Is Winston Marshall — guitarist, banjo player, composer of Mumford & Sons, and father of the west London ‘Nu-Folk’ music that eventually conquered the world — a martyr to the Twitter mob? I find his story more interesting than that. He was trolled earlier this year for tweeting in favour of a book by Andy Ngo about the power of the far-left in the United States. (I haven’t read the book; I gather it is polemical, but in no way fascist.) Because of the difficulties this created for the band, he apologised, but later felt uneasy since he believed he had said nothing wrong. After consulting his fellow band members, he decided he wanted to be able to speak out. The best way to respect the mutual accountability by which they operate was to leave the band altogether. Possibly he felt it was time to go anyway; he was its youngest member, aged 17, when it started: it has taken up half his life. The striking thing is not the original Twitter storm — they are as common and brief as lightning — but the state of the music industry, particularly in America. Surely rock music must be subversive, yet now only one political tune is allowed by the promoters, radio stations etc — with clearly anti-creative results. Although Mr Marshall can easily afford his self-imposed exile, he is brave. He even dares to say on the BBC that he is ‘a man of faith’. I hope he is now free to reveal publicly how the industry operates these days. He will also spend more time with Hong Kong Link Up, the excellent organisation founded to welcome Hong Kongers taking up the British citizenship offer. I wonder if some of his trolls take their orders from Beijing…
The National Trust has its own Black Lives Matter web page for staff, even though BLM is an extreme political organisation which explicitly attacks ‘whiteness’ (and therefore the great majority of National Trust members). Its Race Equity Network aims to ‘inspire the changes needed so that the National Trust is truly for everyone for ever’. To this end, it will ‘prioritise joy and fairness’ and ‘seek to support and challenge the National Trust to eliminate policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce, or that fail to eliminate, differential outcomes by race’. It is working with a ‘sister’ network of ‘white allies’ and ‘in solidarity with other marginalised groups’, such as the Trust’s LGBTQ+ network, which ‘breaks down geographical divides and hierarchical structure’ to make sure that ‘stories for everyone, including LGBTQ+ stories’ are promulgated ‘across the National Trust portfolio’. Much emphasis is given to the Trust’s Everyone Welcome programme for staff. But if the idea of welcome is defined by politicised pressure groups, most people will feel excluded. Joy and fairness will be in short supply. According to a current Trust employee, who naturally remains anonymous: ‘At interviews people are asked how they voted in the Brexit referendum, and rejected out of hand if they voted to leave.’ He continues: ‘There is an atmosphere of fear and bullying — not, as the upper echelons in the Trust would like to believe, among downtrodden minorities, but among anyone who holds a view opposed to the neo-Marxist model prevalent in the organisation… Since the Trust’s “Prejudice and Pride” initiative [an campaign to ‘showcase’ gay connections with the Trust], they have been in cahoots with Stonewall, whereby “LGBTQ allies” are recruited to spy on and weed out anyone who thinks, speaks or acts in an “unacceptable” way.’ In studying how wokery took over the Trust (and many other cultural bodies, notably museums), I think the key to it lies in staff recruitment and HR. It is the 2020s equivalent of the hard-left penetration of trade unions in the 1970s.
At the last two weekends, I have attended cultural occasions which had to manage Covid restrictions just at the point when everyone expected them to be lifted. One was Garsington Opera, the other, Chalke Valley History Festival. I was deeply struck by the skill with which the organisers overcame the obstacles. These occasions are fraught at the best of times. Large numbers of quite demanding people — both audience and performers — gather in rural settings always vulnerable to the English weather. This year, masked, they have to be shepherded, seated, fed and watered within the law; and social distancing rules mean lower takings at the box office. On both evenings, the quality and finish of everything were outstanding, so everyone was in happy mood, cheering the shows on (sometimes literally). Der Rosenkavalier at Garsington was captivatingly well imagined. When the Marschallin opened the box containing the rose, I thought I could smell its odour. Checking with the authorities afterwards, I discovered my impression had been a complete illusion — a tribute of sorts to the power of the production. Both these evenings were private-sector. They contrast strikingly with the grim reluctance of so much of the public sector whose ‘Don’t you know there’s a war on?’ attitude seems only to strengthen as the danger recedes.
I recently wrote elsewhere about the replacement of cash by electronic payment and its unwelcome effects on human freedom. A friend emails to point out another aspect. People under the age of 30, he says, do not understand cash, and therefore are bad at mental arithmetic. He recently bought a sandwich for £3.45: ‘When the assistant finally grasped that I was not using a card, I handed over a £5 note and 45p in change to alleviate the weight in my pocket. She treated me as deaf. “No, £3.45!” she said and handed back the 45p, followed by £1.55 in change — exactly what I had been trying to avoid. Muffled behind a mask, I couldn’t be bothered to explain and jangled out.’ Perhaps the young are more confused about price, and therefore more easily gulled, than the generations which learnt to add and subtract for themselves, often using coins to learn.