Conservative Inc. are the Worst Perpetrators of Cancel Culture: A Response to Jess Gill | Edward Howard
In a recent article for The Mallard called ‘How The Right Should Weaponize Cancel Culture’, Jess Gill wrote that for the right to succeed in the ongoing culture wars, it should stop viewing cancel culture as a completely negative thing. Instead, arguing that the right should use it to our advantage when it suits us, especially in cases actually deserved such as when Race Trust founder Aysha Khanom was rightly fired from Leeds Becket University for racially abusing Calvin Robinson online.
To be honest, I don’t completely disagree. Despite being someone who generally despises cancel culture (the realised ‘repressive tolerance’ that the Frankfurt School intellectual Herbert Marcuse once championed), I can perfectly accept the fact that it can be used to good ends for the right in specific cases, and those we should cherish. For instance, if LBC were to fire their host James O’Brien because he didn’t comply with the woke mob, I would happily celebrate – not because O’Brien is a political opponent, but because he is a partisan hack, who can be a dangerous demagogue at the worst of times. Unlike the likes of Owen Jones or Novara Media, who are at least honest about their left-wing radical views, O’Brien pretends to be a moderate, when he is anything but, and arguably far worse, given how willing he is to ruin the reputations of those he simply disagrees with.
Let’s not forget that it was he who was the biggest foghorn in the British press of the lies of paedophile fantasist Carl Beech, as well as other noted liars at the now-defunct Exaro News, who claimed that there was a VIP paedophile ring at the top of society sexually abusing, torturing and killing children. Despite how there was no clear evidence of this and the Metropolitan Police warning him not to do so, O’Brien continued to push these narratives – seemingly because most of the people accused of such vile acts were members of the supposedly ‘conservative establishment’ of Britain that he hated, and wanted to bring down (and given the amount of self-grandeur of getting the ‘scoop of a lifetime’ that he gave himself during his coverage, that seemed to be the case).
Once Beech and the rest of the liars were finally proven to be frauds and sentenced to prison, O’Brien not only didn’t apologise but argued that it was the “right thing to do” given the circumstances. Admittedly, there should have been many more people in trouble over the Beech affair – the likes of current Met head Cressida Dick and former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson are near the top of that list – however, O’Brien should have clearly been fired for violating basic journalistic conduct and ethics over the partisan hackery that he is known for. Especially given that others at his network have been fired for far less (showing either the LBC heads’ political persuasions or how much revenue he makes for them). So, in that case, him being cancelled wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Meanwhile, there are also varying degrees of how this stuff works. It’s one thing for example for many British conservatives to rightly defend the far-left cranks at the aforementioned Novara Media when it was wrongfully briefly censored by YouTube on grounds on principle – it’s entirely another when some on the anti-cancel culture right and left defended outright lunatic Claira Janover after she was fired by accounting firm Deloitte after she threatened to stab people on TikTok for stating that #AllLivesMatter.
Nor is the idea of ‘cancelling’ itself a catch-all thing – it’s hard for instance to feel any sympathy for Jeremy Kyle when he cries about being cancelled during a TalkRadio interview given the circumstances of his cancellation. Those being, of course, his pigswill of a daytime TV show (the worst thing to come out of our morally Marcusian and Thatcherite culture of the past 20 years or so – think The Jerry Springer Show without the over-the-top nature or a host with a sense of humour with a dashing of class sneering and hypocrisy too) was rightly removed from the air once one of its participants committed suicide after failing a lie detector test and being humiliated by Kyle. That wasn’t even the first example of the show leading to unpleasant skirmishes after the cameras stopping rolling either.
So, from that point of view, Jess Gill isn’t wrong there, and it should be used in specific circumstances when it is both justified and optically good for the conservative movement.
However, there is one big problem with Miss Gill’s analysis: the fact that the right does already indeed use cancel culture – it’s just that those who do it are Conservative Inc., the supposed ‘leaders’ of our movement, who often are as vicious and probably cynical at using it as the left, often using it to justify maintaining their neoliberal hegemony, and shaming anyone who steps out of line. And not in a left-wing sense of ‘conservatives are the true creators and preparators of cancel culture’ that you sometimes see (which is a nice change, showing that the left pander to our cultural narratives for once, not the other way round as it usually is).
So, while it is true that the right should use cancel culture, we should be careful about what we wish for. Especially considering these guys would happily do it in order to protect their own under the guise of ‘weeding out extremism’ or ‘not being racist’ or whatever excuse it may be that unfortunately many normies on the right fall for time and time again.
