Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 1) Nick Robinson with Rachel Reeves, Steven Edginton with Jordan Peterson

29 Sep

Every fortnight from now on, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Political Thinking with Nick Robinson
Host: As above
Episode: The Rachel Reeves One

Link: Click here
Duration: 36:15 minutes
Published: September 24

What’s it about?

With the Labour Conference wrapping up, readers may be somewhat reluctant to hear any more from party members (nor the words “cervix” and “scum” any time soon…). However, this interview between Reeves and Robinson offers an upbeat and insightful look into the former’s politics; perhaps the most interesting revelation is how skilled Reeves is at chess (the former under-14s champion for the UK).

During the course, Robinson delves into Reeves’ childhood, her experience working for the British Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as exploring how she got into politics. The interview shows a softer side of the party.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “I didn’t play the Queen’s Gambit… I was more the Sicilian defence.”
  • “Christian socialist values are my values. I was always brought up that you should give something back, but also that you should work as hard as you can.”
  • “I didn’t agree with Thatcher’s politics and values, but I think in some ways she inspired women to believe that they could do it (lead).”
  • “Well Labour just keep losing; we’ve lost four elections in a row now… Why have we lost four elections in a row? Because people didn’t trust us.”

Title: Off Script – The Telegraph
Host: Steven Edginton
Episode: Jordan Peterson: The collapse of our values is a greater threat than climate change

Duration: 56:23 minutes
Published: September 24

What’s it about?

“Why are you a phenomenon?” begins Steven Edginton in this revealing exchange with Jordan Peterson, which has clocked up over 390,000 views (at the time of writing). It’s a question that leaves Peterson uncharacteristically lost for words. But Canada’s famous psychologist soon has lots to say on everything from his infamous interviews with Cathy Newman and Helen Lewis (“there’s a particular viciousness about British journalists”) to whether he could become a cult figure.

Some teaser quotes:
  • On the Newman interview: “It was so preposterous; the interview was so absurd; it was so palpably ridiculous that it couldn’t be believed; it was surreal. And then since then my whole life has just been one surreal event after another.”
  • On how easily Western societies adapted to lockdowns: “We certainly imitated totalitarian China almost instantly… It’s possible that we’re primed to imitate the first actor in a crisis, like a herd.”
  • “I don’t like the mandated vaccines; I think that’s a dreadful error. I think it’s a terrible mistake, and I think it’s an indication of failure of policy.”

Title: UnHerd with Freddie Sayers
Host: Freddie Sayers
Episode: Sweden won the argument on Covid

Duration: 21:15 minutes
Published: September 23

What’s it about?

“Judge me in a year”, were the words of Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist and now one of the world’s most controversial figures, when UnHerd interviewed him in 2020. The channel was one of the first to take a huge interest in his “herd immunity” strategy, which attracted mass criticism across the globe.

When grilled on whether the policy has been a success or a failure, Tegnell replies that the “question is very, very difficult to untangle”; it sets the tone for the interview, in which – for one of the most decisive epidemiologists – he remains fairly indecisive on the way forward in Covid. Far from being someone who wants to provoke debate, Tegnell emerges as a moderate and solemn figure.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “Even with a fantastic vaccine the way we’re having, we can control [Covid], but we cannot eradicate it. And I think that’s the difference we need to understand and deal with.”
  • “I really do believe that we’re going to have a much easier winter than last winter. Because really, 95, 96 per cent of the people that really got badly hurt last winter, they are now vaccinated, and they have a good protection.”
  • “It’s been reasonably peaceful in Sweden. We haven’t had a huge divide like in the United States and other places.”

Connor Tomlinson: Why conservative students need strong students’ unions to protect their free speech

21 Jun

Connor Tomlinson is the policy director for the British Conservation Alliance and a Young Voices associate contributor. His work can be found at The Federalist, Reaction, and Daily Express.

Universities have been incapable of keeping themselves out of headlines this year. Oxford treated us to two controversies: with Magdalen College removing a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for representing Britain’s “recent colonial history”, and Oriel College academics refusing to teach students till Cecil Rhodes’ statue is torn down. King’s College London apologised for circulating a photo of Prince Phillip following his death, in case the Duke of Edinburgh offended anybody; despite him serving as governor for over fifty years. Abertay University hauled a law student before a misconduct tribunal for saying “Women have vaginas”. These controversies iced the cake of a record of security threats and violent protests at contentious events on campus, and caused the Education Secretary to intervene with anti-deplatforming legislation.

