Anonymous Mole: What the British Left have in common with the Taliban? A firm grasp of digital campaigning

10 Sep

As Preston Byrne, a legal fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, pointed out a few weeks ago, the Taliban had been quietly preparing the citizens of Afghanistan for their takeover via WhatsApp for a good while before it actually happened.

But they’re not the only radical forces who make proficient use of technology to organise – our own home-grown loonies are doing the same thing over on this side of the world too, albeit in quite a different way.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) has a comprehensive network of people in place to ‘support’ their members who are arrested – for behaving disgracefully, generally-speaking – which is all co-ordinated over WhatsApp and with the aid of a ‘back office’.

Using a map of local police stations and a veritable patchwork of WhatsApp groups around the country (all wide open), they have a vast operation in place to ensure maximum peace of mind for anyone who gets arrested. There’s even an hour’s worth of online training on all this for people to familiarise themselves with!

After all, you’ll feel a lot more confident chaining yourself to the nearest available railing if you know that dozens or even hundreds of people have got your back, won’t you?

Why worry about causing considerable criminal damage to someone else’s property, like smashing their windows in, if you know that ‘Police Station Support’ will be coming to your aid?

And forming part of a human chain that’s blocking an ambulance from getting to an innocent person in desperate need is far more of a breeze when you can be sure there’ll be someone to provide ‘emotional support’ and find you somewhere to stay after your outrageous ordeal of being held to account by the state for your own iniquitous behaviour, isn’t it?

Nor are Extinction Rebellion the only people on the Left who make some very effective use of online tools to maintain their movement’s integrity. Two years ago, Momentum had a tool called My Campaign Map (pretty blank nowadays), which performed much the same function as XR’s one. During the last General Election campaign, you could type in your postcode and it would show you your nearest marginal seat to go and campaign in.

There were also plenty of WhatsApp groups to join to help organise the activism, and there was the ‘Labour Legends’ initiative, whereby activists would be matched up with hosts in a marginal seat to put them up for a couple of weeks while they went out on the streets every day to campaign.

(Shame none of that came to much… all of that annual leave might have been put to better use not being a nuisance to ordinary folk who’d rather not see a terrorist-sympathiser in Number 10!)

But of course, there’s plenty more mischief you can get up to that’s co-ordinated online too – such as planning a mass betting initiative in a bid to swing the election result, or getting all your activists to distribute illegal leaflets… and none of it with a shred of conscience.

All of these kinds of tactics probably feel pretty justifiable if you believe you’re part of a mass movement to ‘save the world’ – the notion that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions doesn’t seem to have caught on with this lot.

Then again, as we can see from a recent XR event, the kinds of people who genuinely seem to believe that ‘celebrating global art, music, food, dance and stories in the UK’ is somehow going to do anything at all to ‘take action against climate breakdown’, while leaving behind another 120 tons of rubbish, were probably never going to have all that much going on upstairs.

Hippies always did think they could change the world with their music, though – it’s just that we used to pay a lot less attention to them, back when the world was a good deal less crazy.

 

In fairness, it’s not as though you can blame these people – or anyone else – for using any tools they can get their hands on to co-ordinate their movement’s activities. Indeed, the planning and effort that goes into it is quite extraordinary. But it does seem striking how it’s pretty much only the one side of politics that does this, and hardly ever the other.

Perhaps if the ordinary folk with some common sense who just want to get on with their lives could do much the same kind of thing to counter it, the online battlefield between Left and Right would be a lot more level. At the moment, there is no answer to the Left’s considerable organisational capacity from the other side.

I happen to know the MoD believes that whichever side can make the best use of digital technology will win the next war. Let’s hope that doesn’t play out on the political battlefield too.

Daniel Hannan: It’s time to explode the myth of Trump and his unique appeal

11 Nov

Daniel Hannan is a writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Has Donald Trump permanently transformed his party? Has the old GOP – the party of limited government, low spending, free trade and constitutional rectitude – metamorphosed into something altogether more nativist, protectionist and autocratic? Will the next Republican presidential nominee inescapably be a Trumpster – or, indeed, an actual Trump?

Hmm. As T.S. Eliot nearly wrote: “Gentile or Jew / O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, / Consider Corbyn, who was once handsome and tall as you.”

