Finally, sense prevails – the ‘Gay Cake’ debacle

The decision of the Supreme Court is essential in upholding our basic freedoms

Whilst my readers are hopefully now used to a robust and frank style from Off the Party Line, this is obviously a sensitive topic and I have absolutely no intention of hurting or upsetting anyone, so rather than diving straight in, let’s get the context of this clear.

Several years ago now, a couple running a bakery in Northern Ireland refused to bake a cake with an explicitly pro-gay marriage slogan on it for a potential customer. This was deemed contrary to Equality Law and was taken to court, where the couple lost their case on appeal. Having taken it to the Supreme Court, here is what has happened (taken from the Guardian):

“In a unanimous decision, the UK’s highest court found in favour of an appeal by Ashers, which had refused to produce the cake in 2014 for Gareth Lee, who supports the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

“The judgment, delivered after the supreme court’s first hearing in Northern Ireland in May, reverses earlier decisions in Belfast county court and a court of appeal ruling that the company discriminated against Lee, who is gay, on the grounds of sexual orientation.

“The five justices on the supreme court – Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge and Lady Black – found the bakery did not refuse to fulfil Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation and therefore there was no discrimination on those grounds. The business relationship between Lee and Ashers did not involve people being refused jobs or services because of their religious faith, the judges added.”

So that’s where the story is up to. I’d also like to explain my personal views on some of the matters covered, before explaining why most of them are utterly irrelevant.

Firstly, I am a Christian and I attend an evangelical church. Secondly, I have no issue whatsoever with same sex marriage. I do not speak for the church on that issue, nor the other way around – these are my own views and I assert my right to hold them and have them defended anywhere. Thirdly, if it were me, I probably would have made the cake as requested. Fourthly, I believe that the law should uphold the right for nobody to be discriminated against based on who they are – including race, gender, sexuality, political views, whatever. The last one is a position that I tentatively hold purely on the grounds of pragmatism, it doesn’t necessarily line up exactly with my general outlook.

Now – why most of that doesn’t matter.

There’s a lot of froth in this story when really it is very simple and can dispense with many of these factors. The allegation was that the gentleman was discriminated against because he himself was gay. The defence was that they would have served him any cake he liked, as long as they weren’t forced to say something they did not want to say. Therefore, they weren’t refusing to serve a gay man, they were refusing to say something they did not themselves believe. The couple, indeed, said they wouldn’t print any message that was nasty to gay people either. There are plenty of straight people who are pro-gay marriage, and even some gay people who are against it, so it can’t be that simple.

Hitchens put it this way in his column on the matter: “The planned cake is far more than a cake. It is a publication, because it will bear a political message to be displayed in a public place, perhaps to be photographed and filmed and shared on the internet.

“If this were a poster, a pamphlet, a newspaper or a book, the problem would be obvious. A publisher is being asked to publish a message he disagrees with. In a free society, he can refuse.”

With that in mind, the Christianity element is froth, the gay marriage element is froth, the fact that it was a cake is froth, the fact the guy was gay is froth – the key element here is ‘can the State force somebody to say or publish something with which they do not agree?’ And surely – surely – if we can’t agree on anything else, we can agree on that?

The original rulings were so clearly and obviously wrong that I was seriously frightened about the precedent it had set. I questioned the defence counsel, the judges, the supporters…how could they have got this so wrong? I genuinely feared for our liberty and what on earth they might make us do next. To state the blindingly apparent, they wouldn’t have served this cake to a straight person either.

It is often distasteful in these situations to go straight to the ‘what if it were a Muslim?’ defence. It is of course true, but the sheer scope of what could be allowed here is staggering. Here is a short list, off the top of my head, of things that could have happened had this precedent been set:

  • A bakery run by a gay couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘gay marriage is an abomination’.
  • A bakery run by a Jewish couple could be made to bake a cake saying ‘The Holocaust may not have happened – who really knows?’.
  • A bakery run by a Palestinian rights campaigners could be made to bake a cake for an Israeli saying ‘Bibi Netanyahu is always right’ with a picture of him in the ‘thumbs up’ pose, winking and smiling.
  • A bakery run by a trans person could be made to bake a cake saying ‘real women don’t have penises’.
  • A bakery run by a Labour councillor could be made to bake a cake saying ‘vote UKIP’.
  • A bakery run by a Northern Irish Catholic could be made to bake a cake by a Northern Irish Protestant saying ‘The Pope is a nasty, nasty man and really ought to be locked up’.

Now of course, you can take your pick of the above statements you agree with, disagree with or find downright horrible. But of course, that’s the point isn’t it? If you were to agree or not care, you could bake the cake. If you were to disagree or strongly condemn the message, you could refuse. That’s the mark of a free society. You may disagree or condemn and still accept the job and do it – that’s fine too.

I find the lack of any imagination on the other side of this debate quite staggering. If you’d won, are you really saying that this precedent is fine and you foresee no issues at all? You don’t see, given the furore around this, seriously disagreeable and nasty people trying this theory out and making a big deal over their resistance? You can’t imagine Tommy Robinson seeking out a bakery run by Muslims and filming himself applying this legal precedent that you’ve just won for yourselves?

The freedom to say or not say whatever we do or do not want is fundamental to this country’s liberty. You have no idea when and in what form this could come back to bite you. Ask yourself seriously – is this the country you want to live in? If it is, I honestly fear you. Who knows what you’d happily make me do by force of law?

The rather wonderful and very brave gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said in 2016, “I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”

Take or leave the theology comments – I’ve heard it argued both ways.