However, ministers have been candidly dismissive of these civil liberties matters as “student union politics”, which puts UK campus culture as being a low priority problem. In a year where students have taken millions in debt for fees for tuition and accommodation, only to be told post-hoc that all learning would remain remote, strong student unions are needed now more than ever to defend the consumer rights which governments and universities have trampled on.

While student union membership is compulsory to participate in campus activities – costing each student £225 over the course of an undergraduate degree – some have contested that student unions fail to represent all students. Almost half of students believe their respective unions don’t reflect their personal interests. While this issue should be worked out at the annual ballot box, only 10 per cent of students take part in the democratic process.

Not all students are conscientious: you’re unlikely to make loyal voters of the cohort who write their assignments an hour before the deadline. But should student unions choose to dedicate more publicity to their efforts fighting for tuition fee fairness than they do to issues like banning clapping, cancelling Rudyard Kipling, and defacing war memorials, this would doubtless reduce voter apathy in some capacity. And it would be right in line with their mission, too. There’s nothing more inclusive than a wholesale alleviation of the undue financial burden for all students, irrespective of identity.

Covid hasn’t been the only issue impacting timetables. Since 2017, universities have seen regular rounds of industrial action by UCU members. The largest in history happened in 2020, with 74 universities taking a fortnight of industrial action just prior to the pandemic. Tenured members’ concerns over unpaid overtime were met with restrictions placed on the number PhD students able to teach alongside their degree; putting the next generation of lecturers at odds with their future colleagues. Further industrial action is expected at Leicester, Goldsmiths, Kent, and Chester this year.

Government and university administration are playing a dangerous game by increasing a burden on a thinning academic staff with increasing student intakes. To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, the ideas in a university will play out in society a half-decade later. If academics feel betrayed by the structures they’re reliant on for income, one shouldn’t be surprised when a power-keg of cultural deconstruction staffs our institutions in coming decades.

In which case, we should be wary of what C. Wright Mills once warned: don’t underpay your academics if you want a stable society. Student unions must walk the tightrope of accommodating lecturer concerns, while ensuring concessions are made for students missing more of crucial term time they’re paying thousands for, to avoid producing students as resentful of their society as the academics presently teaching them.

Most of this bad budgeting is the fault of universities’ irresponsible spending habits. With the taxpayer footing the bill for fees, and successive Tory governments set on driving university attendance up to decrease unemployment statistics, university administrators have seen fit to deficit spend to a dangerous degree.

Standards set by the Office for Students also appear to contradict its claim that nobody would be bailed out; setting higher education up to be another “too big to fail” bubble waiting to burst. In addition to pushing for fee rebates, student unions should be holding universities to account for excessive spending, and the steep raises to the disproportionate salaries of their chancellors.

Universities have doubtless used lockdown as a measure to lower operations costs, while charging the same for tuition and accommodation, to patch up their deficit. Students have been treated like cash-cows. They’ve literally been fenced in, had their fire-doors locked, their Christmases commandeered, and fifteen months of social and professional opportunities stolen. After 350,000 students signed a petition for a parliamentary debate on fee refunds, they were given only a partisan row which produced no results. Both government and universities are unwilling to admit fault. Now it’s up to students and their representatives to fight for fee fairness.

With student unions set to remain a staple part of campus life, they should be more proactive in defending the financial interests of their members. Elected officers and staff should take care not to succumb to the bureaucratisation which has already bloated their administrative counterparts in the university. The worst thing at this tough time for students would be for their last line of defence to become a carousel for CV clout.

Conservatives can’t be neutral about culture

7 Sep

MPs are to be made to take unconscious bias training.  A former Prime Minister of Australia is targeted because he is a social conservative.  The British Library links changes to the way it will work to George Floyd’s murder in America.   Extinction Rebellion clip the wings of a free press.  Senior civil servants declare publicly for Black Lives Matter.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have a majority of 80.  But the Left’s long march through the institutions seems, if anything, to speed up.

And the Government either won’t do anything about it or doesn’t want to – or both.  What’s the point of a Tory Government, a stonking majority and Brexit itself if nothing changes?

That’s the case for the prosection from some on the Right.  Should Johnson and his Government be found guilty?

The first thing a fair-minded jury would do is mull the charge sheet above.  It would see at once that the incidents and developments above vary in important ways.  For example, the Executive does not control the Legislature.  So whether to conduct bias training or otherwise is a matter for MPs, not Ministers.

