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Mary Beard is the exception that proves the rule

No.10 (temporarily and unsuccessfully) blocked Mary Beard's appointment as a trustee for the British Museum for her 'pro-Europe views'

March 2, 2020 - 10:20am

Should Number 10 have blocked Mary Beard’s appointment by the British Museum because of her anti-Brexit views?

To someone who hasn’t developed the Politics Brain virus — the obsession with turning everything into an issue of Who’s Side Are You On — obviously not. She’s probably Britain’s best-known classicist and a well-loved public figure and author.

Yet because I’ve suffered from Politics Brain myself — in fact the subject of my new book, out this very month — I can see the logic, at least.

For several decades most major British institutions have undergone what’s known as Conquest’s Second Law, the rule that “any organisation not explicitly Right-wing will become Left-wing”. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that disagreement is not natural to us and so institutions lean towards one worldview and at any time and place that will tend to be society’s prestige belief system — which today is Left-liberal.

Another is “social homophily”, that is wanting to be around people like you, or “the right fit” as people talk about in employment.

This, inevitably, also leads to discrimination, and there is plenty of evidence of it against conservatives, although conservatives are just as bad when it comes to discriminating against their opponents.

Unfortunately we’re in less of a position to do that since most prestige institutions are now broadly progressive, something that has accelerated since 1997 when Labour began filling all the leading institutions with supporters.

In contrast the Conservatives, during their ten years in Downing St, have appointed one conservative to a leading position, Roger Scruton, who they promptly sacked over a hatchet job by the New Statesman.

All of which makes me rather cynical about the howls of outrage over the Mary Beard move. If she was someone with Roger Scruton’s opinions on Europe, or more so immigration and multiculturalism, would they object to a Labour government blocking his appointment by a major body?

Well, of course, a Labour government wouldn’t need to, because no major body would appoint someone with Scruton’s views in the first place. How many leading figures at the British Museum are Leave-voting Tories, and would feel comfortable with appointing one to a leading position? I don’t know, but I’m guessing somewhere in the region of Bugger All.

So should the government be fighting anti-conservative discrimination and championing viewpoint diversity? There’s something to be said for it, except that talent and inclination is almost never evenly spread across the population.

The arts world has always leaned Left because liberalism correlates with openness, which also correlates with artistic ability. That is not the only reason academia and the arts are so one-sided — they lean far more to the Left than they used to — but it is a major factor.

If we had quotas and positive discrimination for conservatives, we would need to accept a reduction in quality, because there just aren’t many Right-wing classicists or public intellectuals of Mary Beard’s quality. But I imagine many people infected with Politics Brain would happily accept that as a small price to pay.

Ed West’s book Tory Boy is published by Constable


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