Laurence Fox hunt proves we can’t have opinions anymore

Controversial actor Laurence Fox

Controversial actor Laurence Fox - Credit: Archant

Broadcaster Paul Barnes suggests our treatment of Laurence Fox is a sign of the times

Oh, what a grand sight it must have been to see: all eight members of a sub-committee of the actors’ union Equity flouncing out of the building when wiser heads overruled them and apologised to the actor Laurence Fox.

You may remember the Fox affair. He was a panellist on the BBC’s Question Time when the topic of Harry and Meghan’s going freelance came up and there was a suggestion that Meghan’s departure was prompted in part by racism.

Fox is no shy violet when it comes to expressing his opinions as to what he sees as political correctness and its stifling effect on rational debate. He is decidedly not “woke”. As far he was concerned racism had nothing to do with it. “We’re the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe,” growled the fox. “It’s so easy to throw the charge of racism at everybody and it’s really starting to get boring.”

There were murmurs of warm approval and nods of agreement from the Liverpool audience but there was one among them determined to tar Fox with the racist brush. Described as a university lecturer and part of the BBC’s local stage army, she delivered a well-worn phrase from her glossary of woke terms and tried to rule out any of Fox’s opinions by labelling him a “white privileged male”. Groans all round from the audience, and then grins of satisfaction as Fox returned the ball with a powerful forehand smash. “I can’t help being what I am. To call me a white privileged male is to be racist.” Game, set and match.

Alas, this was too much for a clutch of Equity luvvies. In an instant they were screeching their tweets insisting that he be denounced. Equity officials were quick to disown them, pointing out that they didn’t represent the views of the majority of members. Apparently one of the twitterati made what they thought was a helpful suggestion by referring Fox to a book on “white privilege”. Fox declined. “I’d genuinely rather eat a light bulb,” he said, going on to point out that he was inspired by the great Martin Luther King, judging people by their character, not the colour of their skin.

It might be worth reminding the Equity flouncers and the twitterers that a dictionary definition of equity is “the quality of being fair and reasonable in a way that gives equal treatment to everyone.” Surely that means reasoning and debating with people you may not agree with, not silencing or no-platforming them. It’s a principle that needs re-instating and reenforcing, especially among some of our woke universities, the ones where visiting speakers can be barred because their challenging views could make some of the shy violets among the students feel unsafe. Listen, sweetie, being challenged is what university should be all about. If you can’t take it, sling your hook. Isn’t there something in university statutes that permits such ninnies to get the sack?

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Woody Allen has lately been the victim of mass wokery. Publication of his memoir Apropos of Nothing has been stopped because the publisher’s staff mounted the barricades and squealed No! And why? Because of Mia Farrow’s undimmed historic hatred of Allen for dumping her in favour of her adopted daughter; and from Allen’s daughter and son there came allegations of sexual abuse in the 1990s, none proven. All that smoke and no fire, yet it was enough for the publisher’s employees to force the firm to pulp the book. Perhaps they felt unsafe.

Back in the sixties, well before woke, I worked for Collins, one of the most distinguished publishers in the game. If anybody there had declared themselves unsafe because of a particular book they might be invited for a soothing chat with Sir William “Billy” Collins.

If, afterwards, they still had the collywobbles Billy would have shown them the door and ushered them into the safer world beyond, unthreatened by ideas and imaginations in the pages of books. Best to leave them to those of us who want to live dangerously, exercising the freedom to form an opinion of our own.