The second course it would take is to try to work out what government should and shouldn’t do.  To take another example, Ministerial control of police operations would be alien to the British model of policing by consent, and to a free society.

Third, it would ask those at the top of the Government what they have to say for themselves.  The answers ConservativeHome gets when it puts that question, off the record, is a mix of the following.

Downing Street has “limited bandwidth” – i.e: fewer people than it needs.  Changing the culture of government is like turning round a supertanker, but it can be done.  Look at the change of tone from the BBC’s new Director-General.  And there are victories as well as defeats: the corporation backed down over Last Night of the Proms and the Government didn’t over Abbott’s appointment.

But that’s not all that some of our sources will say when they’re being candid.  They say that the Prime Minister moves slowly not just for reasons of political calculation, but because he’s internally conflicted.  His upbringing, attitudes and reflexes are liberal as well as conservative.  So he moves cautiously – being slower out of traps to champion the singing of Rule Britannia, as it happens, than did Keir Starmer.

You, ladies and gentlemen of the conservative jury, will reach your own verdict – or, if you’re sensible, conclude that putting the Government on a trial after it has had less than a year in office is premature.  Nonetheless, here’s our provisional take.

Johnson is denounced by much of the Remain-flavoured Left as a British Trumpian Bannonite – a misreading which helps to explain why he keeps on winning.  He is right not to declare a culture war from Downing Street.  The British people aren’t in our view enthusiasts for wars of any kind.

But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll see that one of the reasons he doesn’t need to declare such a war is that is already being fought.  The noisiest and nastiest parts of it tend to be where race, sex and religion are contested.

Those in the front line aren’t necessarily conservatives, let alone Conservatives.  They include J.K.Rowling as well as Katherine Birbalsingh (who’s being interviewed live by Mark Wallace this week ; Germaine Greer as well as Nigel Biggar.

That they and others are in the hottest parts of the action may explain why, to large parts of the conservative movement, the real heroes of our time are private citizens rather than public ones.  Consider the case of Jordan Peterson.

Some will say that the Conservative Party, and the centre-right more broadly, is divided about this cultural struggle, citing such telltale signs as Matt Hancock deliberately declaring “Black Lives Matter” at a Government Coronavirus press conference, or Grant Shapps declaring that he’d check Abbott’s record before going for a drink with him.

We think this is an over-complication.  Sure, conservatives won’t always agree about culture any more than they will about economics.  That’s why, inter alia, the flavour of David Cameron’s Downing Street was different from that of Johnson’s.  Near the top, there were fewer northern accents, more women, and fewer “weirdos and misfits”.

But we suspect that if Tory MPs were surveyed, the following attitudes would be found.  Support for equality of opportunity, or as close as one can get to it, rather than equality of outcome.  Much less backing for abortion on demand than on the Labour benches.  Much more for the free market being a friend of the environment, not an enemy.  Caution on reforming the Gender Recognition Act.   Agreement that real diversity must include a diversity of viewpoints.  Disagreement that poor working-class white people have a race privilege.  Poll them and prove us wrong.

In other words, Conservative MPs are more likely to share the patriotic instincts of most voters than Labour ones.  If you doubt it, ask yourself why Starmer is so anxious to present as Labour a patriotic party; why he was quicker than Johnson in coming out for Rule Britannia, and whywe read – his team want to present him as a very British hero who led in prosecuting an Islamist bomb plot. That’s solid ground for the Prime Minister to have beneath him

So while these are early days, we say that just because a Tory Government can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t do something.  For example, there is a Minister for the Civil Service.  He is no less senior a figure than the Prime Minister himself.

So it’s up to Johnson to ensure that senior civil servants don’t promote, in practice if not in theory, causes that are outside any reasonable reading of its code – such as Black Lives Matter which, on any impartial reading, is tainted by anti-white dogma.  (Which doesn’t for a moment preclude following-up on Theresa May’s observation that “if you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white”.)

Cultural change isn’t driven by governments, and thank goodness for that.  Over time, those that have transformed human lives most are the products of human invention (railways; the pill; vaccines) or conviction (the Abrahamic religions; the Enlightenment; secular humanism – or, talking of black lives mattering, America’s civil war.

But though the role of government should be limited, it is real, and modern Britain will always be more than just a market with a flag on top.  Governments propose laws, present manifestos, fund public services, make arguments – just as Johnson’s pre-election one did for delivering Brexit. And, talking of Extinction Rebellion, set the framework for policing policy.

