Culture wars

Keep your politics à la carte

It’s a truism that the Anglosphere has developed a ‘tribalism’ that rivals the divisions between the Kikuyu and Luhya in Kenya. One pernicious aspect of mutually hostile groupsterism is prix fixe politics. Your side shares a rigid, prescribed collection of beliefs, and joining the club entails embracing every single one, while despising a compulsory roster of enemies and backing the folks on your team – whatever friend or foe may say, whatever friend or foe may do. As in French restaurants, there are no substitutions. Letting go of indefensible positions your gang is ‘supposed’ to maintain is a relief Rarely has set-menu morality been put on more vivid display than

Prince Charming is cancelled

The only strikes I really enjoy are actors’ strikes. Teachers’ strikes leave me cold. Train strikes get me into a cold fury. But there are few more enjoyable spectacles in life than members of the acting profession making demands which – if left unmet – will see them refuse to work. Why should girls dream of being something like a deputy under-secretary at the United Nations? My first urge is always to clasp my head in my hands and in my best South Park voice scream: ‘You mean no movies with Susan Sarandon for six months? Nooooo.’ Then there’s the fact that most of the strikers haven’t seen work in

How the West plays up to Putin’s caricature

In an outstanding article in the New York Times, Roger Cohen recounted his experience of travelling across Russia for a full month, and hats off to the veteran journalist for risking a shared cell with the Wall Street Journal ‘spy’ Evan Gershkovich. Cohen explains that Vladimir Putin is successfully flogging his war in Ukraine to the Russian people as a battle against the whole spiritually depraved West, no longer the home of ruthless capitalism but of ‘sex changes, the rampages of drag queens, barbaric gender debates and an LGBTQ takeover’. In a tirade last November, Putin lambasted the US and ‘other unfriendly foreign states’ for ‘selfishness, permissiveness, immorality, the denial

Woke culture is strangling comedy

Three weeks after that South Park episode and the memes just keep on coming. Despite years of highly articulate fulminating against the preposterous pair by essayists like myself, there’s a feeling that the satirical cartoon was the conclusive blow to the Sussexes’ reputation – no well-turned phrase will ever better the glorious awfulness of ‘The Worldwide Privacy Tour’. One of the things that the woke hate most about our lot is the fact that we’re far more amusing. Their natural mode of address is to scold – and scolding and wit are polar opposites. I daresay some clown somewhere has stated that punchlines are probably imperialist. In his book The Rise of the New Puritans,

Why Gen Z is turning against woke culture

The other day, in a bar in London frequented by students of the infamously ‘woke’ Goldsmiths University, I met a young white cis-male who said that the English were to blame for his inherited trauma because of their historic oppression of the Irish. The only problem was, he wasn’t Irish – he was American and so were his parents and probably grandparents. ‘Pain lasts a long time,’ he assured me. What struck me about this encounter was not that it was typical of my Gen Z generation but that it was so obviously cringe-inducing – a sort of hackneyed pick-up line. Another student at the same bar – sporting an

The problem with being anti-woke

I’m going to do something that will likely annoy you, dear reader: I am going to make an argument about a certain class of people without naming names. If I do name names, any response will devolve into a debate over whether I am unfairly tarring the individuals in question. That’s beside the point, because the phenomenon in question is undoubtedly real. That phenomenon is anti-wokeness curdling into reactionary crankery. Don’t get me wrong: as I’ve previously written, I think there’s a moral panic afoot in many liberal institutions. Whether you want to call it ‘wokeness’ or something else, it seems undeniably the case that a culture of illiberalism has corroded

Kemi Badenoch: the curriculum does not need ‘decolonising’

When the government published a report last year by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (CRED) into racism in the UK, it was the subject of controversy. The report concluded the UK does not have a systemic problem with racism (while accepting there are issues), and a number of charities dubbed it ‘deeply troubling’. A year later and the government finally set out its response to the report and how it intends to deal with the inequalities highlighted in it.  Taking its founding principles from the original report, it essentially accepts the chair Tony Sewell’s logic that the different outcomes for different minority groups means that it is the wrong approach to attribute every problem to racism.

Labour’s obsession with race shows no signs of fading

After a relatively successful spell attempting to side itself with ordinary folk, Labour has lurched back into hardline identity politics with a particular focus on the issue of race. Over recent days some of the party’s leading figures have stoked up the idea of Tory Britain being a hotbed of discrimination. Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy is leading the way with a call for a posthumous royal pardon of those who took part in an anti-slavery uprising in Guyana in 1823. According to Lammy, the pardon would help Britain find a ‘path to repair’ in regard to its ‘acknowledgment of its role in the history of slavery’. Yet given that

The astonishing stories behind today’s culture wars: Radio 4’s Things Fell Apart reviewed

Martin McNamara, the writer of Mosley Must Fall, a play on Radio 4 this week, must have had a jolt when he opened the papers to find old Oswald back in the news. Oxford University is said to have accepted £6 million from a trust set up by the fascist leader’s son, the racing driver Max, using funds passed down through the family. Cries of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ have been echoing down the High in Oxford for many years now. If Mosley must fall, too, then this play may prove particularly timely. Although set in Whitechapel, east London, in 1936, the story consciously teeters over live issues, including immigration, the

I’ve been back one week and the good old US of A has never seemed more depressing

New York Don’t let anyone tell you the Bagel is worse off than Kabul, where three people were recently shot dead by Islamist gunmen for playing music at a wedding. No siree, people over here are shot every day and night but not for playing music at a wedding. Give New York credit where it’s due. The city is a bloody horror if you’re living way uptown, way downtown, or in the Bronx, with the rest of Gotham experiencing a level of street crime not seen in a decade. Robberies and felonious assaults are up 15 per cent in a year and gun arrests by a whopping 20 per cent.

