You could be forgiven for thinking cancel culture is a luxury affliction, the price celebrities and other high-profilers pay for stepping out of line. That is, until it arrives at your door.
“Tony, can I have a word with you?” And so it begins.
A customer service assistant in the public sector, I’ve just arrived at work and before I can take off my jacket, I’m having to follow my manager as she hurries through the workroom and up the stairs to her office. She tells me I am being suspended on full pay while allegations of misconduct are investigated.
An HR person joins us, via Zoom, to ensure my manager sticks to her script. She does so, and having read it to me, hands over my letter of suspension. Ten minutes later I’m out on the street having complied with instructions to hand in my laptop and lanyard, empty my locker, leave the building and cease all contact with colleagues until further notice.
My crime? I had recently posted, in a personal capacity, three tweets. Two were critical of the levels of immigration and the impact this was having on public services. One objected to the arrival in this country of what I feel to be that insane phenomenon targeted at young children, Drag Queen Story Time.
These tweets were neither hateful nor illegal. They didn’t advocate anything other than a review of current policy and practice. They simply expressed my personal opinion on matters that are of widespread and legitimate public concern.
For the next couple of months, I’m left to stew. It soon becomes apparent my unblemished eight-year work record counts for nothing, likewise the testimony of my manager and colleagues as to my good character. Eventually someone is hired to carry out an investigation.
Given my faultless work record, this hired offence archaeologist has only one job to do: take a deep dive into my rather shallow social media and wider internet presence in the hope of unearthing more of what these days passes for incriminating material. He will be disappointed, even by his standards.
Despite this, when I am summoned to an online meeting with this man (and accompanying HR person), to me it’s obvious from their leading questions that minds have already been made up. I am – without a scintilla of evidence – to be found guilty of racism and homophobia, no less. This meeting is merely a formality. Resistance is futile. Injustice will be done.
My employer is a typically ultra-woke, inner-city local authority, so perhaps I was foolish not to see this coming. Yet still, the shock is profound, the sense of injustice intense.
And sure enough, after a further delay, presumably to encourage my voluntary departure by resignation, I am informed of the investigation’s findings: there is a case to answer and so disciplinary proceedings will follow.
In an exchange of emails, it is now made clear to me – between the lines – that if I choose to resign immediately, a clean reference will be available. And if I don’t, it won’t be. This I take to be a threat wrapped in an inducement.
Witch hunts have always gone on, the malicious few happy to instigate while others administer. But with every major institution in this country now captured, and the abject failure of the government to do anything about it, today’s cancel culture threatens freedom of speech and thought as never before in modern times. A cultural revolution has taken place, the speed and effectiveness of which would have amazed even Gramsci, the Marxist thinker who predicted it long ago.
Mind you, I doubt Gramsci foresaw the central role that HR departments would play in all this. Like red guards to the revolution, no one intent on staying inside the corporate tent these days, from chief executive down, dares question their spurious authority.
‘Wrongthink’ and the curtailment of free speech, identity politics and the cult of anti-racism, transgender ideology and the undermining of women’s rights and children’s safety – we live and work under a rainbow of warped idealism.
True, there are campaigning organisations, media channels, and an alternative commentariat challenging the current orthodoxy. But away from the limelight and the affirmation it grants, those with least agency are likely to remain at the mercy of this ‘culture’ for years to come: kids in bog standard schools and colleges, anonymous employees of innumerable bureaucracies and complacent corporate entities.
Here wokery will linger, if only to avoid the embarrassment of its sudden disappearance. Remember, layers of management, still years from retirement, have built careers on the peddling of this stuff.
Concessions won here and there are welcome but will not suffice. Call it a liberation from tyranny, call it simply a return to common sense. Either way, the necessary course-correction must be fundamental and all-encompassing. But from where will it come?
Neither wing of the traditional political spectrum, nor the establishment centre show any signs of being able to dig us out of this hole. Short of a spiritual solution to the meaning crisis on whose barren ground these bad ideas grow, it is to the radical centre of British politics that we must look.
Entirely in keeping with its underlying values and policy programme, the SDP is forthright on these issues: “A free and democratic society must hear different opinions in politeness and respect in order to thrive. We pledge to uphold the values of freedom of thought and speech which lie at the heart of British democracy”.
With a heavy heart, I resigned today. Realising my persecutors were intent on condemnation without even granting me the respect of a meeting in person – where they would have to look me, and, indeed, one another, in the eye – I declined the invitation to attend my disciplinary hearing via Zoom.
Not even the accused of Salem knew that indignity.