Following the ruling of the Supreme Court, he stuck to his guns (emphasis mine).

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose. 

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.”

Perfectly summarised. The law, as it stands, is good and it protects all of us – all of us. Given the content and the nature of the particular circumstances, it doesn’t feel like much of a victory. I’m certainly not celebrating. But I am relieved. Much as this has been a difficult conversation to have, it needed to be had and we got the right result. With any luck, we can draw a line under this and move on.

Labour MPs are threatening to quit over the antisemitism row – here’s why they won’t

Moral stands come at huge personal cost – is anyone outraged enough to give up their career?

Another day, another Labour antisemitism story. As Katy Balls pointed out in the Coffee House Shots Podcast this week, the Labour antisemitism row is “all too common – I feel like we talk about this story every couple of weeks on this podcast.” It is not going away – if anything it’s getting worse. Something, at some point, will have to give, but the question is, what will that be?

One obvious thing would be Jeremy Corbyn not being leader any more, whether that be via resignation or a coup. Neither of those are going to happen any time soon, so that option is a non starter.

Another is the decisive action that the party could take – caving on the IHRA definition, fast tracking disciplinary cases against those accused of antisemitism, the removal from the party of demonstrable antisemites…yes ok, you can stop laughing now.

The option floating around more recently is a serious one – Labour MPs resigning the party whip. This has apparently been threatened by several members, although none has gone yet apart from John Woodcock. However, Mr Woodcock was always a severe critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was subject to internal party disciplinary proceedings and so probably doesn’t really serve as the starting pistol for a slew of resignations.

According to the Telegraph, “As many as 20 MPs are “closer than they have ever been” to quitting the party as claims of racism “gnaw at their consciences”. Many are reaching “breaking point” because of Mr Corbyn’s failure to get to grips with claims of anti-Semitism at the very highest levels of the organisation, sources said.

“In recent days, MPs have publicly issued ultimatums to Mr Corbyn, including Stephen Kinnock, and a growing number are thought to be considering quitting the party formally to make a stand.”

Now, forgive my cynicism, but I am simply not buying this. I have no expectation whatsoever that we are about to see an exodus of Labour MPs daring to quit the party. Allow me to run through some reasons why this course of action is next to impossible.

For them to have any impact, there would have to be enough of them. A handful won’t suffice. A dozen even, wouldn’t have a big enough impact. They would need to walk out in droves, simultaneously, with something or somewhere to go. The personal cost to each of them would be enormous, and I simply don’t see that they would be willing to give everything up to make a moral stand on this issue.

Moral stands are expensive and personally costly – I suppose that’s why they’re called moral stands. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it isn’t a stand in any sense of the word. Let’s look at what they would be giving up personally – any career ambitions of government for a start, the backing of their local activists, the money that comes with being part of a party and the party whip (they may actually have to think for themselves). For those with a comfortable majority (and therefore a job for as long as they want it), they will almost certainly be giving up their seat at the next election – that’s their livelihood gone. A reminder – the basic salary for an MP is £77,379.

They would be replaced by the party (who wants to replace most of them anyway – this would hand it to them on a plate) with hard left candidates ready to challenge them at the next election for their seat, using all of the party money and machinery. That money and machinery would now be aimed against the incumbent. You would have to be a monumentally popular local MP to merely survive such a fight, given the tribal nature of so many voters.

As a group, assuming they can organise sufficiently well to all move as one, they will be splitting the vote on the Left – they will stand accused of ensuring a weak and dangerous Tory Party will continue to rule the country for at least another decade, but this time with a majority. They may form a new party, but it will be small and vulnerable in FPTP. Who among them has the moral courage to bring all of this upon themselves?

It would, of course, be the right thing to do, but they will never do it. The excuses for not doing so come ready made, and sound moral and courageous. “Why should I leave? This is my party as well, so I’m staying put” they may say. Maybe. But is it really their party any more? I see nothing but an almost total takeover from where I’m sitting.

“It wouldn’t achieve anything – I’m going to stay and fight from within.” Well, ok. That sounds good, but is it really? You’re having little to no effect where you are.

This is sounds like a load of hot air and empty threats. I’d be amazed to see even 5 resignations, never mind the numbers that would be needed to punch the party hard where it hurts. Sure, the odd one or two will go, and probably in a blaze of glory. It will look good for the headlines for a couple of days. But as soon as the dust settles, everyone else will be right back where they were.

From there, it really is anybody’s guess.

Sorry seems to be the easiest word

Celebrity apologies are becoming commonplace – when will they grow a backbone and stand up for themselves?

“What do I do to make you want me?”
“What have I got to do to be heard?”
“What do I say when it’s all over?”

“It won’t be over until you apologise, and probably not even then. We don’t want you, you’re a disgrace, a traitor, a sexist/mysogynist, homo/trans/Islamophobe and there’s nothing you can do to be heard. You will not be heard. You will be silenced, fired from your job and erased (unpersoned, if you will) from public life.”

Not as catchy that one is it? It definitely doesn’t rhyme. Which is a shame, because it feels a lot more appropriate for our times that the original. Sorry seems to be the hardest word? Not in a world where that’s your only way out. When that’s what the mob demands. When those with the pitchforks and the torches are ready to take you out. “Sorry” is the hastily scrawled confession letter that you read out on camera in front of a balaclava-clad executioner as a last gasp plea for your life to be spared.

