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Questions Raised about the Battle of Ideas

The Battle of Ideas – what James Delingpole calls “the annual festival of free speech” is upon us in London, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Birmingham – and across Europe. Free speech is a great thing and the people promote this ‘Battle of Ideas’ have been promoting the “right to be offensive’ for years now. You may of heard of some of them, though it’s confusing as they use often two or three different identities, which is an odd thing to do.

Who does that?

All is not as it seems.

The Battle of Ideas is the creation of the LM Network, a clandestine group of people who came out of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the their now defunct ‘Living Marxism’ magazine. It’s one of dozens of projects and platforms that the group have created over the years. See how many you can identify in their list of Partners here. I counted fourteen, but it’s possible I missed some.

The format is a well worn one: mix some punchy graphics and mildly shocking titles draped around a libertarian agenda of ‘free speech’. Sprinkle enough credible speakers amongst a coterie of your pals and political associates to mask your actual political agenda – and away you go.

There’s maybe no surprise that Bayer should fund the LM group is there? After all they have spent over a decade promoting big pharmaceuticals and GM technology, and Bayer bought over Monsanto so that all makes sense.

But it’s odd that the Ayn Rand Institute should be one of their supporters though isn’t it?

And why would the PR firm Pagefield, a private girls school, Sir William Perkins School, G4S or Genomics England be sponsors? (see right)

So will this strange group be seething with arguments from the left from these former Marxists? Not at all, the sponsors, content and speakers are heavily dominated by the right and the far-right, including Spiked! editor Brendan O’Neill, cult leader Frank Furedi, Julie Burchill, Andrew Doyle (who created the Jonathan pie character and writes for Spiked!), Matthew Goodwin and many other luminaries of Britain’s new right.

The group recently teamed up with Unherd to host a debate titled “Is Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” with Claire Fox, Matthew Goodwin, David Aaronovitch and Erik Kauffman. Kauffman is the editor of Rethinking Ethnicity: Majority Groups and Dominant Minorities (Routledge 2004), and more recently “White Shift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities” and Matthew Goodwin who has written: National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (Penguin) and Revolt on the Right: Explaining Public Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Routledge).

After some criticism that this title sounded a bit fascist, the organisers changed it to “Immigration and Diversity Politics: A Challenge to Liberal Democracy?” Whatever happened to ‘the right to be offensive’?

The debate motivated a group of academics to sign an Open Letter against it, arguing: “this debate was framed within the terms of white supremacist discourse. Far from being courageous or representative of the views of a ‘silent majority’, this is a reactionary, opportunistic and intentionally provocative approach, with no concern for the public implications and effect of this framing. By presupposing an ethnically homogenous ‘west’ in which ethnic diversity, immigration and multiculturalism are a ‘problem’ to be fixed, it automatically targets communities already suffering from discrimination as part of the ‘problem’.”

The Battle of Ideas event is riddled with Spiked! writers. The two organisations are inseparable.

Here’s Rod Liddle denying there is such a thing as Islamophobia.

Here’s Joanna Williams who appeared at the Battle of Ideas Edinburgh (though her Spiked! position wasn’t disclosed) slot at the Festival of Politics in Edinburgh on trans identity.

Here’s Brendan O’Neill in support of the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance (DFLA), arguing “Fascism is a vastly overused word these days. It now means, as little more than movements or people ‘I disapprove of’.”

“Free speech” is indeed a wonderful thing – but it is being used as a front for the far-right.

There is now considerable disquiet amongst invited speakers that the event is not all it makes out to be, that there are number of hidden political agendas and that the organisation or organisations behind it lack clarity and transparency in their funding and political motives.




Comments (27)

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  1. Harry Clark says:

    Oh for pity’s sake. The bellwether of a neophyte grammarian. Paragraph 1; “You may of heard of some of them….”. This website is a great forum for the exchange of ideas but some proofreading please. Please.

  2. Monty says:

    couple of speakers at this event with strong links to CommonSpace Jonathan Shafi and Angela Haggerty which is a little worrying. LM network people are not just a bit dodgy but boring and predictable and by the numbers. They pop up with infuriating regularity on the news channels and Newsnight although to be fair they have so many comment slots it must be difficult to book participants particularly as mainstream parties won’t put people up. What CommonSpace’s thinking is is less clear

  3. Frank says:

    Yet another article on here about this group and once again, I’m left scratching my head whilst thinking to myself – what’s the point in all of this Bella? Okay, so Spiked used to be part of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which you keep on banging on about – but so what – Big deal – that was 40 years ago. You obsess about Spiked’s corporate sponsors – again so what, welcome to the world! And you mention hacks like Brendan O Neill, Spike’s bizarre editor – a guy who calls himself a Marxist but also admits to voting Tory. He’s a total loon. But again, so what – why obsess over these fringe figures. Most of them are radical libertarians (usually of the right wing variant) with a whole series of dodgy views. However, are we not allowed to have dodgy right wing views anymore Bella? At what point does right wing libertarianism or neoliberalism become alt-right – and, who decides where the line is – you? Are there certain issues which are no longer up for discussion – say immigration or debates about gender? Seriously folks, at what point did in history did the left become so politically intolerant?