While it is hard to know where it started, there are some prominent examples of this in effect on both sides of the Atlantic that are worth examining.
The earliest one is that of the endless smear and lying campaign against Patrick J. Buchanan by much of the Beltway Right in the United States. For daring to challenge the neoliberal consensus that had been built up among the American right during the 1980s and beyond – not to mention trying to dethrone sitting President George H. W. Bush in the 1992 Republican Primaries and run for President in both 1996 and 2000 as well – he has never been forgiven by them, who have done all they can to besmirch his character and make sure anyone who sympathises with him stays in their place.
The most blatant examples of this in action are when William F. Buckley (the founder of the postwar American conservative movement) falsely accused Buchanan of being an anti-Semite – something done not coincidentally after Buchanan had run against Bush, and after he had been a vocal opponent of the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol used his position as a magazine editor at The Weekly Standard to discredit Buchanan.
As Tucker Carlson (who worked at the magazine between 1995 and 2001) explained in his book Ship Of Fools:
“Kristol was always encouraging me to write hit pieces on Pat Buchanan and, on a couple of occasions, I did. At the time I had no idea this was part of a larger strategy, though it did strike me as a little odd.”
All of this sprung up from Buchanan’s American First foreign policy that contrasted with Kristol, who openly admitted that those who shared similar views should leave the Republican Party. He also felt that ‘pitchfork insurance’ was necessary to stop Buchanan’s populist revolt in 1996, arguing that the conservative movement shouldn’t pretend “the voice of the people is always right”.
All of this negative press had a clear and intended effect – very tellingly, very few prominent figures on the right spoke up for Buchanan after he was cancelled when MSNBC fired him over his book Suicide of a Superpower, something even his liberal co-anchors were willing to do. They were also similarly silent when Buchanan was removed from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the early 2000s (despite having been a popular speaker there previously, so much so that the Washington Post dubbed him a ‘rock star’ after his 1985 appearance), with its chairman David Keene dismissing him in 1996 for being a “disquieting figure”.
Others in the paleoconservative sphere who rejected the neoliberal consensus on a whole slew of issues were also similarly weeded out. Another obvious casualty in all of this was that of Peter Brimelow, who is probably the best-known commentator of the problems of mass immigration in the United States for the past 3 decades, and without whose work, much of the American mainstream right now wouldn’t be on board with anti-mass immigration ideas and rhetoric.
The irony is that the American mainstream right did its best to sideline Brimelow when he became an open advocate against mass immigration, culminating in his 1995 work Alien Nation. As part of a purge to remove and demote what were deemed ‘anti-immigration’ writers in 1997 at the National Review (of which included John O’Sullivan, who was an editor of the magazine at the time), Brimelow was fired from the magazine by the aforementioned Buckley, of which sent his public profile fading, and himself into further obscurity.
Due to his unpopularity among the conservative establishment in the States, any of the rare times he did re-emerge, it stirred much panic – most notably in 2012, when he was invited to CPAC to a debate on immigration, it caused such outrage that the event director Al Cardenas claimed that he had never heard of him, in a clear way of distancing himself of the pho-controversy that was taking place.
In Britain however, things aren’t much better.
The Conservative Party establishment is also heavily guilty of this as well, especially after their takeover by Blairism in the mid-2000s. Michael Howard, for the all the admitted good he did as party leader, sadly took part in this – during the contentious 2005 general election campaign, he removed the whip from MP Howard Flight, on the grounds that Flight had discussed at a private meeting that a proposed Conservative government could go further in spending cuts than the manifesto had outlined. This led to him being removed as the deputy party chairman and more pressure saw him stand down from political life altogether. His successor David Cameron was no better in this regard.
In 2007, he forced MP Patrick Mercer to resign from his position as shadow homeland security spokesperson after he discussed that during his time in the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment there would be “a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.” Despite both former black colleagues of Mercer’s regiment and his Conservative Association defending him, Mercer was forced out anyway, with Cameron calling his comments “unacceptable” and complained about how racism shouldn’t be tolerated, all the while fellow Tory moderniser Alan Duncan MP twisted the knife in further, stating that Mercer “appeared to be indifferent to the fact that someone was taunted for being black… You cannot be indifferent to that.”
There have been more recent examples. Look at say the initial controversies that exploded over the rise of UKIP in the early 2010s and its former leader Nigel Farage when he threatened the conservative establishment. While many on the left were perfectly fine to dismiss him as a racist, liar and bigot (a view that they happily extended to the party’s often working-class supporters), much of the British right did little to refute such claims, at least initially. Instead, they often cynically backed them in their attempts to discredit Farage due to him threatening the conservative establishment of David Cameron, George Osbourne and co.