Consider Corbyn. He, too, was said definitively to have refashioned his party. His eventual successor, we kept being told, would be chosen by the same Momentum-heavy electorate that had picked him. Communism was back, baby.

Yet here we are, less than a year on from his defeat, and Labour has swung so convincingly back to the mainstream that the Absolute Boy could be suspended with barely a ripple.

Trump and Corbyn have more in common than partisans of either man admit: outsiders who seized their parties by appealing to the base, but who never overcame the suspicion of their elected representatives; agitators who were more comfortable addressing rallies than working within democratic institutions; radicals who promised to bring down the old system; economic nostalgics who wanted to bring back manufacturing; political loners who were followed on their own account.

Might the GOP dump Trump as unsentimentally as Labour dumped Corbyn? Possibly. But there is a difference between what the two men stood for. Corbynism, although it had individually popular elements, was a fringe creed. Trumpery, by contrast – and I’m defining it loosely here as a combination of patriotism and economic activism with a dash of Führerprizip – has a certain appeal. Leaning Left on economics but Right on social and cultural issues is usually a vote-winner.

Most GOP Congressmen are uneasily aware that classical liberalism and strict constitutionalism have only limited appeal among their supporters. Almost every elected Republican I have spoken since the poll believes that Donald Trump lost, that his refusal to concede is petulant, and that his behaviour threatens their hopes of winning next month’s Senate elections in Georgia and thus keeping control of the chamber. But they won’t say so.

Why not? For fear of their base. Voice even the mildest criticism of Trump and his supporters will piranha-shoal around you in a frenzy (something else he has in common with Corbyn). I decided to test the premise while writing this article. Choosing my words carefully, so as not to be unduly provocative, I experimentally tweeted the following: “my hunch is that quite a few elected Republicans believe that Trump is behaving disgracefully, but won’t say so for fear of their audience.”

As expected, I immediately attracted 500 furious comments and lost a similar number of followers. But I have no real skin in the game: I am not an American politician. Perhaps we should feel some sympathy for those with actual votes to lose.

Still, Republican Congressmen and Senators cannot keep shtum forever. In the end, it is up to them to determine whether Trump will be an aberration, Corbyn-like, or whether the party of Reagan has gone forever.

Yes, Trump did some things that mainstream conservatives liked: cutting taxes, lifting regulations, appointing judges who ruled on the basis of what the law said rather than what they felt it ought to say.

But these are precisely the areas where he took little personal interest, and was content to leave the details to those swampy establishment Republicans he was so rude about. In exchange, traditional conservatives were astonishingly forgiving about every other aspect of his presidency. Foreign policy hawks overlooked his submissiveness before Vladimir Putin. Evangelical Christians ignored his lies and adulteries. Tea partiers did not protest when, pre-Covid, the deficit went above a trillion dollars.

With each passing month, the GOP attracted Trumpier representatives – for example, Josh Hawley elected to the Senate from Missouri two years ago, who blames what he calls “market worship,” for “the collapse of community.” At the same time, established figures, such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, began to shift their positions, dropping their former optimism and raging against the offshoring of jobs. The Coronavirus will almost certainly accelerate these authoritarian and anti-market tendencies: crises of this kind always do.

Yet the fundamental premise of Trumpism, namely that globalisation is bad for ordinary people, is false. Nothing has done more to boost the living standards of people on low incomes than the reduction in the cost of living brought about by the removal of trade barriers. Reagan knew how to win that argument. Who will make it today?

Let’s not fall for the idea, often asserted but never substantiated, that Trump has a unique capacity to reach blue-collar voters. This legend was born in 2016, as shell-shocked pundits scrabbled to explain why they had been wrong.

But it is impossible to reconcile with the way Trump was outpolled by down-ballot Republican candidates. This was clearest in the Senate races, where the electorates were exactly congruent. Trump did worse than Republican Senate candidates in almost all the swing states: Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. He was five points behind John McCain in Arizona, three points behind Marco Rubio in Florida and nine points behind Chuck Grassley in Iowa. Although we must wait for the final tally to be sure, early indications are that something similar happened last week.

