Reclaiming the altar of wokery

Laurence Fox has better credentials for engaging with the woke generation than the average Tory MP

Columns The Interview

This article is taken from the April 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I’m quite full-on as a person, quite passionate,” Laurence Fox insists. The actor who is now auditioning to be mayor of London is so direct in conversation that it is a surprise to learn that he has had media training in preparation for May’s election. Where are the usual tell-tale tactics of the politician who has been tutored in interview techniques? Far from trying to divert uncomfortable subjects on to easier territory, Fox gives the impression he could find ignition just by looking at a car key.

In Britain, at least, there is always the suspicion that actors who turn into political campaigners draw upon skills of adaptability and emotional artifice far beyond the range of the average one-dimensional rhetorician. With Laurence Fox, it is the disarming frankness, not the hint of artful manipulation, that predominates.

As events transpired, 2020 was a good year for actors to find something else to do, but Covid’s consequences for that profession were all but unimaginable in January last year when he jeopardised his acting career in showing reflex despair when a member of the audience announced that Meghan Markle was a victim of racism during his appearance on the BBC’s Question Time.

Would he be standing for mayor of London now had he been doing something else that night? “Yeah probably,” he replies. “It was getting pretty dark and I had a few fallings out in my last job around the modern obsessions with gender and race which are ripping society apart. So I would have ended up there, just probably in not such a rush.” 

There may be other actors who think likewise, but few have joined Fox on the barricades in defiance of a profession now so committed to gender and ethnic diversity that Bafta rules effectively prevent some productions that insufficiently demonstrate such a commitment from winning recognition. It has changed showbiz, he thinks, “now these dramas are made by committee, often trying to plug an agenda.”

For such apostasy, Fox has lost friends. “The ones that really irritate are those that publicly berate you and privately apologise. Doesn’t bother me,” he shrugs, “it’s them who are living dead. I finish my day and think ‘I’m alive and at the front of something really interesting”.

Rebellion seems instinctive. He was expelled from Harrow and is now thankful that he consequently did not blinker his mental faculties by going to university, the nursery of the woke certainties he seeks to disrupt. 

Fox embraces the challenge with none of the plodding caution of the battle-hardened vet

“We’re witnessing the rise of a new religion,” he warns. “It comes with a certain set of doctrines about what one must worship, which is the D.I.E [diversity, inclusion, equity] agenda, biological denialism and stuff like that. It comes with a whole set of rituals: knee-taking, mask-wearing and fist-waving.” It is, he continues, “a religion built on censorship. On silence. On monochromatic thinking. Control. Dominance. Cancelling. It’s no different from the Spanish Inquisition but without the dead bodies. It’s a ‘virtual’ immolation instead. I see myself as a heretic now because I do not worship at this religion.”

If this is a theology to be countered, standing as mayor of London is the equivalent of rattling his head between the lion’s canines. The world capital of diversity — a city so in tune with woke identity that it was the one area of Britain that saw a net increase in seats for Jeremy Corbyn in the 2019 general election and which now returns a quarter of all Labour’s MPs — is surely the least promising springboard from which to rally support.

Fox’s attitude is that of the general who instinctively marches towards the sound of the guns. He is standing in London precisely “because this is the altar of wokery”.

That is courageous talk, but the Red Army captured Berlin at the culmination of its advance, not by a premature paratroop drop while the bulk of its divisions were still behind the Vistula.

Fox embraces the challenge with none of the plodding caution of the battle-hardened vet. Every opinion poll suggests Labour’s Sadiq Khan will be re-elected mayor with a thumping majority. That may be, but he is still “a horrible piece of work” who needs to be properly challenged. Shaun Bailey, the Conservative contender, “hasn’t landed”.

Of course, it may suit Fox to paint Bailey as a wasted vote but, judging by the Conservative Party’s downsizing of resources for him, Conservative campaign headquarters appears to have come to the same conclusion. If Bailey cannot win, why not properly cast a protest vote and plump for Fox? “I’m going to offer you the other side of the conversation. I don’t want our statues ripped down. I don’t want our curriculums decolonised.”

Central to the campaign will be Fox’s despair at how the mainstream political parties have united in promoting the most extreme form of Covid lockdown and endorse forms of social distancing that will slow London’s path out of its induced coma. “We need to gently wake people up from this operation which they went into for three weeks to flatten the curve only to come out of it a year later. London needs to be unlocked. And nobody else is saying ‘unlock London’.

