A friend of mine – another twenty-one year old – has resigned his membership of the Conservative party this morning over a single issue. It’s not Brexit; it is the comments made by Conservative MPs James Brokenshire, Tom Tugendhat, and Johnny Mercer about the sacking of Roger Scruton from his unpaid government advisory role following an interview he gave to the New Statesman. In a week where Conservatives have spouted platitudes about appealing to young voters, they are putting off young people by pandering to the lynch-mob mentality that has been nurtured on university campuses and Twitter, and promoted by the luminaries of the Labour party.
It is particularly disappointing to see Tugendhat and Mercer, two promising young Conservative MPs, rushing to judgement on Roger Scruton just a few hours after George Eaton, the journalist who conducted the interview, tweeted selected excerpts about Hungarian Jews and the Chinese. Tom Tugendhat initially told BuzzFeed that:
“Anti-Semitism sits alongside racism, anti-Islam, homophobia, and sexism as a cretinous and divisive belief that has no place in our public life and particularly not in government.”
BuzzFeed journalist Alex Wickham tweeted that Tugendhat was calling to sack Roger Scruton, and Johnny Mercer retweeted this saying that the sacking was a “no brainer” and that we should not “take our time”.
A few hours later, as the backlash against Scruton’s sacking increased, Tugendhat said that he did not call for Scruton to be removed from the post. He also insisted that he had given a specifically generic quote condemning racism. The following day, Tugendhat said he was “misled by the New Statesman’s report,” but reiterated that “anti-Semitism and racism are wrong.”
But while Tugendhat appears to have backtracked, there is still a problem here. After all, either Tugendhat steered clear of calling for Scruton to be sacked by issuing a condemnation of racism in general, or he was misled to the point of calling for Scruton to be sacked. Which was it? As Douglas Murray has written here, it certainly appears that New Statesman journalist George Eaton did tweet about the interview in a misleading fashion. However, Tugendhat is still dodging the fundamental question: does he regard Scruton’s statements as anti-Semitic and racist, and did he want him to be sacked?
Meanwhile, Mercer has made it clear that he stands by his comments about Scruton. Mercer said that several of Scruton’s statements over the years “are not acceptable in public life” or “compatible with working” for the current government. Given that Tom Tugendhat introduced Roger Scruton at a Policy Exchange event just a few months ago, does Tugendhat share Mercer’s broader concerns with the remarks Scruton has made throughout his career?
Perhaps the Conservative MP who comes out worst of all of this is the Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire. When Brokenshire appointed Scruton to chair the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission in November, he faced criticism from a variety of Labour MPs. Brokenshire dismissed these criticisms at the time as “misinformed, ill-judged and very personal attacks” on Scruton who, he said, was a “global authority on aesthetics.”
So Brokenshire was clearly aware when he appointed Scruton that he had views on a variety of issues which were controversial – so why did he decide to sack him now?
Plenty of people – of all political persuasions – will disagree with some of Scruton’s views. But it is surprising that, having only recently defended Scruton, Brokenshire should decide to sack him. When pressed on why he did, Brokenshire’s department simply said that Scruton had made “unacceptable comments.”
Perhaps James Brokenshire would do well to reflect on one of Scruton’s points from his New Statesman interview: “You expect people who spend their lives on Twitter to have this store of malice but when it comes up in parliament, as it did, I was astonished.”
Stephen Horvath is a Spectator intern and a third-year history and politics student