The myth of Trump and his unique appeal to callused Pennsylvania steel-workers or stump-toothed Appalachian mountain-men or whatever is so widespread that it is hard to prise away. But there is a more plausible narrative. In 2016, it was the Democrats’ turn to lose, and they picked an unpopular candidate. Despite her disqualifications, she still won a plurality of the vote against a Republican who was less popular than his party. Four years on, with a mildly more appealing candidate, the Democrats scraped over the line.

If that analysis is right, it is good news for traditional small-government Republicans. But only if they man up and do something about it.

Interview: Goodhart says Johnson understands better than Starmer that a graduate meritocracy alienates manual workers

21 Oct

Sitting on a bench on a sunny afternoon in Hampstead, on a grassy bank with a view of Erno Goldfinger’s modern house at 2 Willow Road, David Goodhart warns of “the dark side of creating a cognitive meritocracy”.

In his new book, Head, Hand, Heart: The Struggle for Dignity and Status in the 21st Century, Goodhart contends that this meritocracy now shapes society largely in its own interests, and has devalued work done by hand or from the heart.

He believes Theresa May, Nick Timothy and Boris Johnson have so far shown greater signs than the Labour Party of comprehending what has gone wrong, and the need to uphold a national social contract.

Goodhart adds that we are sending far too many people to university, creating “a bloated cognitive bureaucratic class” and “a crisis of expectations for the kids”, many of whom find their degrees are of no real worth, and turn instead to protest movements such as Momentum and Black Lives Matter.

He laments “the lack of emotional intelligence of highly educated people”, and also touches on his own outbreak of rebellion after failing to be picked for the First Eleven cricket team at Eton.

ConHome: “Let’s start with the distinction you made in your previous book, The Road to Somewhere, between the Somewheres and the Anywheres.”

Goodhart: “The new book is The Road to Somewhere part two. It’s motivated by the same interest in understanding the political alienation of so many of our fellow citizens and what lies behind it.

“One of the complaints about the previous book was that the Anywhere/Somewhere divide is too binary. Obviously it is somewhat binary. But in the real world it is somewhat binary.

“People who read the book will know there’s lots of sub-divisions in the Anywheres, lots of sub-divisions in the Somewheres.

“A lot of the Guardian-reading classes felt I think very defensive about the last book – possibly rather less so about this one. The last book made more enemies because I was pointing out to a lot of people who think of themselves as progressive, and indeed on the side of the people who I call the Somewheres, that they are part of the problem.

“They like to think it’s the rich and the corporations that are the problem. But actually it is the lack of emotional intelligence of highly educated people whose priorities have dominated our society for the last generation or two.”

ConHome: “So this is new? Or it’s got worse, anyhow.”

Goodhart: “Exactly. It’s only really in the last 25, 30 years that the liberal graduate class has become so dominant, more numerous, and less inhibited about pursuing their own interests – generally thinking, for most of the time, that these are in the general, common interest, and indeed some of the time they are.

“Quite a large part of this is about educational stratification. It’s about the dark side of creating a cognitive meritocracy.

“We’re in the middle of a great deluge of books having a go at the meritocracy. There’s the Michael Sandel book, The Tyranny of Merit, there’s a guy a few months ago called Daniel Markovits who wrote a book called The Meritocracy Trap, he teaches at Yale Law School and is partly talking about his own very, very high-flying American students, and how even they suffer from it in some ways.

“These bigger reflections on the limits of meritocracy have mainly come from America. It’s quite interesting to reflect on why that is. One obvious reason is that meritocracy only really became – contrary to Michael Young’s intention [in The Rise of the Meritocracy 1870-2033, published in 1958] – a feature of Centre-Left politics back in the Eighties, Nineties.

“After all, the Left had been at least formally more egalitarian than meritocratic. Meritocracy after all is the opportunity to be unequal.

“As that bold religion of socialism died, meritocracy became the soft soap version for modern social democrats, as the Left was forced to accept much of the political economy of the Centre Right, the Reagan/Thatcher reforms.

“It was easier for them to tell the meritocracy story than for the traditional Right, who at some level were still defending privilege. But even the Right was quite happy to take up the meritocratic mantle – the joke was that Tory party had been the party of people with large estates and was now the party of estate agents – they practised meritocracy while the Left talked about it.