The crying, whimpering apology is all the rage. Indeed, it has been accepted among the rich and famous as the go-to get-out-of-Twitter-jail-free card. (This fantastic celebrity apology generator does sterling work in showing just how insincere and sickly these things can be.)

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The emperor will either give you the thumbs up, or he won’t. It depends very much on how he’s feeling at the time. Your life is no longer in your own hands.

I’ll make one thing clear before making my main point – a public apology can definitely be the right thing to do. If you’ve genuinely been an idiot or said something stupid that you regret, then saying sorry is the right thing to do.

The problem with most public apologies now is that I’m simply not buying it. I’m not buying that you regret your position when what I see all over your face is that you’re just scared of the reaction.

Twitter twitches with anticipation, ready to bring down the next young, naive weakling to stray away from the safety of the pack and be devoured.

Taking comedy as an example, there have been two high profile incidents that illustrate my point. Louis CK was accused of acting in a highly inappropriate manner towards fellow professionals over a period of many years, and he admitted it. He apologised and rightly so. You’re welcome to decide for yourself whether that apology was enough (or, indeed, whether it actually constituted an apology), at this point I don’t really care. My point is, he was wrong and as far as I can see, apologised. That doesn’t make everything right of course, but there’s no moving forward without it.

Kathy Griffin is the other end of the spectrum. She did a photoshoot (Warning – graphic) in which she held up what was supposed to resemble the severed head of the President, Mr Trump. Again, it’s up to you to decide whether this was in good taste, or funny, or not. I happen to think not, but who cares what I think. If I don’t like it I don’t have to see it. What really irritated me is that she succumbed to the pressure of the mob. She was hounded and blasted and she caved. “I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far”.

Oh for goodness’ sake. Get a grip. She made a joke that a lot of people didn’t like, she got a huge response, then apologised for the joke. A catastrophic precedent to set.

You may think “well if she’s sorry, who are you to say that she shouldn’t apologise?” Which would be a good point, except that she proved just how not sorry she was by recanting the apology, citing exactly the kind of media pressure that I’m talking about. I’m glad she did it, but worried that she bowed in the first place.

I’m not saying it’s easy, and God knows I’ve never had to face that kind of pressure. I don’t want to be too harsh on those who have apologised just to end it all, but I do want to highlight how dangerous it is.

In terms of comedy, there’s always the risk a joke goes too far. Limits are tested, boundaries are pushed. But Bill Burr puts it beautifully:

Steering away from the comedy world is where it becomes truly dangerous. Very few comedians will apologise for their jokes, and rightly so. But we have a much better line of defence than the average person. A joke is a joke, it isn’t meant to be taken seriously. The likes of Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Bill Burr – they say some awful things. But they’re jokes. If you don’t like them, don’t listen to them, and definitely don’t go to a comedy club. The thought of any of them apologising is grotesque, and would indeed be suicidal.

Others don’t have this line of defence. They’re out in the open, giving their opinions or saying something off the cuff and they’re on the hook for everything they say. Twitter twitches with anticipation, ready to bring down the next young, naive weakling to stray away from the safety of the pack and be devoured.

Take Shania Twain for example. Discussing the American President, the Canadian singer recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I would have voted for him because, even though he was offensive, he seemed honest. Do you want straight or polite? Not that you shouldn’t be able to have both. If I were voting, I just don’t want b******t. I would have voted for a feeling that it was transparent. And politics has a reputation of not being that, right?”

Perfectly reasonable. Not a position I’d take, but a considered one. She even leaves an open question at the end. But could she be left alone? You already know the answer to this one by now. Then came the grovelling apology.

“I would like to apologise to anybody I have offended,” she wrote. “The question caught me off guard. As a Canadian, I regret answering this unexpected question without giving my response more context.

“I was trying to explain, in a response to a question about the election, that my limited understanding was that the president talked to a portion of America like an accessible person they could relate to, as he was not a politician,” she continued.

“My answer was awkward, but certainly should not be taken as representative of my values nor does it mean I endorse him.”

Now, actually when you look at it, some of it is reasonable. If she’d just not started it with such a subservient submission, it might be more tolerable. For me, she could have kept it all, but just replaced the first sentence with something more sarcastic and caustic, like “I don’t need to explain myself to you, you massive bunch of perpetually outraged morons. But since you asked so nicely, here’s more clarity on what I actually think.”

My admiration for those who have the courage to stare down the ridiculous reactions to any little thing they say and steadfastly refuse to apologise for something they’re not sorry for, grows by the day. It’s getting harder, sure. But that makes it all the more impressive. Especially for liberals, who more and more have to face down their own side.

Bill Maher, in a monologue on his show ‘Real Time’ said this:

“In 2016, conservatives won the White House, both Houses of Congress and almost two thirds of Governorships and State Legislatures. Whereas liberals on the other hand caught Steve Martin calling Carrie Fisher ‘beautiful’ in a tweet and made him take it down”

And the rest of it just gets better.

Germaine Greer also absolutely gets it. She has fought her whole life for the feminist cause, something that will not have endeared her to a great many people. But that was the point – if you’ve got something to say, then you have to say it. Where would any cause be now if it apologised for hurting the feelings of someone else?

And boy will she not apologise. She gave an interview to BBC’s Newsnight in which she discussed trans people and feminism. She had just been ‘no-platformed’ by Cardiff University for her views and was absolutely not backing down.

People who for decades were thankful that someone so bold was on their side and fighting for their cause, suddenly can’t believe she won’t apologise to them now that they’ve taken a different route.

In the interview, she sums up her ‘controversial’ opinion thus: “I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure [transition surgery], what I’m saying is that it doesn’t make them a woman. It happens to be an opinion. It is not a prohibition.”