By May, might not Londoners be wanting to discuss anything other than the effectiveness of lockdown? Fox thinks it should still have resonance. He maintains that without a mayor promising dynamic change the recovery is far from secure and that “never again without the debate should we be shut down. The debate was never had” — contrary factors were not even considered. That is the respect in which he links the railroading into draconian restrictions to “my defence of freedom of speech.”

“I thought these ideas would appeal to 10 per cent of the people. But there’s a bigger constituency than that. London is quite a divided city now,” Fox asserts on the back of private polling that gives him grounds for optimism. From a cramped office in Victoria he works long hours with a small team and freely admits he is learning on the job. 

Social distancing means that this is a mayoral election that will largely be contested in print and online, without the customary on-the-stump campaigning. Fox maintains that this suits his “nimble” campaign. “I think it’s probably an advantage because I don’t have 20,000 ground troops to knock on doors. An air war suits us. And I’m a beginner.”

This is about pressurising the governing party from without, not within

But while he does have recourse to “scaffolding” — people to bounce ideas off and translate them into substance, along with PR advice and a digital team — the reality is that the edifice rests almost entirely on him. “It’s very odd being a political party yourself. Albeit with all the amazing support and help I get. And there will be another candidate, in Scotland, so I won’t be totally alone.” 

The party of which Fox is front and centre is called Reclaim. He has had conversations with Reform UK, the restyled Brexit Party, ensuring that the two parties do not run against each other in London. “Their focus is more economic, in terms of a low-tax high growth economy. My focus is much more on culture,” Fox says, drawing a greater distinction than many target voters might discern.

A life attending Reclaim Party branch meetings to hear the reading of the minutes is not really Fox’s calling. “We’re in jihadi mode at the moment as a political force,” he explains. “We’re babies. I would never do a Brexit Party with 630 candidates standing everywhere. Because what’s the rush? We don’t have another election for three-and-a-bit years.”

 The time, he thinks, would be better spent commissioning reports and building the argument. “I’ve only been dealing with this for six or seven months so what we need, at the moment, is to make quite an impact.” 

But if Reclaim is ever to be more than its leading man, it will need to engage in a ground war at some stage. Instead of forming a new party without members, why does he not just encourage entryism into the Conservative Party and capture that galleon in full sail?

“I don’t trust them. So no,” is Fox’s immediate reply. “I did speak to a few of them. But I’m a single dad, I can’t take two years out to be candidate for a party I don’t particularly want to stand for and relocate my family. I want to effect change. I don’t want be in power particularly. Already we’ve succeeded quite a lot in shifting them over.” Like Ukip in 2013 frightening David Cameron into endorsing the notion of an EU referendum, this is about pressurising the governing party from without, not within.

Fox has better credentials for engaging with the generation most attracted to wokery than the average Tory MP

He admits to having voted for the Liberal Democrats in the past and for Labour in 2017 because he liked Corbyn’s manifesto. But “I began to get more conservative when I had a family to look after. I’ve become a bit more protective of values, and less keen on destroying things for the sake of change.” He implies Boris Johnson lacks enough of a spine to take the culture wars fight to the enemy. Where Carrie Symonds pushes him in one direction, Fox wants to pull him in the other.

The greater question is how the church of woke, with its worshippers taking the knee throughout the educational, cultural and public sector (and, if less sincerely, at corporate level) can be reformed by the success of a hostile political force. Overthrowing the assumptions upon which political correctness has spread is not — unlike withdrawing from the European Union — something which can be achieved by a Commons majority passing an act of parliament. 

It is as the conversation moves from describing the problem to framing the solution that Fox becomes contemplative rather than confident. He settles for, “I’m thinking about how we bring politics to young people and how we can engage them in it in an honest way.” 

Still youthful, tattooed, a part-time rock musician, undeferential and charismatic, with a sizeable social media following, Fox has better credentials for constructively engaging with the generation most attracted to wokery than the average Tory MP. 

The mayoral election is just the beginning. He thinks he has had the right training for the trouble ahead. “I’ve had 20 years of acting and being rejected for jobs. If you don’t try, you don’t get it.”

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