Manhattan Institute

Rushing to Judgment

Two recent incidents reveal the craven impulses of the British elite.

Two days after confidential cables by the British ambassador to Washington were published in the British press, in which he characterized the Trump administration as inept, divided, and chaotic, a left-wing weekly, the New Statesman, belatedly published an apology to Sir Roger Scruton for the willfully misleading— indeed, defamatory—version of an interview Scruton gave to its deputy editor, George Eaton. As a result of this truncated and mendacious version, Scruton was fired from his honorary appointment as chairman of a commission to try—not before time, it must be said—to improve the aesthetic standards of modern British housing. The minister who fired him was the same minister who had appointed him shortly before, James Brokenshire.

What unites these two episodes—the leaking of the confidential cables and the sacking of Sir Roger—is precisely the ineptitude, division, and chaos not of the Trump administration, but of the British, which is incomparably greater. To these qualities may be added spinelessness; indeed, spinelessness is at the root of the problem. It is hard to do the right thing, or even to do anything properly, when, at heart, you believe in nothing.  

Few people were better qualified for the job than Roger Scruton. Indeed, to many Britons his appointment came as a surprise precisely because he was so well-qualified for it, such being the contempt with which the politico-administrative class is now held by the citizenry.

Unfortunately, his firing didn’t really come as a surprise, either. Brokenshire, who had so fulsomely praised Scruton on his appointment (which, incidentally, dismayed all the right people), went into full retreat, like a routed army, the moment the distorted interview appeared in public, and he dismissed Scruton not only without informing him, which was rude, but without informing himself, which was incompetent and cowardly.

Did Brokenshire apologize and reverse his decision once the extent of the distortion of what Scruton had said was revealed by Douglas Murray of the Spectator? Of course not, because that would have meant admitting that he was wrong—grossly so. Being a minister in Theresa May’s government is like love, never having to say you’re sorry. The thought of resigning because he had behaved so badly probably never entered his head.

Slowly, by degrees, as if under torture or cross-examination by a brilliant attorney, Brokenshire has finally apologized without reserve, though he still states only that it is a possibility, not a certainty, that Scruton will be reinstated. At every stage in this lamentable story, Brokenshire has acted as if all that counted was his own short-term political advantage.

What was he afraid of in the first place that led to his decision to dismiss Scruton? I think there can be only one answer: the left-leaning lumpenintelligentsia that is so quick to take to social media. Because, like May, Brokenshire appears to believe in nothing, he is not able to face down opponents with arguments, instead falling back into an immediate posture of surrender. These are the people who govern us, whether we deserve them or not.             

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