She is asked by Kirsty Wark, “Do you understand how they might feel like you’re being hurtful towards them?”, which seems to be standard questioning in interviews now, asking about people’s feelings rather than facts or legitimately held and defensible opinions (a bit like in the now infamous ‘so what you’re saying is…’ Cathy Newman interview with Jordan Peterson). Not “can you explain why you think that?”, not “what evidence do you have to support that position?”, just a slap down about hurting feelings and making people cry. Greer obviously bristles, replying, “People are hurtful to me all the time. Try being an old woman, I mean for goodness’ sake. People get hurt all the time, I’m not about to walk on eggshells.”

She goes on to explain the importance of tact, indicating for example that she would refer to someone with the pronoun of their choice if asked to do so, purely out of “courtesy”. I wholeheartedly agree here. I see no reason to be rude or disrespectful towards people, unless they deserve it.

But then comes the kicker. Wark asks, “Would you ever consider saying something more ameliorating…?”, which is exactly the point at which the usual response is to collapse, to cave in and just make it all go away. The point at which you have a decision to make. A decision that could have very real consequences to your life.

Greer replies, “No. I’m getting fed up with this. I’ve had things thrown at me, I’ve been accused of things I’ve never done or said, people seem to have no concern about evidence, or indeed, even about libel.”

Not things that usually matter to people engaging in such hostile behaviour, of course. But things that still make a lot of people back down. By calling it out, by not succumbing to the easy option, by fronting it out and stating outright and clearly her position, which is considered utterly blasphemous by the new religion of identity politics, Greer establishes herself as someone who will not be browbeaten into submission. This is a laudable stand and one that ought to beheld up as a shining example of how to deal with these situations. I make no comment on her opinions, such as they are. Merely on how she defends them. People who for decades were thankful that someone so bold was on their side and fighting for their cause, suddenly can’t believe she won’t apologise to them now that they’ve taken a different route.

“It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd”

You’re telling me.

“It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over?
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the easiest word”

To borrow a snide, sanctimonious trope from a typical Guardian BTL commenter – “There. Fixed that for you.”

The Left has cultivated an image of viciousness and intolerance. This needs to change

When the Left operates with bad faith, it damages its own cause

It is something that has been niggling away at me for some time, indeed a reason I started this site. Why do so many conversations these days end in an argument, smears, lies and bitterness? Why does this happen particularly online? Why are tribes forming where once there were simple disagreements? I think I may be stumbling toward an answer.

Now please, forgive me if this has been blindingly obvious to everyone else and I’m late to the party. But it seems to me that we have no desire to believe that our opponents are arguing in good faith. We assume ill of them, we figure malign intention on their part and, above all, we believe they must be bad people.

I don’t see how any debate, discussion or argument can bear any fruit if this good faith is absent. The reason I offer the pages of this blog out to anyone who wishes to write for it is because I want people to give an unpopular opinion in an environment that encourages them to think freely and have the best assumed of them. If you give an ‘off the party line’ opinion, you have, by definition, thought it through, because the backlash wouldn’t be worth it unless you believed it to be so. Again I offer – if you have an unpopular opinion, get in touch.

The viciousness of much public discourse these days can be attributed to a lack of good faith. Left wingers assume Conservatives are evil and sadistic, Tories assume Corbynistas want state control over which trousers you’re allowed to wear that day, and so on and so forth.

But that is to provide a balance that I’m sure isn’t a fair one. I hate to come across all Lefty-bashing here, but it seems to be well documented that the Left is increasingly savage and hostile to its opponents. Dissent is deemed intolerable and impure to so many on that side of the spectrum. Providing me with examples of it happening the other way round are fine, if you want to waste your time. I don’t claim it is only one way, it definitely happens both ways – I merely offer a note of caution to those who claim themselves to be ‘kinder, gentler‘ people. Is your bar really going to be the cowardly and deflecting phrase, ‘yeh well they do the same thing to us’? I sincerely hope not. If it is, you offer no virtue that separates you from your opponents.

Let me just make that completely clear – I do not claim this is solely a Left wing problem. But it is one that should feel more urgent to those on the Left.

The Left is the wing that I should naturally be on. I try to have opinions on every issue individually, but inevitably there will be overarching principles that will inform my outlook. Most of those tend to be ‘liberal’. But I cannot count myself as among the modern Left. Elements of both wings may share the attributes of hostility, nastiness and downright rudeness, but the Right makes little outright claim to be the opposite. It is the Left that self-declares its occupation of the grounds of ‘kinder, gentler politics‘, ‘reason and science‘, ‘data-led policy’. And yet it simply isn’t so. And therefore there is a hypocrisy that cannot be tolerated by anyone with half a brain or a conscience.

If it were indeed ‘kind and gentle’, it would not assume ill-intention of its opponents or shout and scream at them. If it were a lover of ‘reason and science’, it would not shout down those who question, for instance, new gender orthodoxies, but would engage based on research. If it were ‘data-led’, it would not engage in spurious, politically driven nonsense that clearly defies the data.

The obsession with the word ‘hate’, a word my mother told me not to use unless in extreme circumstances, is now so all-pervasive that mere disagreement is now deemed hate. Disagree with gay marriage? You hate gays. Hate them. All of them. Disagree with abortion? You hate women. Vote Tory? You hate the poor. Concerned about Islamic terrorism? You hate Muslims. Want immigration to be slowed down a little? You hate immigrants. No nuance, no discussion, just straight to the extreme. Straight to the sliming and the smearing.