    1. Monty says:

      Don’t thinkit’s the views of RCP people that are the problem it’s is that they deliberately try to cloud who they are. For example they will have an RCP person undeclared chairing the debate a couple more on the panel and won’t declare the connections along with two unknowing stooges who think they are in a normal discussion. You know who Ruth Davidson or Farage is where they are coming from and can attack them on their record. RCP appear pass themselves off as the voice of common sense spout nonsense then throw a metaphorical handgranade into the debate. They were early masters of the tactics later adopted by the alt right. They are sleekit, creepy and poison and undermine debate and don’t advance it. And as in the Edinburgh debate they undermine the credibility of those fooled into taking part in this case CommonSpace even though I think they have now pulled out. I know who these people are and am willing to accept Shafi and Haggerty were duped but still their credibility is undermined so job done as far as RCP are concerned

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Monty, I did some quick research on their “War on plastic: a load of rubbish?” panel, chair and producer (and wrote it up in a comment that might have been blocked here for being too long) which backs up your points precisely.

    2. Hi Frank, this group has an extremely high media profile (including a perpetual presence on R4, several Channel 4 series and the Times) and is able to coordinate a festival across the UK and across Europe, which makes it significant, not fringe.

      The Bayer sponsorship is significant because it comes on the back of years of campaigning by them for pharmaceuticals.

      There are several aspects to the way it operates which raise suspicion that it is not what it claims to be, including the presence of dozens of front groups, the use of false identities and connections across a network of right wing think tanks and science organisations. None of this is of interest to you? Doesn’t seem normal to me.

      1. Frank says:

        I don’t know Bella. You seem to think there is something and I wish you would just come out and say what it is. A possible front for the interests of big business? Possibly. My own view is less conspiratorial – I imagine they have toned down their politics and bought into ideas associated with right wing libertarianism now they have corporate sponsors and paid posts in the mainstream media – O Neil seems to be a regular on the political circuit these days. I also think they are deliberately provocative – you know the outrage economy, because it’s good for business – that’s why I wouldn’t give them too much publicity.

        1. I will come out and say it, don’t worry.

          1. Frank says:

            It’s about time you did…how about you come out with concrete proof in the next 48 hours or else issue a public apology?

          2. Nah, I have nothing to apologise about.

            You dont get to make up timelines.

            People can look at the facts as presented and draw their own conclusions. In due course I’ll present the next part of the story.

      2. Jeffrey Lever says:

        I agree. It’s curious that this set of people, with no real expertise, and no record of service to the community, receive an airing on the broadcast media comparable to, or geater than numerous able people of genuine public interest who I can think of. Who possesses the key that can quietly open such doors for slick operators pushing a right-wing line under cover of libertarianism?

  4. Jim Butcher says:

    This is a particularly nasty conspiracy theory aimed at people widely respected and successful in their fields (far more so, I could add, than Mike Small). I understand he has very different views from some individuals associated with & speakers at Academy of Ideas events-he’s entitled to them. But to substitute personal attacks and conspiracy theories for actually arguing in good faith is pathetic.

    1. Unfortunately Jim I’m not alone in having grave concerns about this organisation. Now three separate speakers have withdrawn from the Edinburgh event leaving it a bit of a shambles.

      How do you explain the very strange range of ‘partners’ and the use of multiple tales identities? Would love to know.

    2. Stephen Pritchard says:

      Watch your boxes of Turkey wrapping. Jim “Tin Foil Hat” Butcher’s on the case!

      1. Jim Butcher says:

        You are an academic pushing a conspiracy theory, even targeting people in your own profession. I am not. The tin hat reference applies to you. You accuse others of ‘an agenda’ yet back up any nasty rumour or half truth you can find – no agenda there of course. You only have to look at Battle of Ideas web site to see that 100s of well known, respected, successful public figures from all across the political spectrum enjoy, commend & return to the debates. That’s what you can’t stand.