We’d like to see the Prime Minister speak more swiftly when what Neil O’Brien calls the New Puritans – i.e: the legions of the woke – try to silence their opponents.  And ensure that the Government keeps them out of what government does.  Were Cummings and co to reduce its size and scope, that task would become just a bit easier.

Darren Grimes: Today, it’s Conservatives who are the real rebels – against woke conformity and the cancel culture

15 Jul

Darren Grimes is a political commentator and is content creator at Reasoned UK.

I’m often emailed by very kind folk who think I am acting bravely. I’ve always questioned this; after all, I am merely offering my opinions. But what they’re getting at is that ordinary conservatives are told their ideas and values are reactionary, prejudiced, sexist or racist, and to stand up against the trend, for the views of the common sense majority, is now considered brave to do.

Some might be wondering how on earth we conservatives can possibly be the rebels, when the Conservative Party recently won a Commons majority of 80, the party’s largest since 1987? It may also seem odd to describe conservatism as rebellious when rebels, by definition, want change, and conservatives seek to conserve.

But while self-described conservative political parties across the West win elections, they are losing the institutions that act as the scaffold of our culture. Consider the Left’s dominance of our media; social media giants playing the role of custodians of an openly left-wing environment, and the boardrooms of corporations seeking affirmation from those media and cultural gatekeepers – always a good demonstration of their enlightened values at dinner parties and Davos drinks receptions.

The reason why conservatism is rebellious today is that the dominant cultural view is one that seeks to uproot our past, and what we stand for – making it revolutionary to stand against this view. In this culture war propagated by our generously funded universities and the BBC, it’s clear that the Left’s online battalion of outrage mobs and cancellation notices are aimed squarely at those who dare argue against it.

There’s also a world of difference in small-c conservatism and the big C Conservative Party. The Left is winning, despite being formally out power; in education, the arts, among the regulators and within all of their powerful functions over everyday life, because our politicians seem more concerned with looking good to Twitter over actually being good.

It is perhaps understandable; it takes real guts to put your head above the political parapet – the most high profile curreny example is being J.K. Rowling with her defence of sex-segregated spaces and biological truth.

According to Populus, approximately two-thirds of British people thought that a male-born person, with a penis, who self-identifies as a woman, should not be allowed to use female-only changing rooms. For suggesting that this view is justifable, Rowling is dismissed by those that her work made stars of as “rather conservative”. So even what can be read as moderate conservatism is enough to warrant Rowling’s cancellation. A school has since dropped its plans to name one of its houses after her after the online furore.

For ordinary folk, to be conservative requires balls of steel. No platforming is a regular occurrence in our supposedly world-class universities: I have been contacted by students who report that it is almost impossible for some societies to secure venue bookings to host democratically elected MPs with centre-right views.

Imagine that. Those who represent our country are now not able to engage in discussion with our nation’s young. The invitation will be issued, accepted, a venue secured – and then, like clockwork, left-wing students will apply pressure to the university societies and diversity teams to work their no-platforming magic.

Is all lost for Britain’s young? Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck University, presents limited data that shows that Britain’s youngest voters, the Zoomers, seem to be diverging from voters aged between 22 and 39. He posited the idea that the chilling effect of political correctness could explain why the ‘Jordan Peterson generation’ is quite so conservative. However, the issues a warning: “The Conservatives are going to have to do a lot more to reverse the leftward drift of the culture if they hope to remain competitive in a generation’s time.”

In a brilliant interview last weekend, Ricky Gervais depressingly argued that The Office wouldn’t get the green light in today’s climate. He made the case that free speech protects everyone, and explained that the evolving definition of what constitutes hate speech is detrimental to society, when our speech is already policed via libel, slander, watershed, advertising and criminal laws.  And he delivered the wonderfully pithy line: “If you’re mildly conservative [on Twitter], you’re Hitler!” If only our Conservative politicians could defend our values in such a robust fashion.

If we look at reforms since 2010, with Tory-led or Conservative majority governments, there’s precious little in the way of public appointments or reforms that show the Conservative Party’s ideological commitment in this area. Remember what happened to the late and great Roger Scruton? But with or without the big C party, there is much we can all do.

Online cancel culture depends on social anxiety and fear, which creates this atmosphere of self-censorship for what are ordinary and widely-held views. Under-represented voices in the mainstream media, arts and academia agree with you, your politics and your value system. The more of us that come out of the closet – the political one – the more tolerant and reflective our culture will become. Producing better quality discourse and a more rigorous discussion of ideas.