Cameron himself was perfectly happy to start throwing mud, calling UKIP in 2006 “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” An editor for the major right-wing magazine, The Spectator, at the time called Farage an ‘extremist’ during one of his debates with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, due to his Eurosceptic views (although to be fair, this insult was extended to Clegg’s pro-EU views as well). Some even defended the left when it came to crunch time over Farage; his 2014 interview with the aforementioned O’Brien was described as ‘car crash’ by one writer, when no serious person watching that could come to that conclusion, given how much tension there was on both sides in that interview.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party establishment was not interested in working with Farage either and attempted to demonise and dismiss him as much as they could. Despite being invited to the 2013 Party Conference, he was barred from the main hall and his attendance was cleared from the website himself, all the while Tory MPs walked out of his speech. His comments surrounding the links between the 2015 refugee crisis and the New Years sexual attacks in Germany that year led to similar dismissal, with Conservative Party peer Sayeeda Warsi leading the charge against him.
Now admittedly, many on the mainstream right who reviled Farage reluctantly accept him, simply based on how he managed to get Brexit into the mainstream and done – albeit more based on the free trade and more globalisation that they like, not the nationalist and anti-mass immigration sentiment that came from it – and have allowed him a more favourable public platform.
Meanwhile, those who simply supported Farage and a rightward turn in the Conservative Party were met with similar derision. One only needs to look at what happened to current Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney, and the decade-long attempt by Britain’s Conservative Inc. to discredit and therefore cancel him.
Ever since he took over the prestigious think tank in 2011, he has been consistently hounded and smeared for holding views to the right of Ken Clarke. This culminated of course in a 2015 interview on the BBC’s Daily Politics show, which concerned a report that the think tank had made about the upcoming general election, in which it called for voters to back UKIP in seats where the Conservatives couldn’t win or had slim majorities. That was the plan. However, this was turned into a bully pulpit for host Andrew Neil, whereby he attacked his pedigree at the Conservative Party’s Madrid branch, falsely accusing him of lying about his credentials. Meanwhile, Neil then used the then patron of the think tank Lord Michael Heseltine to claim he had been ‘destroyed’ by Neil.
All of this was part of a drawn-out campaign to discredit Harris-Quinney’s leadership for directly attacking the Conservative Party establishment under David Cameron’s reign, of which not only included media outlets but also those within the party itself – most notably activist Mark Clarke (who has since been expelled from the Conservatives due to his alleged bullying behaviour, of which included the death of Elliot Johnson) felt that it was “all over” for Harris-Quinney following said interview. Thankfully, Harris-Quinney still runs the group, and the Bow Group remains one of the best legitimately conservative institutions Britain has left.
Meanwhile, some of these cases can have serious knock-on effects as well. Perhaps the main reason that YouTube stopped being an area of free speech and became the censorship cesspool it is today, whereby people can be removed without a second thought and is done so often that it is hard to defend all of those being lobbed off, is the pressure of the so-called ‘Adpocalypse’ whereby many major advertisers (including the UK Government) removed their adverts from the site if it didn’t clean up its act when it came to specific content, i.e. politically incorrect, edgelord stuff that threatened the established order, in particular the dying gasp of much of the mainstream media.
This came about simply because the American centre-right leaning publication The Wall Street Journal wrote a hit piece against popular YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (better known by his alias PewDiePie) of which claimed that he was an ‘anti-Semite’ for very dark jokes concerning Jews and Nazism. No doubt these clips were distasteful and offensive for sure – but clearly in the same ballpark of say John Cleese pretending to be Hitler in Fawlty Towers and certainly not as dark as Ricky Gervais’ jokes about using Kleenex during Schindler’s List. No matter – Felix was fired from both Google and Maker Studios for his troubles, and he apologised for the jokes while slamming the WSJ.
Rightly so too. Their stunt, a seemingly desperate act by a legacy media outlet to discredit the threatening competition of alternative media like YouTube, gave Big Tech’s overlords the convenient excuse that they needed to start censoring ‘hate speech’ on their platforms, and rigging coverage in favour of the MSM – something they of course desperately wanted, knowing that Donald Trump had won in large part due to social media, and wanted to make sure a similar upset to their desired outcome didn’t happen again.