When even the CiF pages of the Guardian are filled with those on the Left denouncing that newspaper for straying even a tiny bit off the party line, you get a sense that something isn’t quite right. It was savaged in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader (the paper having backed Yvette Cooper – sounds crazy now, doesn’t it?). Things have rarely been better since.

I am an occasional listener to Sam Harris’s ‘Waking Up‘ podcast, among others. He is an atheist, I am a Christian. He believes free will is not a fundamentally defensible concept. I believe it is central to our being. There are plenty more disagreements I could point out. But I believe he is honest, a man of integrity and fully believes every word he says, and therefore worth listening to. That is all I would ever ask of a person – its a reason I will never listen to the likes of Milo Yiannopolous or Katie Hopkins, because I simply do not accept that they really believe in what they’re saying. They’re professional trolls who feed their children and their lifestyles on the money they make from upsetting the Lefties who will consistently rise to their bait. They are not serious people. I don’t believe they should be stopped from speaking publicly, but I won’t be listening when they do.

Mr Harris has recently been in the middle of some controversy, which you can read for yourself, or better yet listen to his discussion of it. It is far too long and detailed to go through here, but suffice to say, he has been attacked by many on the Left for a particular podcast. His most recent opponent, Ezra Klein, the editor of Vox, took a completely bad-faith interpretation of the podcast and would not back down from his position despite plenty of evidence to show that he ought to. He could still have disagreed, but still have assumed good faith on behalf of his opponent. He steadfastly refused to do so.

I was struck by the end of one the podcasts in this controversy, and it made me realise just what a problem this is for the Left more so than the Right.

A listener contacted Sam to ask: “You come off cosy with those on the Right, and then when a blowout like the one with Ezra Klein comes, it seems you can’t have the same warmth of relations and good spirit with a straight up Liberal”.

Sam explains why this misses the point spectacularly (I have shortened the monologue to sum up the key parts – highlights are all mine):

“I, as you know, disagree with Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro [two men the writer had highlighted as Right wing examples] about many, many things…but the point here is not disagreement, it is slanderous misinterpretation. And that almost always comes at me from the Left…With Ben, I made a joke on our podcast together and Ben came away not realising that it was a joke, and so misrepresented my views elsewhere. I reached out to Ben by email: “Ben, you’ve got me all wrong. That was a joke”. What did he do?…He apologised immediately, he regretted misrepresenting me.

“Same with Jordan Peterson when he got on Dave Rubin’s show. He said the opposite of one of my core beliefs. It is the centre of the bullseye for me intellectually, and he was getting it wrong. So I wrote to Jordan, with whom I had a painful collision on the podcast, and I said “Jordan, you’ve got me completely wrong. You’re misstating my views.” What did Jordan do? An instantaneous apology. He said ‘Sorry, I guess I have to read your books so I know what I’m talking about when we have our public events.”

“That is a difference that cannot be exaggerated. Peterson and Shapiro and I will go on to disagree about many things, it could be very heated…but there is a world of difference between bad faith misrepresentations and honest engagement with a person’s ideas.”

This guy’s whole experience of disagreeing with people on the Left is disheartening in the extreme. His experience of disagreeing with people on the Right is worlds apart from that, and is the way things should be. This is only one example of course, but I highly doubt this is not typical. My question to the Left would be, do you really want to concede the ground of honest, reasonable debate to the Right? When protesters can storm a lecture given by Jacob Rees-Mogg and he comes out as the level-headed, reasonable one, does that not set off an alarm bell? You’re conceding this ground to your opponents and it will be hard to wrest it back.

Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic magazine had this to say:

I’m not a fan of the term ‘SJWs’ (at this point it just comes across as a pejorative), but the point is made all the same. You get an insight into why more and more find themselves moving away from the Left and going elsewhere. There is no longer much tolerance or respect over there. It’s shocking to see otherwise lovely, intelligent people spit bile over those with whom they disagree, rather than simply have the disagreement.

They seek to destroy, to burn, to have fired, to shun, to have removed from social media, to silence, to shut down anyone who will dare defy them. It is savage and bloodthirsty, as stomach churning to watch as it is to see a lion tear up a gazelle.

 

This assumption that ‘they must think that because they are bad people or have malign intentions’ is so unhealthy. If you can’t believe your opponent is arguing in good faith (unless they’ve clearly and repeatedly demonstrated otherwise – again, see Hopkins, Yiannopolous, Klein), then not only are you doing them a disservice, you are doing yourself one as well.

The image that leads this piece is of students protesting Charles Murray’s appearance at Middlebury in the US. He was invited to speak by conservatives in the college and was due to debate a professor who was planning to challenge him hard. He was not just going to speak freely – he was going to have a robust dialogue with somebody who totally opposed him and his ideas. But then the idiots started to shout him down as he spoke. Then what happened?

“When Murray and Stanger finished their dialogue [having moved to a secret place], they found themselves surrounded by protesters. The protesters—some of whom were wearing masks and may not have been Middlebury students—began pushing them. When Stanger tried to shield Murray, according a Middlebury spokesman, a protester grabbed her hair and twisted her neck.

“Murray, Stanger and their escorts made it to a waiting car, but the protesters “pounded on it, rocked it back and forth, and jumped onto the hood,” according to The New York Times. One took a large traffic sign, attached to a concrete base, and placed it in front of the car to prevent it from leaving.

