The Corner


The Smearing of Roger Scruton: Analysis of the Interview

Sir Roger Scruton (Policy Exchange )

Regular readers may know that I have spent a certain amount of time in recent weeks exercised by a British hack called George Eaton and the left-wing magazine that he is deputy editor at (the New Statesman). I have no personal animus against Mr. Eaton, who I believe I only met briefly once, some years ago, in a radio studio. His editor at the New Statesman, Jason Cowley, has always seemed to me a good person and a good editor in charge of a magazine with some fine writing in it.

But three weeks ago Eaton flagged up an interview he had conducted with Sir Roger Scruton with claims which seemed suspect from the start. Eaton claimed that Scruton had made a succession of “outrageous” remarks during their interview. In addition to anti-Chinese racism, he claimed, Scruton had said awful things about Muslims, Jews, and various other groups of people. All of this had an effect. Believing that what the New Statesman’s deputy editor said was true, Scruton was widely defamed across the British media. He was then swiftly and ignominiously fired (without even being personally informed) from his position heading a government quango. This latter decision was taken by the relevant minister, James Brokenshire MP, within five hours of Eaton’s original tweets.

The malicious intent which Eaton brought to the interview was evidenced not just by the manner in which he announced its alleged contents, but in his posting on Instagram of a photo of himself swigging champagne from a bottle and saying that this was how he was celebrating the sacking of “homophobe and racist” Roger Scruton.

While everything about this seemed to me suspect, few other people seemed to think so. Indeed, almost everybody else who had an opportunity to ditch Sir Roger did so. This list included nearly all Conservative party institutions and websites as well as numerous Conservative figures. The list included (though was not limited to) former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Danny (Lord) Finkelstein, MP Tom Tugendhat, MP Johnny Mercer, and of course that terrible victim of nominative determinism, Mr. Brokenshire. Like the newspapers, to the best of my knowledge none of these people requested a transcript of the Eaton–Scruton interview. They all decided to leap to judgment, trust George Eaton, trash Sir Roger, and then just move on.

I took a different view, and repeatedly asked the New Statesman, its editor, and George Eaton to release the tape of the interview. Jason Cowley assured me that such a tape existed and then went silent. All of which confirmed what I had guessed. If the tape contained nothing to contradict the New Statesman’s deputy editor’s version of events, then why not release it? I asked and asked for the tape, somewhat relentlessly. And then I stopped asking.

Not because I got bored but because — as it happened — I came into possession of a copy of the recording and had a chance to listen to the Eaton–Scruton interview. It was not as bad as I thought: It was far worse for the scurrilous would-be assassin of Sir Roger. Since I released the tape and transcript of their own interview, the New Statesman joined in, releasing their own transcript of the interview, albeit one with an additional misrepresentation of Scruton perhaps inadvertently included in their original, leading to the following correction: 

What the tape showed beyond doubt is that George Eaton misled his readers to try to destroy the reputation of Britain’s foremost conservative thinker. Readers and listeners can listen to — and read — the interview themselves and find their favorite examples of Eaton’s dishonesty. Here are just a few of my favorites:

1) After the interview has had its desired effect, Eaton will celebrate Scruton’s sacking by describing him as a “homophobe.” The allegation is that Sir Roger in the past once described homosexuality as “not normal.” Here is how Eaton himself introduces the subject of homosexuality to Scruton:

GE: ‘On homosexuality, I mean you’ve been criticised by some for saying for instance homosexuality’s not normal.  But that seems to me a statement of fact rather than [laughs]…’

Scruton talks a bit about his book Sexual Desire [1986] and explains:

In that book I say a lot of things about homosexuality, none of which could be conceived as what is now called “homophobic”.  I actually argue that it’s not a perversion and so on. But that it’s different and say why it’s different. But then people take little sentences out of context. The sort of Buzzfeed — the learned editors of Buzzfeed — who have their view on all these things put together a kind of patchwork of offenses without bothering to examine arguments or anything like that. So you get caricatured as a particular kind of thing as though you were somebody who wanted to stone homosexuals to death or something, just because you said that it’s different.

[Eaton umms in agreement throughout this]

2) Despite accusing Scruton of “Islamophobia” and of terrible comments about Muslims, Eaton ignores everything positive said by Scruton in the interview about Islam, individual Muslims, and in defense of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and their mistreatment at the hands of the Chinese regime. These comments start from 32:40. People can make up their own minds as to whether Eaton misrepresented his subject or not.

3) And then there is Eaton’s claim that in their interview Scruton attacked Hungarian Jews. Here is the exchange, from 35:30:

GE: ‘And then on the other side you were accused of anti-Semitism for your use of the term ‘Soros empire’

RS: ‘Is that what I did wrong? [Eaton laughs] Well I was talking about Hungary at the time wasn’t I.  And anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts. It’s not necessarily an empire of Jews.  I mean that is such nonsense. How can one possibly deal with that?’ [Eaton ‘Yes’s throughout this]

GE: ‘What’s your view of Orban?  Do you think that he’s misrepresented in the press?’

