"Imagine if Boris Johnson had insulted Angela Merkel. Imagine that it wasn’t even a gaffe. Imagine if he had actually campaigned to stop her coming to London"
So it appears that there will be no state visit for Donald Trump. The US President will not travel down The Mall in a carriage with the Queen. More than that, it appears that the leader of our closest ally will not visit London at all. He may have gone to Paris already. He may have gone to Brussels. He may be able to travel to Hamburg with ease. But his feet will not darken the streets of London. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who had repeatedly campaigned against the President, chose to take some credit once the non-visit was announced: Trump had “got the message”. Londoners such as Mayor Khan did not want Trump to visit — ever.
There are a number of disconcerting aspects to all this. One is the fact that the American President will not be visiting Britain during a period when British relationship-building will everywhere be of unusual importance. Second, there is the fact that all this suggests that a small group of noisy activists on social media can decide who should and who should not visit the UK. That isn’t democracy, or even government, but rule by social media mob.
But most alarming is the pride with which those who have kept him away have responded. And Mayor Khan most of all. Londoners were used to their Mayor having a separate foreign policy when Ken Livingstone represented their city. But to consider the full awfulness of Khan’s intervention it is worth comparing him to his immediate predecessor. Imagine if Boris Johnson had insulted Angela Merkel. Imagine that it wasn’t even a gaffe — which would have been bad enough. Imagine if he had actually campaigned to stop her coming to London and suggested he would help to raise a crowd if she came. In such a situation, if the leader of an ally like Germany actually chose not to come as a result of something Boris Johnson had said, there would be an uproar. There would have been no way the Mayor could have remained in position, no way, indeed, he could ever have held public office again. Why can Mayor Khan help keep the US President out of London and escape similar censure?
Former Google engineer James Damore has just filed a class-action lawsuit against his erstwhile employer. The filing states that it aims to represent not only Damore but other employees of Google who have been discriminated against because of their “perceived conservative political views”, “their male gender” and “their Caucasian race”. Among the details in the suit is the allegation that the “presence of Caucasian males was mocked with ‘boos’ during company-wide weekly meetings”. This is remarkable stuff. If a bakery in Northern Ireland, say, was even once alleged to have organised weekly “boos” of any black or gay staff, then the company would be out of business before anyone had ascertained whether the charges were true or not.
Of course, Google is not a tiny bakery. It has a claim to be counted as one of the most powerful companies in the world. But if the charges are true it leads to fascinating thoughts, not least a reminder of the evils that men (and women) do when they think they are acting in the pursuit of the good.
People who would judge the quality of people by the colour of their skin are widely regarded as racists. Nobody could think of themselves as being less racist, I am sure, than the average Google employee. Yet what is alleged is that in the cause of being anti-racist these same people became active racists. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that someone high on moral certainty became what they profess to hate. But what a case study.
Talking of hate, since we last went to press the funeral pile of careers caused by the #MeToo movement has continued to stack up. Not a single case has yet gone to trial. Almost none ever will. But on a regular basis famous men have had their careers utterly destroyed because of a single allegation in a single tweet. Before Christmas the BBC cancelled the broadcast of one of their showcase Christmas dramas (an Agatha Christie adaptation) because one of the actors, Ed Westwick, had been accused of assault by three women. After Christmas it turned out that the BBC were so hungry to show the drama that they started reshooting the scenes with another actor in the scenes Westwick had been in. This technique had already been applied, in record-quick time, with a movie formerly starring Kevin Spacey, who had also been accused.
I wonder what the circumstances are under which Westwick could ever be exonerated? Or how he could ever regain his career if he was? Could he sue? Could he get the original version of the drama shown? The Agatha Christie drama he would have starred in is Ordeal by Innocence.
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