“In America in particular this coincided with a period of grotesque increases in inequality, and slowdowns in social mobility pretty much across the western world.

“Meritocracy tends to get it both ways. It’s both criticised for not being sufficiently meritocratic, and it’s criticised in itself, for its own ideal – the Michael Young critique, which is essentially an egalitarian one. He was a very old-fashioned egalitarian socialist.

“Most people would go along with the Michael Young critique if you express it in terms of why on earth would we want to turn society into a competition in which the most able win and most of the rest feel like losers?”

ConHome: “It’s a very bleak, utilitarian idea, isn’t it. It doesn’t even contemplate the idea of human beings being of equal worth, which is the Christian idea.”

Goodhart: “The foundation of Christianity, and the foundation of democracy. One person one vote.”

ConHome: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”

Goodhart: “In recent times, too much reward and prestige has gone to this one, cognitive form of merit.

“Of course we all believe in meritocracy at some fundamental level. You do not want to be operated on by someone who’s failed their surgery exams. The people who run your nuclear research programme should be your top nuclear physicists.”

ConHome: “If you support Arsenal, you want Arsenal to have the best players.”

Goodhart: “You do not choose the England cricket team by lottery.”

ConHome: “In your new book, while remarking on the role played by chance in deciding a life course, you say your rebellious streak, mucking up your A levels and so forth, emerged as the result of your failure to get into the First Eleven cricket team at Eton.”

Goodhart: “I compare myself to John Strachey, who became a leading Communist in the 1930s after failing to get into the Eton First Eleven.

“My self-regarding explanation for that is that I was captain of the under-16 team, and I was a very selfless captain.”

ConHome [laughing]: “You gave everyone else a bowl.”

Goodhart: “I was an all-rounder, so I came in at number seven or eight, and I bowled fifth or sixth change, so I didn’t really develop either skill to a sufficient level to get into the First Eleven.”

ConHome: “Too much of a team player. And why did you not get those six votes when you stood on a Far Left ticket for a full-time student union job at York University, and just failed to win?”

Goodhart [laughing]: “That was bloody lucky. I’d be a f***ing Labour MP now.

ConHome: “Your father, Sir Philip Goodhart, was a distinguished Conservative MP. Anyhow, you feel relieved not to be a Labour MP.

“Which leads on to the question: who, politically, gets what you are talking about? Did Nick Timothy and Theresa May?”

Goodhart: “Well I think so. People sometimes say I influenced the notorious ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’ [May’s party conference speech of October 2016], but I think Nick is perfectly capable of thinking of that himself.

“But I contributed to a climate of opinion that made those sorts of ideas more legitimate and mainstream.

“It’s a shame that section of that speech…”

ConHome: “Came out all wrong.”

Goodhart: “I think what she said is perfectly right and perfectly legitimate, and she was actually aiming not so much at the Guardian academic, what Thomas Piketty called the Brahmin Left, she was aiming more at the people who don’t pay their taxes and the corporations who don’t pay their taxes, the people who live in the first-class airport lounges.

“All she had to do was preface it by something like ‘Of course there’s nothing wrong with being an internationally minded person…'”

ConHome: “There are lots of people here in Hampstead who think of themselves as citizens of the world, but they love Hampstead as well, and would rise up in their wrath against any threat to Hampstead.”

Goodhart: “They don’t have to love their country, but it’s also important they feel some kind of attachment to their fellow citizens, rather than feeling only attachment to international bodies or people suffering in faraway lands.

“Of course one should as a human being feel that. But national social contracts remain incredibly important, central to politics in many ways, and if the best educated and most affluent people are detaching themselves from those social contracts then I think there is a problem.

“And it’s reasonable for politicians to talk about it.”

ConHome: “To some extent both Trump and Johnson – without falling into the trap of imagining them to be identical – their success is partly explained by the work you’ve been doing.”

Goodhart: “Populism is a bastard expression of a majority politics which has not received expression in recent decades. The politics of what one might call the hard centre.

“Daniel Bell, the American sociologist, was asked for his political credo, some time back in the 1990s, and he said ‘a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture’.

