Artillery Row Roger Scruton

Conspiracies against the left

There are no new problems in the New Left, only old solutions in fighting them

Although we had met earlier I got to know Roger Scruton in the early 1980s when he was seeking a publisher for a pamphlet which he said would show up the hollow pretensions of “Peace Studies” as a serious academic subject. This was to be co-authored with Caroline (later Baroness) Cox who shared his deep concern about the Far Left’s long march through the institutions of higher learning. I found a modest sum to pay them for their labours and a trenchantly argued paper  was duly published by a small think-tank with a long name – the Institute of European Defence and Strategic Studies – for which I then worked. The paper concluded that courses being offered, most notably by the Bradford School of Peace Studies, were propagandist rather than educational in character, being designed to ensure that those who took them were bound to reach particular pre-determined conclusions.  Scruton and Cox did not pull their punches.

The paper received extensive media coverage and went into a second edition, forcing those responsible for the courses onto the back foot. I believe that it went some way to discredit the idea of peace studies as a serious academic subject. But of course it did not stop them being taught.  I took a copy to then Education Secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, pointing out that the entire academic staff at Bradford favoured unilateral nuclear disarmament and that several members were on the executive council of CND. Joseph, for whom I had previously worked, looked troubled, his wrinkled brow expressing deep concern. Within days he assured me that he had asked a senior official at the department, for whom Roger, Caroline and  I would have the utmost respect,  to look into the matter. We waited in the  naïve expectation that something would be done; but of course Roger’s name on the cover was probably sufficient to ensure that no action would be taken, which indeed turned out to be the case.

The director of a think-tank concerned with social issues, a professor of political science at a provincial university, an ex-MI5 man …

Shortly after publication I joined Roger at his suggestion in the creation of a small conservative conspiracy. We agreed to meet privately with those of similar beliefs with the purpose of further measures to halt the long march – something was plainly and undeniably visible to us even then. Roger was chairman; he prepared an agenda and also cooked dinner for us, and served excellent French wine in a private house in Notting Hill. The group whose existence remained secret (at least until now) consisted of the director of a think-tank concerned with social issues, a professor of political science at a provincial university, an ex-MI5 man who rather disappointingly failed to reveal a single secret but who raised our spirits by constantly  praising our endeavours, a journalist, and latterly, an insurance man who was later to become a conservative peer.

We sought to block the appointment of far left candidates for academic jobs, saw that left-wing arguments were answered in the media and shared information an acted to  promote what we took to be the conservative cause. The meetings, which continued for around three years were highly congenial but also serious and high minded. Nearly all of the good ideas came from Roger, who also did the washing up.

Other than briefly in Hungary in 2016, I did not see Roger again until  the spring of 2019, two months after his sacking as co-chair of Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, when he delivered a lecture at the Polish  Embassy in London. He had aged visibly. Over a drink prior to his lecture he told me of his sense of hurt at his dismissal by people who ought to have known that the accusations against him were false and who should have spoken to him before publicly condemning and sacking him. I was struck by the extent of his sense of hurt. He had, after all been involved in public controversy for much of his life and had been the target of more vitriol and abuse than any academic I can think of – but had always held his ground, unbowed and seemingly unhurt. That the major cause of his injury should have been the political  party whose philosophy he had done so much to define and explain no doubt accounted for some of his pain. But as we talked it also became apparent that he equally upset and frustrated that he could not finish his work with the Commission. Would he consent to re-join if asked to do so and a suitable apology issued? I asked. He replied that he would probably do so, but even if this not happen he would like to help with the completion of the Commission’s task behind the scenes unofficially and unacknowledged because of the importance he attached to its task. And because he believed he was needed to bring its findings together.

I left the lecture concluding that Roger was not merely the cleverest person I knew, something which I had long known to be the case, but also the most caring. This is a word which is often used to describe those who demonstrate their virtue by merely advocating higher levels of public spending, but the extent of Roger’s care for the things he valued, and the civilisation from which they sprang, was the real thing. Coupled to high intellect and high courage, it made him unique.

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