He’s back. To general acclaim, whether you like him or not, ousted former British prime minister Boris Johnson has returned to his old trade by becoming a regular columnist for the UK’s mass circulation tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail. So he has a new platform to express his views on a variety of issues and to maintain his relevance as a political figure in Britain – believing, apparently, that he still has a future in that most unforgiving of occupations.
In his column this past weekend, Boris Johnson delivered a tirade against what he regards as the pernicious ideology of wokeness. What has stoked his indignation, and even rage, is the example of this in claims in the latest book lambasting the Royal Family. Entitled ‘Endgame’ by writer Omid Scobie, the book refers again to alleged racism in the Royal Family and, specifically (though doubts have been raised about this) to claims that King Charles himself and the Princess of Wales are the ones who supposedly made remarks about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby, Archie’s, likely skin colour when speculating, as people do, about the looks of a new baby.
In his customary dramatic language, Johnson writes about the media being whipped in to an ‘ecstasy of confected indignation’ over a book that is nothing more than what he calls ‘royal tripe-mongering, pure tittle tattle and complete drivel’. Nothing could be more natural or innocent, he writes, than to wonder what a new baby is going to look like and to claim that either Royal concerned was racist was utter nonsense. To say otherwise was to surrender to ‘wokery and cancel culture’ that he believed were at the heart of this latest royal controversy.
Significantly, amidst a growing backlash, an influential figure in the UK, Trevor Phillips, who was Chairman of the country’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, has also described the allegations about ‘racist Royals’ as nonsense.
For the interest of readers, it might be worth repeating what I wrote in this column some six months ago on the issue of wokeness; namely, that Britain’s liberties as a democracy were now under an increasingly remorseless threat from the so-called woke revolution and cancel culture which seeks to divide people with different views. These ideologies are being imposed on the nation’s way of life. As a reminder, woke is usually defined as a state of being aware – especially of racism and inequality that produce social problems – and being alert to prejudice, discrimination and related injustice.
As I wrote then, some people argue that in certain ways all this is admirable. But critics say that those who make it their business to act for woke purposes pose all too often as champions of tolerance while in reality they behave like left-wing zealots who resort to bullying in demanding submission to their dogma which brooks no discussion, argument or counterview on an issue.
I went on to say that many in the UK now believe that, to an extent, wokeness has taken over the Civil Service and public institutions, corporations, universities, banks, the arts and the media. Many believe the woke movement amounts to a determined assault on the Western way of life because it attempts to crush free speech by relating this to the views of a limited number of people or segment of society, whereas varied opinions in open debate should always be respected.
Interestingly, in a recent interview the 89-year-old American, Gloria Steinem, who, as a journalist and social political activist, was the face of the women’s rights movements of the 1970s and an icon of feminism, has spoken out strongly about the dangers of ‘cancel culture’. She has been named recently as one of the BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential ‘Women for 2023’. She says that her concern is that free speech is crucial to any democracy. Cancel culture is a form of censorship and, as such, is ‘definitely not a good thing’.
At least one recent prominent example of the increase in wokeness that I discovered while researching the issue was the ‘Tudor Trust’, which is one of Britain’s biggest charitable trusts and receives substantial government funding. It recently sacked its existing board after an ‘anti-racist review’ and wants to be ‘governed by a more diverse group of trustees’. That sounds to many people suspiciously like discrimination which is supposed to be against the law – and it is noteworthy that a former head of the UK’s Charity Commission has commented that, while every charitable foundation should be able to choose which charities to support, it would be worrying, and could limit the benefit of charitable endeavour, if foundations allowed political agendas to start influencing grant-making decisions.
During this research, I also read about how – as one example -- the divisiveness of wokeness has taken hold in the UK government Department of Business and Trade whose Secretary of State, Kemi Badenoch, is of Nigerian descent. She has attacked Critical Race Theory, describing it as a ‘dangerous trend in race relations’ – an ideology, she says, that ‘sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression’.
Looking again at Boris Johnson’s column, he claims that people in Britain have had ‘enough of all this’ and that government ministers should find a way to put an end to it. He states that ‘it’s time to stop this nonsense and re-draw the distinction between the ugliness of racism and prejudice – against which we have abundant statutes – and ordinary innocent patterns of human thought and behaviour.’
One may not always agree with what Boris Johnson says, but there are many who will reluctantly accept his conclusion that already wokeness and cancel culture are making a mockery of the liberal values for which Britain as a nation still stands – and, for many people, this is a worrying development.
FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS SHOULD NOT OWN ANOTHER COUNTRY’S NEWSPAPERS
A significant news item appeared in the UK press last week which may have gone largely unnoticed by people outside the newspaper world. But it comprised a report covering an important matter of principle involving the objectivity and independence of the process of gathering and disseminating news and information in Britain.
This has come to light because the Secretary of State for Culture and Media in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has intervened to scrutinize the sale of the UK’s prestigious and right-leaning Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper and Spectator magazine to a company called RedBird IMI that is backed financially by the Abu Dhabi ruling family. This has caused concern, on public interest grounds, that the takeover could influence these publications’ operations.
The details of this sale that involve RedBird IMI taking over the Telegraph group’s debt should not be the business of the British government since it would be wrong for it to become involved in any debt repayment transaction of this sort.
Rather, the latter’s concern is that, after the debt has been paid, the company, which is in effect financed by the royal family that rules Abu Dhabi, will control the Daily Telegraph, its sister paper the Sunday Telegraph, and the Spectator. Thus, the government considers that the transfer of the politically influential Daily Telegraph to what is essentially a foreign power is a matter which it and the established UK regulators ought to study in some detail. The British government has, therefore, issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice in respect of further investigation, and this includes provision for the official regulator, Ofcom, to look at ‘the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in the newspapers’.
Unsurprisingly, the experienced news chief of RedBird IMI, Jeff Zucker, has rejected any suggestion that the editorial independence of the publications concerned would be compromised by a Gulf state’s ownership and has provided assurances that his company is fully committed to maintaining the existing editorial teams. However, those who watched the same media executive change CNN into an aggressive left-wing news network in the US may take such assurances with a pinch of salt.
In Britain, former editors, senior politicians and grassroots Conservatives have voiced concerns about this deal involving foreign state ownership of publications that are influential in the nation’s Conservative politics.
Having now read a range of opinion on the issue, my own view is that it would be quite wrong to allow Abu Dhabi effectively to nationalise the Daily Telegraph and Spectator. These are important British institutions and should not be subject to any foreign influence in their day-to-day operations. The UK government has a duty to safeguard the freedom of the press.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, who under the deal will put up the bulk of the money, cannot be regarded as being separate from the state. It would be unthinkable for the British government to contemplate a power grab of a major national newspaper. How much more so is this true in the current case, especially when the foreign country concerned does not itself have press freedom at home.
The UAE, of which Abu Dhabi is the main component, is not a democracy and does not enjoy the institutionalized rights and liberties of the Western world. Apparently, there is already a widespread perception that, if the state of Abu Dhabi were to own these titles, it would want to interfere in editorial opinion and, if a difficult or threatening situation arose, there can be little doubt that it would act in its own state’s interests rather than those of Britain and would dictate its editorial stance accordingly.
It remains to be seen how all this will pan out. These sort of great British institutions should surely not be owned by foreign powers – and, to those who argue that Sheikh Mansour already owns Manchester City football club, the answer is that the individual importance of each cannot be compared.
JAPAN’S FOLLY IN ATTACKING PEARL HARBOR
For those of a certain age brought up on war stories and military history, the first week of December has always had a special resonance. December 7 marks the anniversary of Japan’s surprise -- and what turned out ultimately to be suicidal – aerial attack in 1941 on the US Pacific Fleet which was at anchor at its base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It was an act of folly by the Japanese because arousing the American sleeping giant could only lead to one conclusion however long it took – Japan’s own annihilation.
On the morning of that fateful day, Japan launched its horrific attack with several hundred bombers and fighters which succeeded in crippling or destroying some twenty American ships and more than 300 airplanes. A total of 2,403 sailors, soldiers and civilians were killed and about 1,000 people were wounded.
In the historic words of President Roosevelt, December 7, 1941 was ‘A day which will live in infamy’. For the rest of the world, it was overwhelmingly significant because it precipitated America’s entry into the Second World War -- with its immediate declaration of war against Japan -- following the US period of neutrality and isolationism during the 1930s.
For Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, whose nation was at a very low ebb towards the end of that year, Pearl Harbor was a blessing even though he mourned with Roosevelt and the American people the heavy loss of life. Much later, he wrote that ‘to have the United States at our side was for me the greatest joy’ because, of course, he knew that, with America’s ironclad commitment and overwhelming political and military power, there could only be one outcome to the war – the ultimate defeat of both Germany and Japan.