“And I think that combination, I suppose someone like David Owen in this country might have come closer to it than most people, is very attractive, and I think it’s almost a majority one, but for various contingent historical reasons neither of the main political parties of the Centre Left or Centre Right have at least until recently adopted it.

“A lot of populism is a bastard form of that kind of lost centre actually.

“But I think both the Theresa May and to some extent the Boris Johnson government, when the Conservative Party decided it was going to be the party of Brexit, and particularly given how they’ve shifted to the Left on economic management, they probably come closer to that combination at the moment than any other political formation.

“And in some ways that’s a good thing. Boris rather oddly represents that combination, perhaps more than Starmer. And I do think, although I’ve been a member of the Labour Party most of my adult life, I resigned only a couple of years ago, I couldn’t bear the direction, because of Corbyn, yes, but even for Starmer I think there’s a real problem, me and Matt Goodwin argue which of us used this analysis first: that it’s easier for parties of the Right to move left on economics than it is for parties of the Left to move right on culture.”

Goodhart ended with some remarks about universities: “It’s absurd that we subsidise, even with tuition fees, the grand motorway into higher education. We’re international outliers in the very expensive form of higher education, which is residential higher education.

“Breaking that is I think pretty important in some ways. It’s a difficult thing to do. You get accused of wanting to kick away the ladder.

“We do need to readjust, and not allocate all of the prestige and reward to people that take the academic route, particularly as you just get diminishing returns.

“The most useful people, the Einsteins, are always going to be the people with the very highest academic, intellectual insight, producing new knowledge.

“What’s happened, though, is a whole great bloated cognitive bureaucratic class has emerged that piggybacks on the prestige of the higher intellectual cognitive class, and it’s now become dysfunctional.

“The knowledge economy simply doesn’t need so many knowledge workers, and yet we’re on automatic pilot, we’re creating a crisis of expectations for the kids.

“Even before AI comes along you can see this in the collapse of the graduate income premium. It used to be 100 per cent or 75 per cent, it’s now for most kids who don’t go to the most elite universities below ten per cent.

“They have these expectations. I think a lot of the political eruptions of recent times – Bernie Sanders in America, Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum movement, even perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement, although there are obviously other factors there – are partly an expression of the disappointment of the new middle class at the lack of higher status and higher paid employment.”

Patrick Timms: Blame the unions, not teachers themselves, if our schools don’t re-open

22 Aug

Patrick Timms is Deputy Editor of Wolves of Westminster and Co-Political Editor of The Backbencher.

When it was revealed earlier this month that a Labour peer, Lord Hendy, had allegedly been advising the teaching unions – as well as several others – for a couple of months on how to avoid a return to work for their members while the Coronavirus pandemic continues, the story sparked uproar.  Whispers suggest that the issue has since gone all the way up to Keir Starmer’s office.

But it would be a lazy conclusion to draw that it is the teachers themselves – or other unionised workers – who are somehow to blame for this, should it come to pass.

With a ten-year background working as ancillary staff in the education sector, I can state with complete confidence that teachers are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people you will ever meet.

Their working day does not end, contrary to popular belief, when the final bell goes for the kids – there is often a lot more to be done.  And what they can’t get done at school, they end up taking home with them.  This is something that partners or spouses of teachers generally just have to get used to, to which many will attest.

But if the Government does indeed fail in its objective of getting all schools fully reopened in a couple of weeks’ time, then what the Hendry revelation tells us is that it is not this country’s hard-working teachers who will have masterminded that outcome, but rather those they trust to advise them on workplace issues: their unions.  And they, in turn, are embroiled in political games-playing of a most sordid nature.

The teaching (and other educational) unions are known for being militant, yes – this is true.  But they are also a necessary force in a sector whose workforce stands at regular risk of, for example, baseless allegations made by young people who have discovered they have a lot more power to do so nowadays than their parents’ generation ever did.

This is not in any way to detract from genuine safeguarding issues, but as one former colleague once said to me when I was starting out: “if you work in education and you’re not in a union, you’re an idiot”.  It did not take long for me to observe the wisdom of that statement myself.

And so the teachers and other school staff trust the unions – they have to! – to look after their interests in the workplace.  But what they should not expect is that these people will have got into bed with others who have a rather different agenda.

