I start the week by going through my iPhone to delete the numbers of former friends. It sounds depressing, but it’s actually quite cathartic. I suppose it all started with Brexit. I’m not a confrontational person, so it was surprising to find so many friends turning against me over their newfound devotion to a neoliberal trading bloc. Since then, I’ve watched the ongoing curdling of rational minds with a growing sense of incomprehension. So many on the left appear to have surrendered to a collective fantasy in which the slightest point of political disagreement is interpreted as evidence of fascism. Someone I’ve known for more than a decade went all Mr Hyde on me in a pub one night, barking that I was a ‘Nazi’, which is about as antithetical to my worldview as you can get. Still, there’s something to be said for bigots outing themselves like this, and it does free up your social calendar.
The commentariat had a similar tantrum this week after the actor Laurence Fox had the temerity to express his opinions on Question Time. In the light of the threats and abuse that Fox has received since his appearance, it’s worth considering what he actually said. He urged everyone to be united in our condemnation of racism. He said that the word ‘racism’ should be reserved for racists. He pointed out that the fear of being falsely branded as racist can have catastrophic consequences, citing the revelations that police in Manchester failed to protect children from rape and violence due to concerns over race relations. He argued that the concept of ‘white privilege’ was unhelpful and generalising. Finally, he mocked Shami Chakrabarti’s suggestion that the Labour leadership should be decided on the basis of gender. On all of these points he happens to be right, but even if one takes a contrary stance I can’t see how any of this is especially controversial. Question Time is meant to be a debate, not a one-sided reiteration of intersectional dogma. This is one of the reasons I’m touring the UK with Douglas Murray later this year in a discussion show called Resisting Wokeness. We hope to open up some conversations that are badly needed.
If you stand by Forrest Reid’s grave in Dundonald Cemetery, east Belfast, and look past the fir trees to the south you can see the Castlereagh Hills looming on the horizon. The best time to visit is the morning, when the birdsong manages to overwhelm the distant roar of traffic from Newtownards Road. It’s a little victory for nature, one that Reid would have appreciated. It’s curious that one of Northern Ireland’s most significant novelists has been all but forgotten. Perhaps his best work was his autobiography Apostate, which recalls his childhood in a time before the rapid industrialisation of Belfast in the late 19th century. Reid’s genius was recognised by the likes of E.M. Forster, François Mauriac and the poet John Hewitt, and towards the end of his life he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Even so, you won’t find any of his work in Belfast’s bookshops. Literary trends are notoriously fickle.
I’m only in Belfast for a few days, which is just as well because Titania McGrath is writing a new book and the deadline is imminent. There has been a rash of woke children’s literature over the past few years, including such classics as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, C is for Consent and The Little Girl Who Gave Zero Fucks. Never one to miss out on the latest trend, Titania has decided to write My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism. Younger readers might struggle with some of the jargon, but this doesn’t concern Titania. After all, her first words as a baby were ‘seize the means of production’.
On the subject of Titania, I find myself talking about her in the third person again during an interview for a newspaper. This cannot be healthy. I fear I may have to kill her off before she takes over my life. There’s a short story by L.P. Hartley called ‘W.S.’, in which an author receives threatening postcards from one of his own characters who is travelling across the country to murder him. I’m not suggesting Titania has any violent intentions towards me, but she does get me into trouble. Recently I was accused of writing an obvious hoax piece for the Independent under the pseudonym ‘Liam Evans’ which called for offensive comedians to be prosecuted for hate speech. The intention was clearly to expose the way in which certain outlets will publish any old nonsense by anyone at all, so long as it is sufficiently woke. About the authorship I couldn’t possibly comment, but by an incredible coincidence if you take the fourth letter of every sentence of the article it spells out ‘Titania McGrath wrote this you gullible hacks’.
Andrew Doyle is a comedian and creator of the Twitter persona Titania McGrath.