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Who would risk being a government adviser?

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

12 September 2020

9:00 AM

Poor Tony Abbott. It would seem being prime minister of Australia doesn’t bring you to the attention of the British media. To come into its sights you must be put forward for a role as UK trade adviser. Then they will discover your existence and aim to destroy whatever reputation they didn’t know you had with the usual modern British charge-sheet.

This time the charge was led by Kay Burley. The latest advertisements for her Sky television show boast that Burley is ‘always formidable, rigorous, fair, honest and searching’, among much else. Perhaps Burley hadn’t seen the advert. Certainly she displayed no such qualities when she discovered the existence of Tony Abbott. She immediately asserted — didn’t prove, just asserted — that Abbott is a homophobe, a misogynist, a climate-change denier and wishes to kill the elderly. She then spent the next couple of days pursuing this line of attack (in a ‘fair’ and ‘honest’ manner, obviously) until Abbott’s appointment was confirmed late last Friday evening. By that stage the rest of the anti-Tory media had joined the game. ‘Pressure on PM to drop “misogynist” trade adviser,’ said the front page of one left-wing paper. A day later — the appointment having been confirmed — the same paper ran the headline ‘PM appoints “misogynist” Abbott as trade adviser’. If I were an averagely incurious young person, this is the sort of thing that would worry me. The UK government knowingly promotes women–haters? Who are these monsters?

But more exercising than the behaviour of parts of the media was the now traditional limpness of the Conservative ministers put up to defend their proposed appointment. First up was Matt Hancock, and even the NHS badge pinned to his lapel could not ward off the evil spell words Burley threw at him about Abbott. While Burley did the full ‘homophobic, misogynist, killer of polar bears and the elderly’ schtick, Hancock managed just about to splutter something about Abbott knowing about trade. He almost said ‘notwithstanding’.


A day later the equally wet Grant Shapps had the same smear-sheet recited at him by Burley. He too seemed incapable of finding any words to defend the former Australian prime minister. With that extraordinary brilliance one tends to associate with Shapps, he pointed out that Abbott had not yet been appointed. He then filled up some time talking about ‘modern society’, ‘conversations’ and ‘respect’, by which he did not of course mean respect for anyone who might still be a Catholic. Would Shapps agree to have a drink with a man of Abbott’s views, asked Burley, rigorously? She, firmly and indeed formidably, stated that she would not. For a moment Shapps seemed to be weighing up the issue. As though drinks with Shapps are a widely recognised honour. Almost as much as having a drink with Kay Burley.

When people wonder why there are so few conservatives in public life, these are the occasions they should reflect on. For not all people put forward for such positions have the distinction of being a former prime minister of a close ally. Anyone now put forward must be aware that however minor the role, it will entail their being accused (without any evidence) of all the same sins of which Abbott was accused. And instead of being given a robust defence by your own side when the left attacks, you will find Hancock, Shapps or James Brokenshire (if you are lucky) defending your whole life, work and character. So while there may be some Tory rejoicing when one of their appointments is squeezed through, all the time the desire of sane people of the right to enter public life diminishes even further.

Personally I find that these episodes bring out my vengeful streak, a streak which is other-wise carefully hidden. After watching the treatment of Tony Abbott, I started dreaming of scorched earth strategies. If the left are so intent on hurling the same boring accusations and the right are going to remain so cowed, then why not give them some of the strong stuff and be done with it? Put Taki in charge of reforming the BBC, or make him the next head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Push him through, let them squeal, and everyone else afterwards might be treated with a shade more understanding.

As it happens, another ally of this country has answered part of the problem in a slightly more practical way. Last week President Trump announced that from now on all those divisive ‘white privilege’ training sessions for government staff will be stopped. They are, the administration correctly said, ‘propaganda’.

The British government would do well to follow this. Currently, in order to get any public position — or to work for the civil service — you must jump through a whole course of entirely left-invented hoops. These include things like having to prove your ‘commitment to diversity’. If you are white or male, let alone white, male and hetero-sexual, this is a tough call. And so people boast about their commitment to left-wing causes and swear fealty to left-created ideas. By now, this has had an effect.

Of course not all Tories are as wet as Hancock and Shapps. But it is aggravating to hear the occasional right-wing Tory burst out about the left-wingery of universities or the wokeness of the BBC, while these same ministers preside over public appointments bodies and a civil service absolutely packed with implicit bias training and the whole rest of the crock, divisive social justice agenda. The same might be said of the police as well. If the Conservatives cannot put up someone like Tony Abbott for a position without him being fired at in the manner in which he was, then it is time to change the game. The way to do so is not just to drop the whole falsely termed ‘social justice agenda’ but to strip it out of the heart of government, like the mental and moral asbestos that it is.

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