RS: ‘To some extent he is, I think.  I have a complex relation with Orban because I helped him set up his free university in Budapest in 1988/1987, before the collapse of communism, when he was a young man and he and his colleagues were doing a fantastic job.  That’s when they started Fidesz. And I told them at the time, you shouldn’t make this into a youth party because you’re not going to be young forever [GE laughs]. You should make it into a constitutional conservative party of the old school, then you’ve got a real tradition to build on. And that’s what they did, and it was all going pretty well. But I think power has gone to his head. And he has a huge charisma. And he’s made some decisions which are very popular with the Hungarian people, because the Hungarians were extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East.  And you have to remember that their history, or their relation with Islam, is not a happy one. And he made those radical decisions that we’re going to exclude all this – we’re going to maintain the security of our borders, come what may. And that’s put him at loggerheads with the European Union. So he’s got the whole propaganda machine to deal with.  But I don’t say that I agree with his policies in general. I think he’s getting too close to Russia. But he’s also being deliberately isolated by the European Union, which is not in my view a wise thing.

There are those (including Brokenshire) who seem to think that using the word “tribes” and “Muslims” in the same sentence is a sackable offense. But nobody reading or listening to this segment could honestly imagine that what was happening here was Scruton “outrageously” attacking Muslims. Besides which, if the term “Muslim tribes” cannot be used then an awful lot of Middle Eastern history is going to have to be re-written.

4) Repeatedly, Eaton tries to get Scruton to say outrageous things. He tries to lure him into conversations on what Eaton calls the “black problem” in knife crime. He also tries to get him to talk about Sajid Javid, who Scruton praises (“He seems to be very honest, dealing with difficult situations reasonably well I think”). But the intent of the interview can also be seen when Scruton says quite interesting things that do not fit Eaton’s agenda and then don’t make the cut. For instance, at 43:48, Eaton asks:

GE: ‘Do you see him [Trump] as a conservative?’

RS: ‘Well no.  Like everybody else I see him as a vulgar, half-educated oaf.  But there’s no reason why vulgar, half-educated oafs should not be represented in politics, and here is a chance for one of them to say “We’re not as bad as you all think”.’

5) Otherwise the interview is noteworthy principally for the characteristic magnanimity and thoughtfulness that Scruton demonstrates. Eaton tries to get him to say rude things about Theresa May. At 45 minutes, after Scruton has said that Theresa May wouldn’t have been his Conservative leader of choice Eaton asks:

GE: ‘What do you see as her flaws?’

RS: ‘Well, I’m not sure I really want to accuse her of any flaws.’

6) Eaton has clearly done no homework on his subject, read any of his interviewee’s books, or given any thought to questions you might ask a world-renowned philosopher as opposed to questions you might ask any backbench MP.  The last portion of the interview is Eaton tediously taking the Scruton through the ranks of the Labour and Conservative parties trying to get him to give tips for future leaders. Scruton tries to help, but keeps stressing that “I’m not really into that sort of thing” (49 mins).

7) And then we get to the most appalling distortion of all Eaton’s distortions. Here he is, at 49:40:

GE: ‘And beyond politics, how do you feel about humanity’s future?’

RS: ‘Um, gosh.  Are you talking about all the trans-humanist stuff and all that?’

Scruton tries to help and then, at 50:55, we have this:

RS: ‘I think there are difficulties around the corner that we are ignoring, like the rise of China.  There is something quite frightening about the Chinese sort of mass politics and the regimentation of the ordinary being.  I think that the… We invent robots, and they are in a sense creating robots out of their own people, by so constraining what can be done that each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one [GE: umm. Yes], and that’s a very frightening thing.  [GE: Yes] Maybe I don’t know enough about it to be confident in making that judgement but the politics is like that, and the foreign policy is like that. And the concentration camps have come back, largely there to “re-educate” the Muslims and so on.’

And this was the one that did for him. This passage, which clearly refers to the Chinese Communist party’s scheme for China is relayed by Eaton as Scruton levelling an “outrageous” racist attack on Chinese people. Having previously gone for Muslims, Jews, and almost everyone else.

At present George Eaton appears to be on gardening leave from the New Statesman, reportedly until such a time a this “stuff” has “died down.” Of course it is bad form for one journalist to call for another to be fired. But if the boot were on the other foot, and a conservative journalist had lied about a left-wing figure and got them fired from some position because of these lies then I suspect that there would have been a far bigger brouhaha — and far more calls for the culprit to be sacked — than there has been in this case. Perhaps conservatives have become used to being lied about and defamed. Or perhaps some of the left has developed the impression that they can defame conservatives with impunity. To say that this is the sort of thing that has degraded public discourse is to wildly understate things. Unless there are consequences at the New Statesman, there is no reason for any conservative to accept a request for interview from a left-wing organ ever again.


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