Toby Young suffers from Status Anxiety
I’m writing this from the Hay Festival in Wales, which has become an annual pilgrimage for my family and me. The children can be parked in a masterclass on how to draw dragons while I slope
off and listen to David Miliband being interviewed by Matthew d’Ancona. Not everyone’s idea of heaven, perhaps, but it beats taking them to the swings in Acton Park.
The festival is being sponsored by the Telegraph this year — it used to be the Guardian — and I was hoping it would have a more conservative flavour. At the very least, a pavilion
somewhere in the middle called Right-of-Centre where the Telegraph’s dazzling array of Tory bloggers — Norman Tebbit, Dan Hannan, James Delingpole, Ed West, Damian Thompson —
would take on all-comers. But not a bit of it. The festival is as left-wing as it’s always been.
Philippe Sands is on virtually every panel. There’s a daily dissection of the papers led by Julia Hobsbawm, daughter of the world’s last living Marxist historian. George Monbiot is
still omnipresent, oozing self-righteousness from every pore and attempting to arrest his fellow panellists for war crimes. And the highlight of the week is a live sex show featuring Roy
Hattersley, Polly Toynbee and Johann Hari. Okay, I made that last bit up, but you get the idea. It might as well be sponsored by the Morning Star.
At last year’s festival the coalition was only a month old and various members of the government were swanning about, enjoying the fact that they were no longer regarded as social outcasts by
the liberal intelligentsia. This year, the only minister who’s dared to show his face is Ed Vaizey. I bumped into him at the GQ party and he fell upon me like a man in the desert who’s
stumbled across a glass of water. ‘I’ve been surrounded by lefties all day,’ he moaned. ‘Listening to them talk has reminded me why I’ll always be a Tory.’
Curiously, there are far more right-wing intellectuals at the philosophy festival taking place alongside Hay called How the Light Gets In. I was on a panel about education with Douglas Murray,
Britain’s leading neoconservative. I told him I could sense gamma rays of hostility being beamed at me whenever I walked through the main festival.
‘D’you think I’m just being paranoid?’ I asked.
‘Absolutely not,’ he said. ‘They really hate people like us.’
Sure enough, the following day I was accosted by a red-faced woman who asked me how I had the gall to set up a private school for my child-ren at the public’s expense? She was so angry she
could barely speak. I’m not sure she noticed that I had my four children in tow. Trying to mount a robust defence of the free schools policy isn’t easy when you’re carrying your
two-year-old, holding the hand of your three-year-old and trying to stop your seven-year-old from killing your six-year-old. She stood there shouting ‘for shame, for shame’ as I walked
Even the local homeless people are disdainful. ‘Would you like to buy a copy of the Big Issue, Mr Young?’ asked one young man.
‘I didn’t think so,’ he said. His tone combined chippiness and moral superiority in equal measure, a speciality of the Welsh. It’s come to something when you’re looked
down upon by a tramp.
I took myself off to see A.A. Gill being interviewed by John Mitchinson, hoping for a bit of light relief. This, surely, would be an island of political incorrectness in a sea of left-wing
sanctimony? He started off quite promisingly, being rude about the Welsh, but soon segued into being even ruder about the English. A woman in the audience had the temerity to express the view that
some English traditions were dying out as a result of mass immigration, but Gill cut her off. ‘I’m afraid I part company with you there,’ he said, casting a supercilious glance
her way. ‘I love immigration. I think there should be more immigration, not less.’ The audience burst into thunderous applause.
The depressing thing is that the anti-government feeling will be running even higher next year. By then, the Hay regulars will have worked themselves up into a proper lather about the cuts. Powys
Council will close a couple of libraries — better that than give up the taxpayer-funded credit cards — and a whole army of red-faced women will hold me personally responsible.
I may have to leave the kids at home.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.