Culture wars

The funny side of being cancelled

Douglas Is Cancelled, the new drama series on ITV, should come with a trigger warning – for me, anyway. Watching it brought back memories of my own cancellation six years ago, which I found so traumatic that I lost half a stone. Admittedly, the middle-aged white man at the centre of this drama (Hugh Bonneville) only has one position to lose – he’s a television presenter – whereas I lost five. But apart from that the similarities are uncanny. Did the writer, Steven Moffat, read the 5,000-word piece I wrote about my experience? Or do all cancellations follow the same pattern? Douglas’s trial begins when someone on Twitter says they

New Zealand’s culture wars backlash

I’m in New Zealand on a speaking tour organised by the Kiwi Free Speech Union, and in some ways it’s like visiting Britain in a more innocent era. This struck me when I went on a tour of the Hobbiton movie set, where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed. The Shire of Tolkien’s imagination, lovingly created by Peter Jackson, is an idealised version of rural England – and New Zealand, with its perfectly manicured lawns and open-faced, friendly people, is a bit like that. Although, to be fair, I may be viewing the country through rose-tinted spectacles because Labour was heavily defeated in the most recent

An exclusive look at Graham Linehan’s Father Ted musical

The tree-lined streets of Rotherhithe are an odd place to unveil a West End musical. But this is a suitably odd situation. Graham Linehan – lauded comedy writer turned culture warrior – is about to unveil what he calls ‘a musical that may never be seen’. For much of the past 30 years, the idea of turning Father Ted, cult sitcom of the 1990s, into a West End musical would have seemed a hot prospect – certainly to the legions of nerdy, largely male fans who still stream episodes decades later. Once upon a time, it looked destined for Shaftesbury Avenue, backed by one of the biggest names in theatre.

I hate hate speech laws

I originally intended to observe that American universities’ anti-Israel protestors and Hamas terrorists deserve each other, because they’ve so much in common. They’re both vicious, authoritarian, fanatical, powered by antipathy and focused on either unachievable or pointless aims (even if Columbia did divest from Israel, the pittance withdrawn would have no effect on financial markets, much less on Gaza). But many commentators have decried the protestors chanting ‘From the Mississippi to the Pacific!’ as poorly informed, faddish, spoilt, pathetic and anti-Semitic. So rather than assess the logic of what I’d have called ‘woke-lam’, we’ll pivot elsewhere. On 1 May, the US House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Bill by

It rarely pays to be ahead of your time

Following the release of the Cass report deprecating NHS ‘gender-affirming care’ for minors as reliant on rubbish medical research, the number of comment pieces disparaging the cult of transgenderism has exploded. Such columns would never have been published even a couple of years ago. Finally, pushing disturbed children and adolescents into damaging and sometimes gruesome treatment in the service of adult fanaticism is starting to look, um – iffy. For outliers who’ve been frantically signalling, ‘Hey! Maybe a society that’s mutilating its own kids has lost its way!’ this watershed should constitute satisfying vindication. It does. That’s the good news. Proper manias sweep virtually everyone up in their whirlwinds, and

How the Jilly Cooper Book Club turned toxic

The Jilly Cooper Book Club was set up about a decade ago by two friends who’d had enough of book groups where someone would insist, ‘We really must do Dostoevsky this year.’ Members of the JCBC, in a co-founder’s words, just wanted to get together to ‘drink champagne and shriek about Jilly’. ‘Book clubs are basically Mean Girls for middle-class women’ For some time, I stalked key members on Twitter before managing to wangle an invitation. My first meeting was at a large townhouse in Clapham to discuss Rivals. There was a lot of champagne and a gaggle of smart, entertaining women. One was wearing a Vivienne Westwood corset dress;

Could J.K. Rowling be Oxford’s next chancellor?

Among my generation of Oxford graduates – late fifties, early sixties – there is currently a great deal of talk about who the next chancellor should be. In February, the present incumbent, Chris Patten, announced he was stepping down at the end of this academic year, thereby triggering an election to find his successor. The electorate consists of anyone with a degree from the university, which is about 350,000 people. In addition to the predictable runners and riders – Tony Blair, Rory Stewart, Imran Khan – three ex-Conservative prime ministers are in the mix. The chancellorship of Oxford is one of the few remaining elected offices in the UK in

Douglas Murray

The game’s up for ‘anti-racist’ racism

There are only a few rules to column-writing. One of the strictest is never to waste time bouncing off the effluent of morons. So, for instance, it is a rule among British columnists not to use the term ‘Owen Jones’ in an article. It is too easy. Every couple of hours there will be another gaseous eruption. For example, this past week Jones, a YouTuber, has been engaged in campaigning to persuade a ‘queer’ British entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest to withdraw from the competition because of Gaza. It is by no means clear how much the citizens of Gaza care for the ‘solidarity’ of a couple of gay

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