Thank fox I’m not a QC

Why I stood up to Jolyon Maugham, Twitter’s blocker-in-chief

Artillery Row

Jolyon Maugham is a tax lawyer formerly known for working on “celebrity tax dodge film schemes” but more recently for seeking to use legal challenges to block the Brexit Referendum’s leave result. Using his activist moonlighting outfit – The Good Law Project – he took the government to court several times, with a fairly high-profile win at the Supreme Court on the question of Prime Minister Johnson’s prorogation.

This notoriety significantly grew his Twitter fan base and he seems to enjoy pontificating on a variety of topics that catch his interest. As a QC – a recognised legal specialist in his field – many are interested to hear what he has to say.

Many were interested, if not a bit surprised, to read on Boxing Day 2019: “Already this morning I have killed a fox with a baseball bat. How’s your Boxing Day going?” He quickly found himself at the centre of a media storm. In March 2019, after a short self-imposed exile from Twitter, he appeared on BBC Radio 4 and reflected, ‘if you’re at the centre of a pile on … it is enormously painful … Without the support network that I have, I’m not sure I would be here to give this interview today.’

Maugham maintains that he acted as any reasonable person would have done in the circumstances, and no doubt will be immensely frustrated by those who use the story as a means to undermine his credibility and detract from his projects entirely unrelated to foxes.

This is one reason why I went to the effort of calling him out as a hypocrite in a fairly lengthy Twitter thread on Monday. Read it for yourself if you wish (which is more than he can now as he has blocked me).

After a Scottish colleague gave a newspaper interview on what she views as draconian “hate crime” proposals from Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government at Holyrood, Maugham took to Twitter to instigate what can only be described as a “pile on”. He sent tweet after tweet on Sunday 26th July pouring out vitriol against ADF International and my young female colleague, calling her out by name, linking to her bio page (with photo), and finishing with a call to arms to his two hundred thousand followers: “Now is the time to stand up and be counted.” He didn’t bother to engage the substantive question on whether or not the proposals were problematic, but rather decided to shoot the messenger.

Maugham is a lawyer. He should be familiar with the “reasonable foreseeability” of what may follow from whipping up his supporters into a hate frenzy. Yet he seemed to imply that any “pile on” would not be his “moral responsibility”.

Maugham seems to require complete alignment to his own worldview

I also called out Maugham for casting my colleagues as “bigots” when his own actions show a person not merely intolerant of those holding differing opinions, but quite contemptuous of them, and willing to manifest that dislike in barbed and personal terms (and at astonishing length).

I am legal counsel for ADF International, a global human rights organisation with several offices internationally including one in the UK. In the US, ADF has been maligned as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre – a widely discredited American organisation which formerly did good work but no longer serves any useful purpose. It insists on vilifying rather than debating those with whom it disagrees, and its method of choice is deploying the “hate group” label to destroy” its opponents — a tactic opposed by much of the US media and those who hold differing public policy positions to our own. For good measure, SPLC’s founder has been fired amongst a toxic culture of sexism and discrimination. One can only assume that Mr Maugham was not aware of any of this, as surely he would not have cited such a tainted source otherwise.

But Maugham was quick to sling the SPLC’s “hate group” accusation and in doing so, painted an unrepresentative, incorrect description of the work of ADF International, conveniently ignoring the vital work it does supporting vulnerable minorities facing severe persecution. After all, mudslinging is far easier than fully reasoned disagreement.

ADF International does take a position on several hot button issues – including abortion and marriage – that some will agree with and others will disagree with, perhaps strongly. However, in resorting to ranting and name-calling, Maugham seems to require complete alignment to his own worldview.

Sadly, any well-meaning attempts to engage him on this approach are met with a well-practised block – regardless of the basis for the disagreement. Maugham has become increasingly hostile to anyone who finds themselves with a different opinion to his own. On the ‘Self-ID’ gender identification issue in particular, his treatment of women who challenge him is, as scores can attest to, unabashedly patronising. Twitter is awash with women raising legitimate concerns, on issues they can be assumed to closer to than a male tax lawyer, who have their efforts to query his views met with a metaphorical baseball bat.

“Perform your values” is a line that appears in Jo Maugham’s Twitter bio. I agree with the sentiment, but I fear that Maugham’s Twitter activity casts his professed values in an odd light. My colleagues and I welcome open and robust debate, and will engage happily. In a healthy, democratic society, ideas we disagree with should be met with speech not censorship. When the Twitter mob comes after you for expressing your views, learn one lesson stand up to them, don’t give in, say what you think.

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