  5. Monty says:

    the group around Spiked and the Academy are without doubt advancing a weird form of libertarian right wing thought masked as a defence of freedom of speech. If you look at Spiked it has many contributors but they all take the same line and uses the same tactics. What slightly freaks people out is they use tactics normally associated with the hard left to advance right wing ideas and thus play the role of a vanguard for libertarian ideas. They give contrarianism a bad name and their pieces on say the smacking ban and offences at football in Scotland while by different people and published in various publications all take a very similar line. The Edinburgh event shows that they are very active in Scotland and former members of the RCP who have been contributors to Spiked and appear at Battle of Ideas events have academic positions in Scotland, have been columnists for the Scotsman, written for The Herald and pop up on Scotland Tonight occasionally. The article here is great but deliberately I think understated. A mystery exists at the heart of this as unlike most commentators they won,t state their connections to each other and as at the event in Edinburgh will appear on the same panel but not state their shared history. It is clearly a seductive intellectual cult that preys on the need of the media’s thirst for controversial commentators to advance its weird ideas.

  6. Frank says:

    This thread highlights something bigger than just the editor’s obsession with Spiked Magazine and the Institute of Ideas. A bigger problem can be seem here, namely the modern left has become censorious and politically intolerant. Scratch beneath the surface of the editor’s Spiked attacks, and what you get is two positions – we shouldn’t debate with people we find offensive and especially shouldn’t debate with links to business and commerce and more if they had a left wing past. Instead of debating the issues, this editor prefers to argue Ad hominem – he plays the man and not the ball. No platforming used to be about censoring Nazis and racists; today, it’s applied so broadly that it literally means anyone outside the social liberal consensus. In this mindset, right wing libertarians are Nazis; cultural conservatives and neoliberals – both legitimate worldviews, are fascist or ‘alt-right’ that new word used to ban debate. This new left authoritarianism has one beneficiary – the right, who now present themselves as the champions of free speech, whilst presenting liberals – and not without justification, as out of touch and elite. The left used to be about the working class and the politics of re-distribution – today it is only interested in gender, people’s sexuality or their skin colour and as a result of these fetishes, the right now dominates the political agenda in the US and large swathes of England and Europe. We have an electorate – and the research supports this (see various British Social Attitudes Surveys) which suggests the working classes are economically interventionist – anti-austerity, pro-re-distribution, strong state but culturally conservative – i.e. that they hold traditional views on the family, the nation, immigration, gender and so forth and worryingly for the left it’s the cultural factors which shape how people vote, not the economic ones. How else do we explain Brexit, Trump, or the curious fact – seldom discussed by the left, that Labour’s most economically interventionist leader of the post-War era, is unelectable? Can the left reconnect with its working class base? I don’t have any easy answers, however, I do know that branding those you disagree with as bigots, racists, gammons, and refusing to debate or refusing to debate people because they hold conservative/right wing views is anti-democratic and also in terms of strategy, politically disastrous. Is it just me or is anyone else of the view that the left has become one dimensional, censorious and politically intolerant? These are the real issues in this debate, not whether the likes of Brendan O Neill, Joanna Williams or Claire Fox are secret agents of sinister forces.

    1. Lovely stuff Frank. You do sound like you’re well versed in the groupspeak and rhetoric and it’s so familiar.

      Let’s address your arguments.

      1) I don’t mind debating with people I find offensive but I’d like people to be open about who they are. That’s not intolerant that’s just a basic standard for public discourse.
      2) This isn’t No Platforming – in this case Spiked!/BattleofIdeas/InstituteofIdeas – control the platform. Individuals aren’t compelled to engage with organisations they find repellant.
      3) I am debating the issues – the issues are transparency and groups operating in a covert/clandestine way. What ad hominem attack has been made?
      4) You say that I argue that we ‘shouldn’t debate with links to business and commerce’ – this is simply not true. Im not sure if you are speaking on behalf of this group – maybe you’d like to say? – if the ‘Battle of Ideas’ network has links to Bayer for example they might like to say how that is and if it has anything to do with their own political campaigning? They might equally like to say why G4S has started to support “free speech”? Or why a private girls school is sponsoring a political debating festival? This isn’t ‘banning debate’ its asking questions. It would be great if someone could respond.
      5) “The left used to be about the working class and the politics of re-distribution – today it is only interested in gender, people’s sexuality or their skin colour and as a result of these fetishes, the right now dominates the political agenda in the US and large swathes of England and Europe.” Well Frank I didn’t mention any of these issues and I’m sorry that race and gender issues have become part of the discourse of the left and that you find that so problematic.
      6) And then we get the “free speech” trope rolled out: “refusing to debate people because they hold conservative/right wing views is anti-democratic”.