For Lord Hendy and his ilk – he is by no means alone in this – know exactly what they are up to.  His particularly idiosyncratic interpretation of hazardous health regulations betrays an ulterior motive.

While these do mention of “biological agents” as a potential “substance hazardous to health”, even a cursory glance at the whole range of materials put out by the Health and Safety Executive about them makes it clear that they are really designed for things like asbestos – not a flu bug on steroids.  To suggest that the spirit of this law was always intended to encompass global pandemics is, to put it mildly, simply disingenuous.

Then again, it is by no means uncommon in the legal profession to get around the spirit of a law precisely by the letter of it.

The reality is that the forces of the socialist far-left have been smarting ever since last December.  Reeling from their own inability to defeat Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, such groups as Momentum soon began plotting to retake control of the Labour Party in a “pincer movement”.

They also rapidly reached the conclusion that they needed to rebuild their movement “from the bottom up”, instead of “from the top down” – or so I’m told.  It was this to which they reportedly ascribed their main failings – after all, it certainly couldn’t be down to their policies…

Soon afterwards, the lockdown took hold, which gave them precisely what they needed.  Ordinary citizens up and down the country began to create ‘mutual aid’ groups to support one another.  Momentum and others on the far-left duly took note of this, and shamefully planned to exploit these groups to spread their own political philosophy during a time of national emergency.

It was later revealed that they had indeed followed through on these plans, as described by their own activists.  In the meantime, actual strike action was being planned by people with a similar value system, with activists lauding the notion of “organis[ing] workers into conflict with employers”.

Rebecca Long-Bailey was wheeled out to tell union leaders – with rather Orwellian flair – that they needed to “politically educate” their members, in a move that I personally suspect had far more to do with her demise as Shadow Education Secretary the following week than the unwise sharing of a quite unsavoury article on social media.

Mark Serwotka, the General Secretary of the PCS, went so far as to pin the blame for tens of thousands of deaths squarely on the Conservative Party’s overwhelming general election victory, and said there was now a need for a “combative” trade union movement to “fight the Government”.  Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that only one in five civil servants are said to have returned to work thus far.

They managed it with the machinery of government first – now, they are coming for the schools.  It is all part of the same agenda.

But perhaps there is one silver lining from this revelation: it should prompt the Government to make new law.  If it is indeed so easy to ‘repurpose’ existing legislation to the detriment of our children’s education and our wider economic recovery at present, then the Government must make sure that this changes post-haste.

Assuming we are going to be living with this virus for some while yet, as many have claimed – or if it mutates – then something along the lines of a Control of National Epidemics Act would seem very apposite in these times.

It would set out the test for when emergency measures for both closing down and reopening parts of society could be brought in and how often they should be reviewed, define these clearly based on the experiences of 2020, and – most crucially, in this regard – be unequivocal about its (temporary) capacity to override aspects of other legislation until the crisis is resolved.  This, perhaps, could put paid to the machinations of Hendy et al.

The purpose of a trade union is to defend and promote its members’ interests.  It is not to disrupt the wider functioning of society, nor to be “combative” towards the Government during a national crisis.  People are just scared at the moment in this country.  Teachers are scared, as are their pupils.  So are the parents of those pupils.  And so are the employers of those parents.

Those who do exploit that fear, along with the very noble notion of collective labour organisation itself (which is not a phrase you will often hear from a Tory), in order to further their own political agenda, should all be hanging their heads in shame.

Alexander Woolf: My economic views are mainstream – but have been almost impossible to air at Britain’s universities

2 Aug

Alexander Woolf is a PhD researcher in political economy and a former parliamentary assistant. 

During my years as an undergraduate politics student, I gradually learnt how writing assignments from a free market perspective was like asking to be failed. By my final year, I acquiesced to writing through a socialist lens and I received high Firsts every time.

The fact that I had to pretend to be somebody else in order to succeed frustrated me and violated every belief I had about individuality and meritocracy. At that moment, I decided that my career goal would be to enter academia and teach political science objectively, helping students to understand not just the few flaws of capitalism but also the many benefits. Like today’s political philosophers and political economists, I would continue to teach Marx, but I would also teach Hayek, Mises, Smith and Rothbard. After all, what is education when it is only half-taught?