“Finally, Murray and Stanger got away. They had planned to eat dinner at a local restaurant, but, upon learning that the protesters planned to disrupt their meal, left town altogether. Stanger later went to the hospital, where she received a neck brace. “

Kinder and gentler, apparently. Hardly. This was a vicious attack on someone who was going to debate on their side. Complete insanity, and what happens when you refuse to engage in good faith argument.

Much like yesterday’s post, I’m trying to help. I’m trying to show you how this looks to those outside your bubble. My main source of news and comment is the Guardian, but I venture to the Spectator as well, the Telegraph, the Independent, Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday. I listen to people like Ben Shapiro, Christina Hoff Sommers, Jordan Peterson as well as Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee and Gary Younge to name very few in my attempts to have as rounded a viewpoint as possible.

When you go to the places outside the bubble, you see so many people who are natural Lefties but who have either been shunned or can’t bear to be a part of it anymore. If you don’t care, then fine, that’s not a problem. I won’t tell you what you shouldn’t or shouldn’t care about. But if you keep wondering why you’re losing elections or not being listened to or not being taken seriously, you have to start listening to the other side, and not whilst seething at the temerity of these people to dare defy the social norms.

I had a fantastic knockabout debate on Facebook with a small group of friends before the EU referendum. I will keep coming back to this time as a perfect example of peers treating each other with respect and dignity, because whilst we fundamentally disagreed, the basis of the whole discussion was that each of us was arguing in good faith. Without that, it could not have happened. We were all sincere and honest, and nobody insulted or attacked anyone else.

It really can be like that. But one side has to make the first move. Lefties – please let it be you.

Where are all those wretched Tories and Leavers? I’ll tell you where they are…

At work and on social media, I became a refuge for those frightened by the emotional lunacy of their peers

I’ve been recently remembering the fire and fury rage of the sensible middle classes following the EU referendum, a rage that far surpassed the coalition government being formed or Cameron’s majority win (a win that I remain convinced he never wanted). It was a visceral, vicious, blind, white hot, seething explosion of emotion and venom, hurled at everyone and anyone who had dared to defy their wishes – nay, demands – to vote the correct way. If, of course, they could find them.

Lessons had clearly not been learned from the ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon, where nobody could believe that the Conservative and Unionist Party had managed a majority, when nobody they knew had voted Tory. Or so they assumed.

I’ll admit, I didn’t see the referendum result coming either. I predicted a 55-45 Remain win which, obviously, turned out to be significantly wide of the mark. I just thought the immigration card had been played too heavily, the shaming from the middle class Left was too strong and I was utterly convinced that the squalid, shocking murder of Jo Cox MP in the final week of campaigning would render the whole thing ‘game over’.

So there we go, I was wrong. But then came the thunder.

Once again, nobody seemed to know anyone who had voted Leave. The pitchfork was grasped and the torch lit, but there was nobody to swing them at. Before the vote, I’d been happily having the knockabout online, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be on the winning side. It was a great intellectual sparring session with a small band of people, maybe 3-4 of us on the Leave side, many more on the Remain side, but conducted in a spirit of true debate. Despite my living in a Left, middle class bubble divided roughly into church and school friends, family and comedian friends online, I was a little surprised that there were so few of us, but that just reinforced the notion that the result was going to be overwhelmingly against me. But then the world suddenly turned nasty and vitriolic. Leave had won.

To the point then – where were these people? Where were the 52%? I got an answer very quickly – they were in my inbox and in hushed conversations.

Having voluntarily swam out into the deep, still waters, only to be swept out into a thunderstorm to be mercilessly drowned, I was known publicly as someone who had voted Leave. I took the brunt of it. And in doing so, I had become a safe refuge for those who had done so silently to come to for rest. My inbox swelled with people fearful of their friends, terrified of their families. They voted Leave, but dared not say so.

The day after the vote, I went to work as usual. My boss gave a speech and people hugged. But the mood had not changed. This was middle class Remain territory, and people were angry. It’s easy to hug people you already agree with. I had no such hugs (apart from the boss, but he’s lovely and hugged everyone!). For me, the guy who had voted Leave after many, many years of being against British membership of the EU, and one other colleague who had gone Leave very marginally after having flipped to and fro several times, this was not a comfortable place to be. But we were the only two in a company of 50+. 50+ 30something middle class professionals – squarely in the pro-EU demographic. Or, again, so I thought.

My first trip that day to our tiny, shared kitchen to make a coffee was hastily interrupted by a colleague. She confessed to me that she had voted Leave but not discussed it with anyone, never mind dare to share such a position on social media. She, also, was scared. The conversation ended abruptly when someone else came into the room and she scuttled out nervously.

Then another later that day. And another the next day. 5 in total, who came to me quietly and privately, in confidence, to tell me that they’d exercised their democratic right to vote. None of them were bad people. All of them were, for ease of political measurement, on the Left. All had different reasons for voting the way they did. But none of them would dare say so. They sought solace with someone who they knew they could trust. Who knows how many more there were?

So, here we have it then, middle class, sensible, lefty, Remainers – does this not make you rethink your venom? This will keep happening as long as the ballot box remains private. The voting booth is the place where you can go to stick as many fingers up at the establishment as you like. You might be able to cow people, you might be able to frighten them, you might be able to make them think they’re bad people. But you are not helping yourselves, because when they get that slip of paper, they can do whatever they damn well please. It may be cathartic to publicly signal your virtue by railing against those who have defied you, but the end effect is not the one that you desire.

