2007 - 2021

Look Who’s Coming to the Festival of Politics

The Festival of Politics has been infiltrated and we should talk about it.

I was sadly not surprised to see the Battle of Ideas 2018 as one of the Festival of Politics named supporters. For years they ‘sponsored’ the Edinburgh Book Festival and bought platforms to fill-up with their chums. I am however surprised that 404Ink and Young Scot and other festival supporters are glad to keep company with such a group, who are part of the wide far-right libertarian entryist LM network (see ‘Invasion of the Entryists’ for background)

The Festival of Politics is an odd beast, but seems full of quality content and debates. The problem with such abstract and oddly-curated programme as this though is they are very open to entryism – someone coming up with an ‘interesting’ idea, or some money and there they are. The alt-right are masters of appearing ‘edgy’ and iconoclastic and the liberal intelligentsia are masters of falling for it. So you’ll be able to listen to Brendan O’Neill on Kavanaugh on Thursday, who told Politics Live recently:

“There is no evidence whatsoever against Brett Kavanaugh and yet people are marching in the streets shouting, ‘He’s guilty! I believe Christine!’ This is irrational and dangerous.”

O’Neill’s rancid views across a wide spectrum can be found littered across the internet, but you have to ask: what contribution to Scottish political life does he offer? Trumpism? Climate denial? Virulent racism?

In an era of climate crisis, in a moment of a renewed attack on women, is this really a useful quality to political debate in Scotland?

Is this really the best we can do to invite in Britain’s premier libertarian cult group to Holyrood to spread more disinformation and propaganda?

Who are the Battle of Ideas?

On Thursday you’ll be able to listen to Claire Fox (‘in partnership with the Battle of Ideas’) along with Joanna Williams (the programme doesn’t tell us she is Associate Editor of Spiked!), and author of recent “No, women aren’t at risk from men” amongst other greats.

As Jenny Turner writes in an exhaustive if vanilla analysis of the Battle of Ideas here:

“The Battle of Ideas has been held annually since 2005 by the Institute of Ideas, an organisation that from the outside looks pretty much like a standard right-wing public policy think tank – much talk about ‘free speech, not me speech’ and ‘the crisis in authority’, much condemnation of ‘greenthink’ and ‘meddling policymakers’. ”

Turner explains that members of theLM network produce: “the webzine Spiked, setting up media training for teens (Debating Matters, Young Journalists’ Academy, a ‘programme for London state-school pupils who have the passion and the guts, but not “the right contacts”’) and a confusing cloud of other organisations: the Manifesto Club, WorldWrite, Audacity.org, the Modern Movement, Parents with Attitude … Back in the day, members of Trot groups would ‘enter’ – join and manipulate – bigger organisations in order to gear up their influence.”

Sound familiar?

The LM network has at various times campaigned: against gun control, against banning tobacco advertising and child porn; in favour of global warming and freedom for corporations. Many of their network operate under false or ‘cadre’ names and their funding is – at best – opaque.

Here they are organising with the Christian Institute and the pro-smacking Be Reasonable campaign – and here they are as Sense About Science pushing GM on Scotland. 

Brendan O Neill and Spiked were part of a group of networks operating to lobby against the revision of Scots Law that allows children to be smacked by their parents under what is termed “Justifiable Assault”. At the time O’Neill argued that “smacking is an act of love” and said: “I was smacked as a child. And damn I needed it.”

He ranted on:

“Scotland is fast becoming the most strident, unforgiving nanny state in the West. A world leader in the policing of people’s beliefs and lifestyles” – and, in full-flight: “…now this little republic of rulemaking plans to ban parents from smacking their kids.”

Poor Brendan appeared concerned about the effect of this protective legislation:

“The consequences of the bill will be dire. Loving parents will suffer. The stressed-out mum trying to manage four kids as she negotiates the aisles of Asda and then finds herself lashing out at one of them: grass her to the cops. The traditionalist father who adores his children more than life itself and thinks a smack on the legs is a preferable form of punishment to plonking them on a chair for 15 minutes: drag him to court.”

