I was fired for things I didn't say and don't believe, says Sir Roger Scruton as he warns of an 'atmosphere of intimidation' growing in Britain
PUBLISHED: 01:06, 28 April 2019 | UPDATED: 01:23, 28 April 2019
Two weeks ago I was sacked from my unpaid position as chair of a government commission devoted to beauty in building. Given the atmosphere of intimidation that is growing in our country, I have to say that my sacking was no surprise. It is unusual, to say the least, for a believing conservative to be appointed to a position of responsibility by a Tory government. The main aim of the Tories in office is to get through to the next election without being noticed.
Appointing me to any position, even that of janitor at Party HQ, would be asking for it. But I was glad to take on the job nevertheless. There is no more urgent aim than this one, which is to restore public confidence in the planning process, by persuading people that we can build the housing that we need, without spoiling the beauty of our country.
I was naïve, however, in thinking that we could achieve this aim by actually believing in it. Look around yourself, and you will quickly see that there is a vested interest in ugliness. Powerful people make easy money out of spoiling our built and natural inheritance, and they will sweep aside the obstacles placed in their path by a mere philosopher. No sooner was my appointment announced than a character assassination began in the architectural press, in the Evening Standard and on social media, leading to overt slanders spoken under Parliamentary privilege. I found myself accused of all the ‘isms’ and ‘phobias’ in the repertoire, by people who clearly had not the slightest acquaintance with my writings or thoughts on any subject at all, least of all on the subject of architecture.
I allowed myself to be persuaded to stay in the position. After all, I naively thought, the attacks could not be repeated, now that people had perceived how unfounded they were. For four months I worked as hard as I could, helped by my excellent fellow commissioners and a valuable team of advisors, and bit by bit we were able to unravel what is in fact a complex philosophical, economic and sociological question, and one that has defeated many a government commission before our own. I was careful not to get drawn into any controversy during those months, knowing how easy it is to be demonised. But I fell into a trap nevertheless.
My publisher had proposed to mark my 75th birthday by reissuing three of my books, and inviting discussions of my philosophy. I expressed reservations, given the recent attacks, but again allowed myself to be persuaded. After all I am a free-lance writer, who depends on royalties and commissions, and for four months I had been unable to accept any new commissions on account of my post which, being unpaid, required me to live off savings. The publisher (Bloomsbury) eventually told me that the New Statesman wished to write a general piece, and would be glad for an interview, at which their publicity officer would be present. It seemed harmless enough: after all I had worked for the Statesman as wine critic and, provided I did not talk of the commission, could avoid saying anything that might compromise its work. In the event the publicity officer was ill and I was alone with the interviewer, George Eaton, who I saw was recording my words on his phone. Naively I assumed that this was simply because, like so many young people, he had never acquired the habit of taking notes.
A week later the New Statesman published an account of the interview, written by Eaton, in which I am portrayed as some kind of racist bigot. Eaton gave maximum publicity to the article on social media, reaffirmed its accuracy when questioned, and even posted a picture of himself on Instagram, drinking champagne from the bottle, and triumphing over the ‘racist, homophobe, Roger Scruton.’ The Labour Party issued a press release denouncing me in terms so damaging that I cannot bring myself to repeat them. The Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, reacted at once, without consulting me, and I learned of my dismissal as I travelled back that day from Paris.
I searched my memory for what I might have said that could have led to such a catastrophe, but remembered only the general contours of what I had assumed to be a cordial attempt to communicate my view of the political situation of our continent. The next day, seeing the terrible headlines, I asked to see the tape of the interview. Neither Eaton nor the New Statesman Editor would release the tape, and so I have been forced to flounder in a morass of accusations, without proof of my innocence. Meanwhile the smears have been repeated delightedly by all those vested interests that originally objected to my appointment. A member of the Labour Party has gone so far as to accuse me (in Parliament) of being a ‘white supremacist’, so associating my name with the mass murderer in Christchurch, New Zealand, and in the course of this demanding that I be stripped of my knighthood. The newspapers took up the story, and soon the humiliation was complete, with even Tory politicians hurrying to dissociate themselves from me on social media.
Fortunately I am blessed with loyal friends, and questions began to be raised about the justice of my dismissal. Have I had a right of reply? Have the principles of natural justice been followed? Has any scrutable evidence of my words actually been produced? From all over the world have come statements of support, defending my character against the worst of the libels. But still no proof of my innocence, since the New Statesman and Eaton had refused to release the tapes.
To my great relief the tapes have now been hooked from the cyber-sphere by that great lover of mankind A.N.Onymous. Everyone can read the summary given by Douglas Murray in last week’s Spectator, and the New Statesman has responded to the pressure and published a transcript of the tapes, which can also be listened to on you tube. The tapes show clearly that the character assassination built from their out-of-context fragments has no foundation at all.. The important point, though, is that the interview has done its work: the Conservative Party has not regarded me as an asset worth defending, and the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, who dismissed me without a word of enquiry, has yet to come up with an apology.
My case is not unique. Those who dare to defend ordinary conservative values do so now at considerable risk, like the Christian teacher fired last week for questioning whether it was right to bring the transgender issue into her classroom. In the academic world anyone identified as a conservative is likely now to be defenestrated by the social media mob. Last week my friend and colleague Ryszard Legutko, a distinguished Polish philosopher and Member of the European Parliament, was ‘disinvited’ by Middelbury University in Virginia following an attack on social media, and a few weeks previously, following a similar attack, Jordan Peterson, the distinguished Canadian psychologist, had an offer of a Fellowship withdrawn by the Cambridge Divinity School, surely the first time in history that Cambridge University has offered a fellowship only to withdraw it.
All around us, in universities, the media, in Parliament itself, we are observing a determined effort to raise the cost of conservative beliefs to the point where no one dares to express them. We are to proceed in all our deliberations without the conservative voice. And the sad thing for those who have defended that voice – in my case through a lifetime of considered argument – is that Tory politicians will join the stampede to abandon us. But in doing this, they are also abandoning those who vote for them. Conservative values are not the caricature kicked around on social media. They are part of the social fabric of this country, indeed of every European country, as I well know from the letters of support that I have received. If not defended by the conservative party these values will have no part in the political process. And what will happen, when the people come to see that their values are without a voice in Parliament? It is surely time for the Tory Party to wake up to the direction in which it is taking us.