It’s a question beloved of sleb-PR pieces in the Sunday papers, isn’t it: “Who would you invite to your dream dinner-party?” Almost everyone uses it as a chance to show off: “Gandhi, Jesus, Nelson Mandela, some dirty-looking French sociologist from the 1960s, oh and my wife says I’m not allowed to invite Madonna!” Chortle.
Until recently, my own version would have been just as predictable. But with Verity Lambert, Doctor Who’s first Producer at the top of the list. Today, though, thinking of the people with whom I’d most like to sit down with for a conversazione, I noticed a startling phenomenon. Here are my dream dinner-party guests:
Julie Bindel, Peter Tatchell, Janice Turner, Linda Bellos, Claire Fox, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian.
Startling? Certainly from my PoV: they’re all on the Left. God in heaven: am I becoming Left-wing with age?
No, I’m not “on a journey” from centre-Right to radical-Left. Cut me in half and I bleed the same suburban lower-middle class Toryism that pooterishly informs all the pieces I write for UnHerd: I am aspidistra-man! Come, sit quietly on the bus with me, and let’s keep ourselves to ourselves, shall we?
But it’s nothing as basic as party (or even class) allegiance that conjures my imagined affinity with a heterogeneous but definitely Leftish group of activists, thinkers, writers and academics.
It’s their commitment to intellectual rigour; their willingness, even if it costs them abuse from fellow members of their tribe, to use words as clearly as possible to describe the world as best as rational people can manage.
Janice writes for the Times – without doubt, that newspaper’s best writer, by several orders of magnitude – often about the Gender Recognition Act, documenting the actual violence committed against actual women by some of the GRA’s most vociferous advocates. Just recently, she produced a column that took on what elsewhere I’ve called “wordcrime”, the practice of some activists to equate any stated doubts about gender self-identification with physical violence against transgender people, and to use this pseudo-equivalence to shut down debate.
Whence comes the self-righteous fury of the activists, such as those who resigned from the judging panel of the Comment Awards in fury that Turner’s name was included in a short-list? What gives activists the intellectual heft to pervert a thoughtful question from a government minister about the rise in gender reassignment consultations for young people into accusations of an actual crime?
Academia does this odious heavy-lifting, of course. Pseudo-academia, anyway, and I can only apologise for the ubiquity of that prefix in this piece: it’s simply too apposite to ignore. One of the Pluckrose, Lindsay and Boghossian papers, accepted for publication, recommended “experiential reparations” for “privileged students”, reparations that included “sitting on the floor, wearing chains, or intentionally being spoken over”. When academics believe such ideas worth publishing, then they must (one assumes) be teaching similar obscenities to their students.
Thus the generation of that most lethal form of activist, the campaigner whose self-righteous desire to criminalise your thoughts is justified by appeal to “theory”. The social ills my dinner party companions are fighting draw their toxic liquor, I think, from the poisoned well of grievance studies in the University.
There was much talk this summer about the need for a new “centre” party, talk that quickly evaporated as the motives of the leftover Blairites and unpopular Conservatives involved became clear. We don’t need a new vehicle to provide income and pensions for endless squealing about the EU referendum.
We do need a movement to take on and defeat modern identity politics, however, wherever it raises one of its Hydra heads. Such a campaigning movement needs the active participation of the centre-Right too: this is the “radical centre” that Britain needs.
So forget the dinner-party; this is more important than wondering with whom it’d be fun to share a prawn cocktail. I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone ready to take on the baleful wrath of the identity politics demon. Even those whom in other circumstances I’d be campaigning against, and who (I’d guess) would cross a busy street to avoid having to be polite to one of my political hue.
If you added up the voices of those opposed to the Gender Recognition Act’s outrageous proposals, or those who are sick of being told that to voice any misgiving about redefinitions of gender is equivalent to violence – add up the gay voices with the straight, the male and the female, Labour with Tory – then I’m pretty sure the outcome would constitute a clear majority.
Let’s not have a new party – neither for dinner, nor for politics. But a new movement, indifferent to how its supporters vote in general elections, to turn the tide against the pathologically selfish leaders of the ID political movement.
Tories can’t leave this battle to the Left, and intervene only when there’s a chance to make short-term political capital. The demon of identity politics doesn’t care how you’ll vote at the next general election. It’s whispering, now, in the minds of your children; your taxes are funding its teacher-priests in the pseudo-academy.
If we allow identity politics to reshape the permitted contours of political discourse; if we look the other way when good socialists are attacked for defending intellectual rigour and political liberty, then within two generations there won’t be a good society left for any mainstream politician, Tory or Labour, to defend.