Some cases admittedly of this are funnier than others. For instance, while many were (rightly) outraged at the cancellation of former Home Secretary Amber Rudd when Oxford University disinvited her from a UN Women Oxford UK society talk, it seemed like a hilarious bit of karma to anyone who had been paying attention. After all, despite Ms Rudd’s ‘pedigree’ of supporting women in all walks of life (even going so far as to admitting that she’d fire “all the men” if she were Prime Minister during a recent ITV interview), this doesn’t apply to actual conservative women. In 2018, as Home Secretary, she banned from UK entry Canadian conservative journalist Lauren Southern on the grounds that one of her videos (of which concerned her and other activists handing out flyers with phrases like ‘Allah is a gay God’ in Luton, an area with a large Muslim community) was “racist” and was even questioned under the Terrorism Act 2000 for her troubles.
It was one thing for Rudd to ban Generation Identity activist Martin Sellner (who was banned at the same time as Southern and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Brittany Pettibone), given his organisation’s violent behaviour and his own prior criminal record. It was entirely another to ban Southern, whose views even then weren’t as extreme as Sellner’s, and have since clearly mellowed out to more of a populist slant than anything else, all the while putting her down on the same list of people as Osama Bin Laden, Vojislav Šešelj, Louis Farrakhan and even Chris Brown. This list apparently didn’t include the likes of legitimate extremists like Syed Muzaffar Shah Qadri and Hamza Sodagar – one can only wonder why.
Unfortunately, there are more recent examples still, as even intellectuals are not safe from this nonsense.
Before his untimely death in January 2020, Roger Scruton became involved in such shenanigans. Upon his appointment in 2018 as an unpaid chair for the Conservative Party’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission – of which already saw much opposition from the political left already, especially after he attacked the much-touted billionaire backer of their ideology George Soros – he was swiftly fired from that role in April 2019, after a New Statesman interview was published which was deemed too controversial for some of its remarks.
Many in the Conservative Party, like MPs Tom Tugendhat and often deemed future party leader Johnny Mercer, openly and noisily backed this decision online. Scruton himself decried it in The Spectator, noting that Britain’s political situation was “entering a dangerous social condition in which the direct expression of opinions that conflict… with a narrow set of orthodoxies is instantly punished by a band of self-appointed vigilantes.”
Thankfully, in this case, justice was served. Douglas Murray, to his enormous credit, managed to obtain the full recording of the interview, in which many of Scruton’s remarks were put into a far more clear and justifiable context. Following this, Scruton was soon rehired to the Commission and continued to hold the position until his death. Meanwhile, the New Statesman apologised for its behaviour, noting that his views were not “accurately represented” and regretted “any distress” caused to him. The interviewer as well, George Eaton, was condemned by an editor at the magazine Peter Wilby for being a “political activist” (something his disgraceful social media behaviour should have made clear) albeit he didn’t fire him. At least Scruton managed to get his just deserts after all.
The same unfortunately cannot be said for David Starkey. During a 2020 interview with Darren Grimes, he discussed that on the subject of slavery, the Transatlantic Slave Trade was not genocide otherwise there wouldn’t be “so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain.” Undoubtedly these were stupid comments from a usually sophisticated and eloquent man, but they were nothing more than that, and he apologised for them soon after.
No matter. In the highly contentious atmosphere of that summer, whereby the George Floyd riots had seen everything from Edward Colston’s statue toppled to the TV show Cops cancelled, cancel culture had many long-standing enemies of the left in its crosshairs. After the mobs raged, Starkey had the book thrown at him and then some. Many of his former scholarly associations removed his standings there, while others like the University of Cambridge (which in the same timeframe, happily rewarded the anti-white professor Priyamvada Gopal a promotion after online criticism of her) revoked his Honorary Fellowships after he resigned them. His publishers, past and present, refused to work with him. The police also briefly got involved, however the case thankfully went nowhere.
Very few on the right defended him. Indeed, some supported the cancelling of Starkey, while others felt that the outrage was “justified”. Others went further than that; Conservative government minister Sajid Javid – who had previously defended the ‘former’ Trotskyist Munira Mizra after the left attacked her, for no other reason than her being a political ally of Boris Johnson – also joined the mob, noting that Starkey’s “racist comments” were a “reminder of the appalling views that still exist.”
Instead, it was left to the likes of writer Michael Curzon and many edgelord right-wing YouTubers to fill the void where the mainstream right should have been. And while thankfully Starkey has made a mild comeback since then, appearing on the likes of LBC and regularly GB News for his troubles, much of the damage was done.
