Recently on Radio 4’s Feedback programme, the philosopher and writer Roger Scruton suggested that free speech was under threat because of concern to protect gay people and Muslims and fear of the legal consequences of offending them.
Roger’s comments (between 7 and 14 minutes into the programme) are well worth listening to. In fact, in this week’s programme the BBC admitted that: “Most of the people who wrote to us thought what you delivered was a breath of fresh air.”
They then asked why he felt so strongly about free speech, to which Professor Scruton replied:
“I’ve always felt strongly about free speech because of my own experience of having so often being silenced. You know I belong to what people might find rather surprising to be described as a persecuted minority, but in the academic world being an intellectual conservative does entitle you to that description and my attempts to speak out on important issues, what seemed to me to be important issues in the past, those have always met with quite vociferous opposition and intimidation attempts to stop me speaking…”
This remember is Roger Scruton, of the key architects of the counter narrative that finally helped usher in the collapse of eastern bloc Communism, the man who helped run an underground university in Eastern Europe, and who even ended up getting arrested by the Communist authorities there.
The BBC then relayed a comment from their website responding to Professor Scruton’s earlier article on free speech. The blogged comment claimed:
“This is not philosophy it is a straight white man defending his privilege, because he is not a member of a group that has been oppressed and vilified he cannot comprehend what he is defending. Black people don’t just hear the hate speech when they hear the ‘n’ word they hear a credible threat of assault, murder or false imprisonment. (The interviewer then added) He makes a similar point about gay people…”
The BBC interviewer then went on to suggest that: “…a lot of people would feel like him.”
To which Professor Scruton replied:
“Yes as I said earlier, I as a Conservative feel like this sometimes, of course people are going to be intimidating me and perhaps even throwing eggs at me as they did at the recent Conservative Party conference…”
In fact, in a 2010 interview with The Guardian Scruton had spoken of having been ‘vilified’ by his colleagues while a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, and claimed his academic career had been ‘blighted’, both as a direct result of him having written about Conservativism.
I would suggest that, whether the BBC gets it or not and without at all wishing to diminish the prejudice experienced by others, some form of prejudice, and abuse, against anyone who is a known Conservative is actually quite widespread in parts of the public sector.
In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that in education there is often an institutional bias and prejudice against Conservatives.
That is one of the reasons that Michael Gove, one of the most successful Education Secretaries ever, was on the receiving end of so much abuse from supposedly professional teachers.
Now most of us who have worked in the public sector simply shrug our shoulders, get on with trying to do a good job, and either ignore it or laugh it off.
But the fact remains that the liberal-left who dominate the education establishment can get away with saying things in the workplace about the ‘effing Tories’ that would instantly get them the sack if they referred to people who were gay, black or Muslim.
For example, just over a year ago I took voluntary redundancy from a sixth form college where I had previously been part of the senior leadership team in order to complete writing my next book. Two colleagues gave leaving speeches.
The first spoke about my professionalism and integrity, the second – who I still count as a friend – gave an incredibly witty, but totally inappropriate speech, to which the entire staff room roared with gales of laughter.
It began: “Nye Bevin once said that all Tories were vermin, so I thought we would speculate about what sort of vermin Martin was. He’s clearly too nice to be a rat…”
He then proceeded to go through a whole list of possible vermin that I might be – I think I ended up being something like a fox! I of course took it all in good humour and laughed along with everyone else.
As Roger Scruton observed last week: “The robust English view used to be that the correct response to offensive words is to ignore them or to answer them with a rebuke.
However, as my lefty friend who had given the speech and I reminisced about it afterwards, I gently pointed out to him, with a twinkle in my eye, that if he had substituted the word ‘gay’ for ‘Tory’ in such a speech – he would have been sacked instantly.
I warned him that if they ever made me an education minister then I’d use it when speaking at one of those teaching union conferences – where whomever the Education Secretary is… if they’re blue they’re booed!