As the far-right settles into office and their views are made comfortable and normalised, organisers of political events with no apparent outlook or moorings need to think through their curation and programming.

Of course respondents will shout foul and say this is all about the ‘Freedom to Offend’. This is how they have operated for years, infiltrating events and creating front groups, packing panels with friends and colleagues and all below radar. So if you are going to these events you should question them, if you are organising these events you should consider why you are doing this and if you are appearing alongside these people you should challenge them on their politics, their funding and their ways of operating.


Comments (17)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    I picked up the programme for this ‘Festival’ a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t believe how dreary, irrelevant and thoroughly unappetising it is. ‘Full of D-listers, with sessions chaired by barely-remembered Telegraph columnists! Michael Heseltine as a keynote speaker. They might as well have gone the full Hattersley!

    1. Hi Graeme – yes not sure who it’s for – or who it’s by?

      1. Graeme Purves says:


  2. Frank says:

    Come off it Bella there is nothing far right or alt-right about these people. There is a strand on the left – and it’s represented in this article, which is downright censorious to anyone who doesn’t view the world through the eyes of the contemporary left. What happens is that we end up attacking individuals rather than having a dialogue – playing the man and not the ball. Issues in the so called ‘culture wars’ such as third wave feminism, patriarchy, gender pay gap, the politics of transgenderism or the Metoo movement, cultural appropriation, and so forth are contentious, complicated and should be the subject of debate; it’s bad politics to label everyone we disagree with as bigots or alt-right and it’s part of the reason why the liberal left is losing the battle of ideas. As much as I dislike the politics of Spiked Magazine, if I were to label them politically I would describe them as libertarian or possibly classical liberal.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      It’s quite difficult to have a dialogue with people who have nothing relevant to say. It looks as if the Presiding Officer has been gamed.

      1. Jo says:

        There’s the problem right there, Graeme. Who decides which contributions are relevant?

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          This is a politics festival held in Scotland’s Parliament. It offers nothing on any of the big political issues facing Scotland – Education, Housing, Welfare, Changing Demographics and the Needs of an Aging Population, Devolved Immigration Policies, Climate Change, Energy, Strategic Planning and the Delivery of Infrastructure, Tourism and Livability, Changing Constitutional Relationships Between the Administrations of Britain and Ireland… I could go on. Instead we have a random rag-bag of UK-framed navel-gazing, the right-wing agenda for the NHS being promoted in England, assorted has-beens,, some bees in bonnets, the odd celebrity and the Gammon-Fest that is ‘Question Time’. There are, I’ll concede, a few good things as well. “‘Could do much better.” would be my assessment of the programme committee’s efforts.

    2. Swiss Toni says:

      Think it would be more accurate to say that the oxymoronic “liberal left” have lost the battle of ideas. Today’s left wingers largely inhabit an online echo chamber and are unable to engage with those who hold different views. They are becoming increasingly intolerant, obnoxious and self-righteous: qualities which voters do not find attractive.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        There is nothing more “intolerant, obnoxious and self-righteous” as a Libertarian.

      2. Graeme Purves says:

        Meh! You’ll have to do better than that, Toni!

  3. John McGowan says:

    Mike, well done for highlighting this. Claire Fox and her awful tribe of “libertarians” seem to have a hold over the BBC as well for she is never off tv or radio pontificating. Bad enough that these ex Trotskyist cum right wing neo cons get paraded as though they were the voice of common sense, even worse is the fact that Fox doesn’t have a coherent thought in her head but for some reason is viewed as an intellectual. Her stock in trade, however, is really quite simple and involves taking the opposite view to what every other decent person thinks. An easy trick but one lapped up by the Beeb. One thing I do,wonder about is why this group,exists. I mean, do,they really believe the crap they spout or are they paid agents of some dark power? Who knows, and frankly who cares.