Dave Chappelle’s show is a rip-off

Towards what seemed like the halfway point of his show in London last night, Dave Chappelle announced to the crowd he was going to tell us something he was refusing to tell the media.  He wanted us to know, he said while looking sadly at the floor, that his quarrel was not with the gay or the trans communities . No, no. Looking up and raising an index finger, he explained: ‘I’m fighting a corporate agenda that needs to be addressed.’ Thinking we still had another hour of the show to go, we cheered. ‘You fight those corporate vampires, Dave!’ we thought. He then let us know, whenever it was possible,

Political arguments are now over words, not things

There is a picture book, by the excellent David McKee, of which my youngest child was very fond. It’s called Two Monsters, and its protagonists are, as promised, two monsters. The blue one lives on the west side of a mountain, and the red one lives on the east side of the mountain. They communicate verbally but never see each other. It all kicks off when one evening the blue monster calls: ‘Can you see how beautiful it is? Day is departing.’ The red monster shouts back: ‘Day departing? You mean night arriving, you twit!’ Cantankerous words are exchanged before bedtime and both sleep badly. The following morning the blue

America’s campus culture wars come for St Andrews

The University of St Andrews has been keen on American imports for some time. Americans make up 16 per cent of undergraduates, by far a larger proportion than any other British higher education institution. The university, hungry for foreign money (international students pay £25,100 a year, compared to £9,250 a year for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students) sends recruiters to high schools in the States to woo potential students. When I was at St Andrews a decade ago, I knew more Americans than Scots. Mostly, the university’s connections with the US have been good. Yet there is one American import St Andrews could do without: campus culture wars. Today’s Times

I loved prison

Memories for me are like beautifully edited copy: all cleaned up and retaining only the good parts. The wife tells me that I’m quite lucky in choosing to remember just pleasant things, and of course I agree. Actually it’s not really a choice; it is almost automatic. Bad things are tucked away immediately, never to return. I suppose many idiots enjoy such forgetfulness, but then I’d rather be called an idiot than a surly grouch, complaining and finding fault with everything and everyone. Needless to say, I cannot forget Pentonville. Looking back, I recall only fun times among my fellow convicts. There was Warren, the large black man whose appeal

The economic illiteracy of anti-capitalists

Back in October, World Bank chief economist Carmen Reinhart recommended that countries borrow heavily during the pandemic. ‘First, you worry about fighting the war,’ she said, ‘then you figure out how to pay for it’. As thousands of mask-free demonstrators took to the streets of London this weekend to campaign on issues ranging from Palestine to climate change, you have to wonder: are we still at war? And does anyone care about the economy anymore? It has been apparent for some time — though it may continue to confound psephologists — that issues such as identity, patriotism and culture are more important to the electorate than economic concerns. That the

Pimlico Academy and the politicisation of the playground

The strange tale of Pimlico Academy, the central London school roiled by ‘anti-racist’ protests, shows us that the culture war now consumes all before it. No institution or arena of life can carry on unmolested by our overheated discussions about race and identity. The politicisation of absolutely everything has, perhaps inevitably, reached the playground. Daniel Smith was, until this week, headteacher of Pimlico Academy. He resigned yesterday following months of student and staff protests over the school’s uniform policy, traditional ‘kings and queens’ curriculum and, most scandalously of all, its flying of the Union flag. All this, pupils and teachers said, reflected a cruel, provocative and even racist ethos on

The school that made an American century

New York With the Karamazovian hangover now only a weekly occurrence, the healthy life rules supreme. Well, most of the time. Up early, I go for a brisk 30-minute walk, then it’s breakfast in the park that stretches out two blocks away. I finish off with two sets of 20 push-ups on a park bench, a few kicks and punches using leaves as targets, then cross Fifth Avenue going east. (Karate is now a three-night-a-week activity, and I’ve given up Judo as it takes up too much time and needs too many partners.) I then buy the papers from a friendly Indian, get my first coffee of the day from

Is it time to cancel Sophocles?

Gstaad The sun has returned, the snow is so-so, and exercise has replaced everything, including romance. What a way to go. After a wasted year that has done wonders for my health, the diet is about to kill the patient. That is the good-bad news; the really great news is that Shakespeare has been cancelled by some woke American teachers because they think his classic works promote ‘misogyny, racism, homophobia, classism, anti-Semitism, and misogynoir’. That is a direct quote. All I can say is that, although I am perhaps overly attached to the past, it’s no wonder that so many people love Shakespeare. In old Europe people can be arrested

My advice to Trump supporters? Smile and take it

New York There are times, living in this here dump, when I doubt if anyone’s heard of the word magnanimity. By the looks of it, no one in left-wing media circles has ever come across it. That egregious Amanpour woman compared Trump’s administration to Nazism on CNN after the election, which reminds me: during my dinner’s drunken aftermath, I noticed a man in my house. He hardly even bothered to greet me, the host. It was one James Rubin, a vulgar American who is — or was — married to that rather unattractive British-Iranian Amanpour. I never did find out who invited that bum to my house, but someone obviously

My week with the baying Antifa mob

Portland, Oregon In the days when you could still watch a nature documentary without feeling as if you were sitting through a politics lecture I saw footage of a pack of smaller predators taking down an elephant. At the time I remember thinking: ‘Why don’t you keep running? Why don’t you knock the first one off and keep going?’ Strangely, I thought of that elephant again in the very different savannah of Portland, Oregon. In recent years this city in the Pacific Northwest has become famous for a variety of reasons — none of them good. As one long-term resident said to me last week: ‘This used to be a