I’ll have any of you out with an argument. You might have knocked me, but I won’t be backing down. I’ll happily take the intellectual fight if you want one. But there are so many others who don’t want to have the discussion because you are just so horrid. These are the people you’re forcing into hiding and the ones that keep stinging you.

I’ve waited long enough to write this post, hoping the tide would go out at some point and we could do this in a state of calm. It may have receded slightly, but the anger is still there.

So there we have it – I’ve warned you. I’m telling you this is what happens. It makes no difference to me, but you’re the ones who can’t ever seem to understand it when results go against you. I’m trying to help you.

Take it or leave it. It’s your funeral.

Please stop making me defend Jeremy Corbyn

Absolutely, he should be criticised – but not for this

This will be the second time in a matter of weeks that I have felt the need to come to the defence of a man I do not support. I won’t be defending him on the charges of antisemitism – he’s on his own on that one. I’m talking about the hysterical reaction to the sacking of Owen Smith.

As a quick recap, Owen Smith wrote an article in the Guardian, then did a tour of the airwaves, discussing his view that there should be a ‘second referendum’ (which would actually be the third) on Britain’s membership of the EU, this time on the terms of the deal. This is not a new idea – it has been knocking about ever since Remain lost the vote (note – not before the result, which almost everyone, including me, assumed would be a thumping Remain win). It’s been put forward by the Lib Dems and a few others and is generally a pretty silly idea, but it is a legitimate argument to put forward, if you so wish.

Unless you’re in the shadow cabinet.

Cabinet collective responsibility is an idea almost as old as Parliament itself. It has its advantages and its disadvantages, but it applies to the cabinet and the shadow cabinet unless waived by the leader. The idea is simple – anyone in the cabinet publicly agrees with the party position, even if they privately disagree. Or stay ‘On the Party Line’, if you will. Ahem…

Anyone who contravenes this principle can expect to be removed from their position. Labour policy is ‘no second (really third) referendum’. Owen Smith said they should offer a second (really third) referendum. So he was sacked. This is absolutely bog standard, straightforward, nobody-bats-an-eyelid politics. And yet, there has been an outcry over the decision to sack him, despite a blatant and calculated deviation from CCR. Why is this?

Why is Chuka Umunna pretending to be shocked? Why is Peter (now Lord) Hain calling it a ‘Stalinist purge’? If this situation was reversed, say Liz Kendall had won (Haha, I know right?!) and appointed Mr Corbyn to a ministerial post. Imagine he had then defied the cabinet position publicly and been sacked. Would Umunna or Hain be calling it a ‘Blairite purge’? Forgive my raging scepticism.

“Well, shouldn’t he be allowed to speak out for his principles freely?” Of course he should. But he can’t do that and expect to stay in the cabinet. There’s a place where you can go and say whatever you want to your heart’s content – it’s called the backbenches. A certain Mr Corbyn used to sit there and do exactly that. He never expected a cabinet position.

There is an argument to be had that Mr Corbyn is trying to do things differently – a change from the politics of the past. But that’s his decision, and you can’t pick and choose for yourselves what you support and what you don’t. He is the leader with all the precedent and history that has gone before him. If he chooses to carry that on, then he should. If he wants to change things, then he can. But don’t start crying when he applies rules consistently and in a way that you would if you were in charge.

All this nonsense about ‘can’t we have a diverse range of views?’…sure, in the party, and even in private cabinet meetings, but not publicly. And as if the Blairites would allow a diverse range of views at this point if they had the power. Discipline would be iron tight.

Tom Watson summed it up sensibly: ‘I was disappointed to see Owen go … but he does know how collective responsibility works… If I’m being honest, I don’t think Jeremy really did have a choice but to ask him to stand down’.

Well obviously. You can’t just attack the guy for absolutely everything he does. I know he’s a pillock, and this anti-semitism thing is starting to get out of hand (and no, it isn’t a big media conspiracy – pretending that it is will come back to haunt you), but attack him on those things only. You make yourself look like hypocrites when you go after him for totally standard stuff.

For goodness’ sake, stop making me defend him.

A comedian has been convicted for a joke. This should be a wake up call for us all

We have just set a very dangerous precedent…this must be resisted

WARNING – this post will contain videos and links with some choice language and adult themes.

For those of you who have not yet heard this story, let me start with a quick summary. A Scottish chap called Mark Meechan, a so called ‘video comedian’ has been charged under the Communications Act with a hate crime. This hate crime was “grossly offensive”, “anti-semitic and racist in nature” and was “aggravated by religious prejudice”.

So that was the charge. That such charges can even exist in this country is something I may come back to, but for now let’s stick to what actually happened. Mr Meechan posted a video to YouTube in April 2016 of himself and his girlfriend’s pug dog. The thrust of the video is that he is teaching the dog a trick, which is to perform a ‘nazi salute’ (it raises a paw). The commands for this trick are the phrases ‘gas the Jews’ and ‘sieg heil’. The joke being that such a cute dog is doing the worst thing imaginable. You can watch the full video below, if you so choose.

For this alleged ‘crime’, Mr Meechan could face prison time. It’s unlikely, but possible. Either way, he will be punished for this by the British Justice System. I’m struggling to quite put into words just how chilling, horrifying, moronic and authoritarian this is.

Right, well let’s start with the blindingly obvious – it was a joke. A joke. A joke that you are allowed to find funny, a joke that are allowed to find unfunny. A joke that you are allowed to be offended by. A joke that you can choose to share, a joke that you are free to ignore. A joke.

Are we saying jail, a place where the worst people in the country are sent (given that we don’t have the death penalty), should be there to deter jokes? We want jail to be a place that people would look at, and then think twice before making a joke?