After finishing my degree and my Masters, and gaining a few years’ experience of working in Parliament, I was accepted on to a PhD course, the final step towards entering the academic world. Finding a British university as a Conservative, libertarian, or classical liberal is no easy feat. I was told by every like-minded scholar I encountered to apply for King’s College in London or cross the Atlantic to attend George Mason University in Virginia. Anywhere else was a waste of my time.

This seemed strange to me. My views about the economy are mainstream among economists and businesses, who champion a system of limited government involvement. My views about wider issues are also shared by the majority of British voters, who have elected Conservative governments for the last decade – and even delivered an unexpected Brexit result. However, I was told that people like me are unwelcome in the vast majority of political science departments in this country.

Despite being driven for so many years to help correct the ideological bias in our universities, I still hadn’t fully grasped the gravity of this problem. As soon as I started my PhD, I grabbed the first opportunity to teach by becoming a seminar tutor. I was given classes in a module called “The Politics of Global Capitalism”. Despite the objective title of this class, however, I soon learnt that the lecturer in charge of the module is a proud Marxist. In our introductory meeting, the lecturer joked how he hoped the students would “throw their iPhones out the window and raise the red flag” by the end of the semester.

In hindsight, I should have recognised the red flag that was raised by his ideological comments and dropped the class, but this just made me more determined. And since Tory students are highly unlikely to secure funding from the ESRC funding council, I frankly needed the money.

I was pleasantly surprised during my months of teaching subjects how mature, rational and open-minded the students can be. However, my Marxist class had two self-confessed communist students who were problematic, to say the least. Other students would confide in me that they felt uncomfortable getting involved in discussions because these students would shout people down, scoff and laugh at them, or call them stupid.

During one particular rant about how “we” should raid businesses and seize their profits, before kicking Jeff Bezos out of the country (for what reason, I’m still unsure), I decided to probe with some intellectual questions. What signals would it send to other businesses? What would happen to our economy when we’re seen as a volatile place to invest? I received no response.

Within one week, I was informed that two students had complained about me for being biased, and since the lecturer had let me teach on the assumption that I was also a socialist, I was advised to drop the class. As with the 2011 riots and the militant tactics of Momentum, the theme is clear: when socialists inevitably lose an intellectual or political debate, they turn nasty.

However, two 18-year olds aren’t the problem here; the responsibility lays with our educational institutions. Students learn what they are taught, and if they are only taught by socialists, then we can’t be surprised when they refuse to tolerate a conservative teacher.

Universities were founded as institutions for creating new ideas and spreading knowledge, but our social science faculties peddle propaganda and incite young people with their own prejudices. My university department, for example, has a research centre dedicated to furthering “public understanding of politics”, an important and admirable task. The fact that this centre is named after a socialist, however, raises serious questions about whose understanding is being publicised.

Approaching the final year of my PhD, my desire to teach has evaporated and I have turned down offers to tutor again. I came to realise that the lack of “people like me” in academia stems from the fact those people don’t want to work in the modern-day university; ones that pride themselves as being “safe spaces”, but safe spaces for whom, when evil, climate-destroying Tories are not welcome? Why would anybody subject themselves to this kind of work environment?

There is cause for conservatives to be concerned about the future of voting in this country. Yes, it’s a blessing that a centre-left Keir Starmer is Britain’s current worst-case scenario, considering his predecessor. However, we cannot forget the perplexing irony that tech-savvy millennials were captured so easily by Corbyn’s 1970s solutions to modern world problems.

The next generation of voters won’t know how socialism worked out in Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba. They won’t understand that government bureaucrats can’t design a smartphone to rival the iPhone. They won’t realise that arbitrarily punishing businesses might mean an end to the next-day deliveries of their favourite products, forty-minute deliveries of their favourite restaurant food, or instant streaming of their favourite TV shows.

Economic knowledge is important in an advanced economy, and this knowledge needs to be based on facts rather than myths or ideological hyperbole. If we want to ensure that the next Jeremy Corbyn suffers the same fate as the last, it is vital that we ask questions of our schools, colleges, and universities about the accuracy and objectivity of their lessons and lectures on issues of citizenship. Opponents will say that this threatens independent science, but what I have seen both as a politics student and teacher is far from science.