      No it’s not, its politically expedient. Nobody is compelled to play your games.

      If people like Jonathon Shafi, Angela Haggerty or Oliver Escobar decide to withdraw it is because they sense they are being manipulated into a political situation that is highly curated and oblique. Why aren’t you just honest about who you a re what your politics are?

      1. Frank says:

        Bella writes – ‘Why aren’t you just honest about who you are what your politics are?
        What’s that supposed to mean Bella? Why get personal? You say I write in ‘groups-speak’, implying I’m part of something, which I’m not. Again personal attacks. Play the man not the ball, arguing ad hominem – you don’t ever realise you’re doing it. For the record, I have read Bella and posted here semi-regularly since 2014. In addition, my partner and I have supported Bella financially, yet you question who I am and what my politics are (whatever the hell that means) because I dare to disagree with you. Since when did it come to that Bella? For the record, I’m not and never have been a member of Spiked or the Radical Communist Group. I don’t like Spike’s politics and I genuinely dislike Brendan O’ Neill and Joanna Williams. I don’t know why Spiked is linked to Bayer or to a private girl’s school or the military industrial complex – but so what? Maybe they’re out to make money. Probably. I actually wished I hadn’t started this damn debate but like you I sometimes find it hard to let go (Saturday night I’m debating this shit!) As for the stuff about them being clandestine, – they remind me a bit of the SWP and back in the day many on the left thought they were a bunch of MI5 agents. There have always been folk on the left who get excited about secret agents and secret societies and you are carrying on the tradition. Good luck. But you’re not going to paint me as the guy that comes on here to defend Spiked. No way. I couldn’t give a monkeys about Spiked. You mention that people on the left, don’t want share a platform with them –again I say, so what, big deal? Actually, Gerry Hassan shared a platform with them a couple of weeks ago and he wiped the floor with Joanna Williams and Claire For, so it can sometimes pay to debate. Anyway, the substantive part of my argument is that the modern left has become politically intolerant; I stand by that and if you can’t see that it contains an element of truth then you are either being argumentative – or you have turned into a total ideological hack. I hope it’s not the latter Bella. A bit of advice; try not to see everything as a side to pick in a culture war. I’m not playing that game and you shouldn’t either. Seeing as you got personal about me – I’m going to end with this – four years ago this site was at the cutting edge of political discourse in Scotland and was one of the best things to come out of the indy movement. Today’s it’s is in danger of becoming one man’s Blog.

        1. Just on a couple of points of fact Frank – this site has published over 500 different writers over the years and has a deliberate strategy to expand and create apace for new voices, so Im not really buying the one man blog stuff.

          You say there is no big deal about people not wanting to share a platform with them – but isn’t that precisely what your entire intervention is about?

          As for Gerry Hassan – he has said he would never again share a platform with these people as he was deceived about the nature of the makeup of the panel he was invited onto.

          There is areal irony in your sentence here: “the substantive part of my argument is that the modern left has become politically intolerant; I stand by that and if you can’t see that it contains an element of truth then you are either being argumentative – or you have turned into a total ideological hack”.

          So, “the left has become intolerant – and if you dont agree with me – you’re the problem!!!”

          Dont you think there’s something funny about that argument?

          I have no idea why this issue has triggered you so much – but hope you have great Saturday night.

  7. John McGowan says:

    Mike, well,done for,keeping the spotlight on the Living Marxism brigade – by the way, was there ever a group so badly named? – it’s just a,pity there no one at the BBC doing the same otherwise the awful Claire Fox wouldn’t be allowed to spread her pernicious nonsense on such a regular basis. She and her cult have backed just about every nauseating idea you can think of but must have good contacts for they are everywhere, like s–t in a field. More fool those naive enough to think it’s wise to share platforms with them.

    1. Thanks John. I agree questions have to be asked about how a group that is apparently so radical is also deeply embedded in mainstream media, high up in scientific bodies and given a free pass by the media.

    2. Now it turns out that the Jim Butcher – on this thread – is married to Joanna Williams – Asst Editor of Spiked – who spoke recently in Edinburgh. You learn something new every day dont you?

      1. John McGowan says:

        Mike, nice work on nailing him as part of the cult. They are on the job all the time, this lot, changing their identities, assuming aliases to sneak their views in under the radar. But you have to wonder why they bother, though, for not one person in a hundred thousand gives a stuff about their lunatic views. What keeps them going? Anyway, it is nice to see you have rattled a few of their cages.

        1. Thanks, there’s a lot more to come

  8. eebest8 fiverr says:

    “Great post.Really thank you! Much obliged.”

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