Here are some more jokes:

“They say there’s safety in numbers. Yeah? Well tell that to six million Jews”. That was Jimmy Carr.

“Palestine is like a cake being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew”. Frankie Boyle.

Louis CK opened a special by saying he would do all of the announcements so that they can just start the show already. “Turn off your cellphones…or at least leave the flash off…don’t yell out…don’t text or Twitter during the show…what else…oh yeh no Jews, I think they said that earlier…”

So these guys should be jailed for these jokes? Or are these ok?

As expected, most of my comedian friends have shown concern about this, but weirdly there has been some pushback even in this community. There has certainly been very little outcry in the wider media, and this is such a concerning thing. A couple of things have been raised which I will attempt to address now.

The first being something to the effect of “why are you defending this guy, it wasn’t even funny”. Well that doesn’t matter. Because whether you think it’s funny or not shouldn’t be the basis on which another person’s freedom is decided. And if we don’t stand up even when we disagree, it will come back to bite us later down the line. “Is he really someone you want to defend?” I don’t care who he is. I’m not defending the person, I’m defending the principle. You’re the one turning him into a martyr, not me.

I used to watch Frankie Boyle a lot, until I got bored. I was offended by loads of things he said (who wasn’t?), but when I decided I didn’t want to watch him anymore, I didn’t demand that he be jailed or ostracised, I just stopped watching him. I watched Jimmy Carr’s last special, thought it was ok. Not particularly my cup of tea, but I appreciate the structure and the skill. I love Louis CK, Bill Burr and Chris Rock. I’m watching Ricky Gervais’ new special ‘Humanity’ as I write this. First ten minutes have been pretty good. But whether I find it funny, whether I find it offensive doesn’t matter, because if any of them were threatened with jail for anything I’ve heard them say, I would defend them.

Secondly, “well he’s been defended by and pictured with Tommy Robinson”. So what? Is that a crime now as well is it? “Well it doesn’t help his case”. Again, so what? I would caution you to be very, VERY careful using this type of argument. Anyone who is a Corbyn supporter for a start can knock this one on the head, standing as you will be in a tiny, fragile glass house. I can assure you, this won’t end well. Put. The gun. Down.

Ken Livingstone (we’re talking about Nazis, might as well bring him into it) was once asked in an interview why he spent so much time defending Muslims, given that the ideology of most followers of Islam are opposed to his own brand of politics. He answered that they were currently facing oppression, and much as he had defended the Irish in the past and Palestinians now, he wants to provide a voice for the voiceless. It’s a similar thing here. It is you, the person who would jail this man for a joke that forces people like me to defend him even though I don’t even find his joke funny. I would never teach a dog to do that, I think it’s awful and immature. I think the Charlie Hebdo cartoons weren’t funny. But for goodness’ sake, I don’t want them jailed or killed for their bad jokes.

I have never had the inclination or a reason to draw the Prophet Muhammed. Why would I? But as soon as someone says I can’t, or threatens me with punishment by law or mob violence if I do, the urge gets stronger. Notice how in all of these reports of the Nazi dog, the original video is shown. Apparently it’s ‘grossly offensive’ according to a judgement passed down in a court of law, but it is embedded on every article. The full thing. Was that true with Charlie Hebdo, or did you have to ‘deep Google’ it? Nobody had the courage to show them, but this is apparently ok.

People don’t seem to realise that legislation or precedents like this can be used against them. They seem to live in this world where only their enemies and people they don’t like are the only ones who will be punished by it. But once these things are law, once the precedent is set, that will be it. Some of the things I hear said about Margaret Thatcher or the Queen or Theresa May…well if this guy is going to jail, so are most of my friends. Or at least they ought to be if we had any kind of consistency.

This passage in a CNN piece explains it very well:

“You might say “so what?” You might think that “offensive” speech is of low value, so who wanted it anyway? However, if you don’t believe in protecting “offensive” speech, you don’t believe in protecting speech at all. What you deem “offensive” could be “humorous” to someone else. And what you find valuable, can very easily wind up on someone else’s “offensive” list.”

 

Given how social media outlets are prone to bias against Conservatives and favour Liberals, we already have a small window into how this could pan out.

Let’s just pause for a second – do you think, based on what you’ve seen or read, that Mr Meechan is a racist? An anti-semite? A genuine hater of the Jewish people? If you do, then you might as well stop reading if you haven’t already. Nothing I say here will convince you. If you don’t – then what on earth are we even talking about here? Anti-semites exist, undoubtedly (many in the party most of my friends seem to support). Some are awful, horrible, virulent anti-semites. What happens to them? Should they face the same punishment as a guy making a joke about it? Or do they now look a lot less harmful when equated to some tattooed ‘shitposter’?

I said it earlier, but it’s difficult to put into words just how frightening this is. That a judge can declare context irrelevant, and a prosecution can persuade enough that a person making a joke is being serious and should be taken seriously makes me question what year I’m living in. I hate it whenever anyone posts a thing simply alongside the phrase ‘it’s 2018’, as though that’s supposed to somehow prove something. But come on, the year 1984 has to be the one that comes to mind more than any other. Jonathan Pie says it the best:

We are so complacent. I am so complacent. We forget that rights have to be constantly fought for, not just won and then left alone. Authority will ALWAYS look for ways to erode our freedoms, and it is up to us to be vigilant in protecting them.

If we aren’t, we won’t have anyone else to blame when they come to our doors demanding our papers. We have been warned.