Those with genuinely sexist, racist or homophobic views are, rightly, called out for being so today. But so are those unfairly accused of being so by those that disagree with them. We may have moved on from the Middle Ages: it is not the man who is executed anymore, but his character on Twitter. Free discussion is being shut down. Activists must be reminded that how you challenge uncomfortable views is, as is evidenced throughout history, through more speech, not less. We must be opening up, not shutting down, avenues to discussion and debate.

Our ancestors were much braver than we are today.  But all is not yet lost, come out and join the reasoned fightback against this madness.

Garvan Walshe: To win re-election, Poland’s President Duda is counting on the homophobic, sexist Konfederacja party

2 Jul

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.

Incumbent Polish president Andrzej Duda found out on Sunday that populist indignation is all very well when you’re running against an unpopular government, but much less when the demands for change are directed against you.

After a cock-up in which emergency legislation to hold an all-postal ballot was defeated in the Senate and then scotched by the ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) coalition partners, the first round of Poland’s presidential elections proved much closer than had seemed likely had the Coronavirus not caused their postponement.

The delay gave the opposition KO (Civic Coalition) a much needed chance to swap out the underperforming Malgorzata Kidawa-Bionska for Rafal Trzaskowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The substitution proved effective, denying Duda a victory on the first round against a divided field of anti-PiS candidates. (Duda got 43 per cent of the vote, and Trzaskowki 30 per cent).

Turnout was high in recognition of the stakes produced by Law and Justice’s divisive political style: the campaign was marred, the mild-mannered Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights noted, by Duda’s “inflammatory” and “homophobic” language. His messages were parroted by state TV: “the public broadcaster became a campaign tool for the incumbent, while some reporting had clear xenophobic and anti-Semitic undertones.”

It came after five years of constitutional vandalism by PiS that even extended to keeping judgements of the constitutional court that struck down PiS legislation, secret. Because Poland’s president can veto legislation, a victory for Trzaskowski would decisively shift the balance of power in Poland. At present the opposition only controls the Senate, which can only delay laws for 30 days.

The luck of the political calendar (parliamentary terms are four years long, but presidential terms last five) had given PiS control of both houses of the Polish parliament, and the presidency in 2015, when their support was at a high point, and their opposition tired and divided.

Though they campaigned as moderates focused on social distribution, they governed as radicals, engaging in all-out war with the judiciary, politicising public broadcasting, clearing out senior ranks of the civil service and armed forces, attempting to ban abortion, and showing considerable tolerance to Poland’s ultra-nationalist paramilitary fringe.

This shook up the opposition, causing rival parties Civic Platform (PO) and Nowoczesna to form an alliance, which fielded Trzaskowski as its presidential candidate, as well as inspiring Szymon Holownia, an independent conservative, to run (and win 14 per cent of the vote).

Another mayor, the openly gay Robert Biedron, sought to revive the left, and while he did well enough in last year’s parliamentary elections faded in the presidential contest. This leaves the second-round result on a knife edge.

It is likely that most of Biedron’s and Holownia’s voters together, with those for the agrarian Wladyslaw Kosinak-Kamysz, will swing behind Trzaskowski, giving him another five per cent, and bringing his vote up to between 45 and 48 per cent of the total, and possibly an edge over Duda.

Duda however seems close to his ceiling. His 43.5 per cent of the vote is essentially unchanged of his party’s 43.6 per cent share at last year’s parliamentary election, and desperate attempts to drive up turnout among his base, which included awarding a fire engine to villages with high turnout (PiS is strongest in the countryside), don’t seem to have worked.

The only available vote bank is the seven per cent of supporters of Krysztof Bosak, the candidate for the anti-semitic, pro-Russian, economically libertarian and deeply misogynistic Konfederacja party. The electoral impact of this love-child of Von Ribbentrop, Molotov and Jordan Peterson is less clear than its designation as “far right” would indicate.

One might think they would naturally support Duda’s against the evils of “LGBT ideology”. Yet they differ radically from PiS on economic policy, favouring high-tech free markets over redistribution to rural communities, and consider PiS’s pro-Catholicism at best naive. Demographically, they are young and educated, more in line with Trszaskowski’s generation than Duda’s, and unlikely to be inspired by Duda’s message of continuity.

Duda has to hope that his homophobia can bring them over without alienating some of his more centrist backers. Trzaskowski had sought to woo them by making references to economic freedom. Bosak himself has endorsed neither candidate and it is not unlikely quite a few of his more cynical voters will sit the second round out. The final result may depend on whether they’re more scared of gay men or the tax man.