  4. Jim Butcher says:

    A festival ideas should definitely include people against the criminalisation of smacking, pro GM tech in food production, who believe that Kavanaugh is innocent until proved guilty (and as such able to accept the supreme court role offered by the elected head of state), that free speech is worth defending in spite of the risk of offence, that there are (as many have argued) real issues with and criticisms of #metoo. Many hold such views, and that alone is a good enough basis for them to be part of the debates. Moreover, the individuals targeted in this piece are very successful academics, commentators and writers, often in demand for their views in the national media and around the world. Hit pieces like this are a sign of the times – ” I don’t like your view so I’ll attack you personally”. I hope the writer of the piece attends the festival debates, and also the Battle of Ideas events in London (I’m speaking there myself and looking forward to it, along with 1000s of attendees and speakers of all political persuasions), and raises his disagreements and ideas on these issues in a civil way.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      That sounds like an excellent programme for a festival in Buckinghamshire. It might be possible to pass Gammonist reaction off as edgy and challenging in the sleepier shires of Marpleland. It won’t pass muster in Edinburgh.

      1. Jo says:

        Again Graeme, I’m going to remind you of my earlier question, “Who decides what’s relevant?”

        In this latest response to someone else you’re definitely proceeding as if you’re the one deciding . I’m really not sure you have that right.

        Society is made up of people with very different views on many things. There are views I strongly disagree with but I wouldn’t want the debate closed down in order to ensure those aren’t heard.

        Jim Butcher has raised valid points in his post. You’ve basically ridiculed him using phraseology reserved for “types” you clearly consider have nothing “relevant” to say. I genuinely wonder if you appreciate how arrogant it sounds when you dismiss people like that.

        The #MeToo movement has been mentioned in a couple of posts as has the Kavanaugh matter. Those posts rightly point out that there are different views on both around. Whatever one thinks about either Kavanaugh or Ms Ford the only relevant thing in the whole process and media circus is that no evidence emerged which allowed anyone to say who was lying. That isn’t an opinion. It is a fact. And if you believe the obscene spectacle served up in recent weeks in any remote way resembles justice then I say you are deluded.

        The #MeToo movement is attempting to bypass all judicial processes using a single weapon. Smear. It is aided and abetted by a media hungry for scandal, particularly if it can add politics into the mix and leave it to simmer and come to the boil. Then it can whip up baying, screaming mobs marching for “justice” who have a clear target in sight for a modern day lynching. No actual hangings mind, just the complete destruction of the target….all without the need for an actual court hearing, a fair trial…all that stuff. Nope. In the 21st century you just call a journalist and send out a particular hashtag on your tweet. Before you know it, you have an entire army behind you and a media ready and waiting to go into battle on your behalf. Opinion pieces written by people who don’t know you or the person you’ve accused will declare you must be believed.

        I cannot understand how anyone can endorse such tactics when they essentially are founded on mob rule and seek to set the rule of law aside. Neither approach inspires confidence.

        It is a great pity that you declare such views would not “pass muster in Edinburgh”. But it does answer the question I put to you twice on this thread as to who declares which contributions are “relevant”. Clearly you do! There’s a word for that Graeme.

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          I answered your question very directly. You have chosen to ignore my response. As the Dundee rapper Saint Andrew has wisely observed, ‘The World is Phul o a Number o Things’. The issue you raise is a particular bee in the Gammonist bonnet, not a matter for a serious festival of politics in Scotland.

          Jim Butcher presents himself as a champion of free speech. I’m simply exercising mine by expressing a critical personal view of a Festival programme which does next to nothing to advance debate on public policy in Scotland.

  5. jrm says:

    Spiked and Co, just part of the bandwagon of political fashion. Its becoming 10 for a penny with YouTube polluted with Hate merchants spewing lies and twaddle and “Soros” scares on to their followers , its all become a bit like Monty Pytrons “Life of Brian” with every wack job spreading the Gospel of fear and scapegoating .

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