So, what can we take from all of this? Well, it isn’t that Conservative Inc. is pro-cancel culture, nor are they willing to defend those who fall prey to it. In fact, they are perfectly happy to do so – provided such people are part of their little ‘chumocracy’, or involve them pandering to the left in order to earn some brownie points and undermine those challengers within their own ranks. To them, cancel culture is a weapon that can be used, provided the correct target is in the firing line
So, what can be done about this? Several things. Firstly, we need to be far more protective of our own when they are the victims of cancel culture, especially when those doing the cancelling are the supposed heads of the movement. We can learn from the left here – look at the way they rallied behind the likes of the Dixie Chicks or James Gunn after the supposed ‘cancel’ campaigns against them (the reality is quite different – the former decided to chide their audience and were rightly boycotted because of it, while for the latter, it’s perfectly understandable for Disney not wanting someone like that working on family-friendly material).
Despite them in no way being legitimate cancel culture examples, are still good examples of how a movement can rally behind and protect its own under threat – it’s about time we behaved similarly, especially given how our movement’s leaders are often not willing to do it themselves. Admittedly, the right on both sides of the Atlantic is starting to do this which has been nice to see. The British variation doing it for the likes of Laurence Fox and the aforementioned Farage, and the Americans doing it for Donald Trump and Kyle Rittenhouse are inspiring, and finally shows some backbone among our ranks on this regard, where there was little previously.
That doesn’t mean that we are uncritical of who takes part in the movement, otherwise, it will inevitably mean it will be destroyed from within. It is one thing for us as conservatives to reject legitimate bigots like Nick Fuentes, Richard Spencer and Mark Collett. It’s entirely another to be silent when the aforementioned targets were cancelled, especially since they had done nothing so seriously wrong that cancellation was justified. Meanwhile, we also have to start being far more critical of our leaders, not only because of these campaigns that they happily partake in, but because of how willing they are to betray us in the long term. The aforementioned Harris-Quinney made a good point here, noting that:
“‘…for too long conservatives have fallen for the same con. An establishment figure with a track record of being against everything conservatives stand for pops up claiming to be the saviour of conservatism, wins the support of the movement, and then catastrophically betrays them… It’s past time to close the book on it.”
Quite right. It’s because we have seen this far too often in the past; our supposed ‘conservative’ leaders are at best grifters, happy to exploit the serious concerns of the movement for their own ends, and will happily do whatever they can to do so.
One can see the case of much of the neoconservative establishment (a cynical alliance of former Trotskyists and 1960s liberal hawks), of which helped to run the Republican Party into the ground in the States during the 2000s. It happily co-opted much of the movement’s talking points and policy ideas, but when it came to crunch time, they happily threw their base under the bus – something that was apparent from the warning signs, most notably George W. Bush’s speechwriter David Frum calling right-wing critics of the Iraq War ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’. This culminated of course with the since discredited The Lincoln Project, a clique of such people determined to throw Donald Trump out of the White House, and didn’t care what it had to do in order to do so, even if that meant sneering at much of its former conservative base to make the case.
This can also be seen with broadcasting titan Andrew Neil, when he set up GB News, in what has seemingly been a way for him to create a British ‘Fox News’ to prop up a fledgling career as the BBC cancelled his interview show for low ratings. When he was quietly removed from the network by its current CEO Angelos Frangopoulos (whose tenure has seen the network go from strength to strength), he consistently attacked it and promised to be back on the BBC soon enough. On Question Time, he condemned the network and linked it with the supposed “untruths, conspiracy theories, and fake news” that Fox News peddles. He later dismissed it as a “UKIP tribute band”, and said that it would soon “fall into irrelevance and obscurity.” From this, is it any wonder that Conservative Inc. are the worst preparators of cancel culture?
The solution, therefore, is fairly obvious: be far more defensive of our own side when it is targeted for being cancelled (especially when it is our own self-proclaimed ‘leaders’ doing it), and make sure our heads are legitimately sincere and not con artists just taking us for a ride.
This isn’t to state that the movement should be cult-like or not have any disagreement, and nor is it to state that actual bigots and dafties should remain in the movement. It is however stating that it should be a coherent and defensive one, otherwise it is not worth having, especially at this crucial point in our history.
So, in response to Jess Gill, she is right. The right should use cancel culture when necessary to our advantage, and not become overzealous with it as the left has done. However, we should also be far more critical when the leaders of our own side use it to justify their own cynical ends. The right should use it, but be careful that when it is, we are not being suckered once again into a con job by those at Conservative Inc.