’ Group of Tory MPs — quoted in the story — and which The Sunday Telegraph claims was inspired by its stories on the National Trust’s efforts to highlight connections between its properties and slavery, Dowden writes:

Whilst I agree that we should use heritage to educate people about Britain’s rich and complex history, this work should never be driven by ideology.

Once again we’re in the territory of what words mean and what Conservative politicians and their press protectors say they mean. In this case, ‘ideology’ means anything right-wing doesn’t agree with. Things they believe in are just good old-fashioned British common sense, unquestionable and inviolate, while anything put forward by the left is dreadful commie wokeist anti-British cant which must be thrown into the slop bucket marked ‘Ideology’.

Hope’s article leans heavily, as ever, on the thoughts and ‘worries’ of unnamed but ‘senior’ government sources, while also managing to fold in the opinions of botched Giacometti sculpture and occasional actor Lawrence Fox’s vanity published political party Reclaim:

The Government's twin assault on the so-called 'cancel culture' comes amid concern at senior levels in the Government over attempts to rewrite Britain's past.

It came as polling out today for the new Reclaim Party found 49 per cent of Britons believe they are less free to say what they think than five years ago.

In a further assault on alleged left wing bias, the Government has tasked the new head of Ofcom with ensuring broadcasters report with "due impartiality", according to an advert for the role seen by this newspaper. 

It comes as MPs today accused broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 of trying to "appeal to a narrow band of north London metropolitan virtue signalling politically correct lefties.”

It will come as no surprise to you that it was Hope who was gifted the ‘exclusive’ that Fox was launching his ‘party’ in the first place.

Just as the headline on Moore’s comment piece could have been generated by throwing right-wing alphabetti spaghetti at the wall, so too the quote in the Hope’s piece (“a narrow band of north London metropolitan virtue signalling politically correct lefties”) may have come from an AI trained on a corpus made up entirely of Rod Liddle and Richard Littlejohn columns.

Inevitably, Sir John Hayes, the chairman of the Common Sense Group and avowed fan of banning abortion, reintroducing capital punishment, and anti-semitic dog whistles like ‘Cultural Marxism’, is quoted by Hope. I suspect, given the frequency of his appearances in Telegraph titles, that Hayes has a special Twatphone that glows red when a comment is required.

Hayes blusters:

“It is absolutely right that the Government steps in to defend free speech. Without the ability to speak freely soon we will not have the ability to think freely… universities ought to be places where ideas are to be a fulcrum for devising and testing ideas, to be places of imaginings.”

I remain unconvinced that Hayes has the ability to think currently and given his publicly expressed views on a range of topics, I definitely wouldn’t want any insight into his ‘imaginings’. Oddly there was no space in the Telegraph piece for a quote from the ARG.

Hope also ‘reports’ — where ‘reports’ mean ‘transcribes what a government PR has rung up to tell him’ — that:

A new 'Free Speech Champion' will be set up to work from the Office for Students, the student regulator. They will be given powers to champion free speech and academic freedom, impose fines on providers or student unions that restrict speech unlawfully and order redress if individuals have been dismissed or demoted for their views.

Now, call me a conspiracist (“You’re a conspiracist!”) but didn’t the Free Speech Union — self-appointed General Secretary, Toby Young — just launch a campaign via its barely at arm’s length youth wing called Free Speech Champions? And didn’t the hard boiled egg man just write desperately in The Spectator that he couldn’t understand why he hadn’t got a peerage yet?

Young’s first encounter with the Office for Students fizzled out before it even began following a closer inspection of the contents of his tweets, but the Johnson government cares even less about propriety than Theresa May’s schlerotic administration. Would it be just like the culture warriors in Number 10 to ‘pwn the libs’ by appointing Young as the first Free Speech Champion?

After all, Claire Fox is in the House of Lords…