Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons (Photo by Jo Hale/Redferns)

The Mumford memory hole

The parallels between the latest incident of cancel culture and George Orwell’s 1984 are uncanny

Artillery Row

“O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

So ends George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The he of course refers to the main character, Winston Smith, but it could now be describing another Winston – Marshall, founder member of Mumford & Sons – who last week issued a craven apology to the very mob which finally got him cancelled for expressing preference for a book.

As the band’s most famous lyric goes, he really fucked it up this time. For while the book in question does describe the left’s penchant for totalitarian control disguised as benevolence, it was not the above classic (yet to be deemed problematic), but Unmasked by journalist Andy Ngo, which gets Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy in the name of social justice.

Andy Ngo is brave and Winston was right to say so

Following this transgression against the militant arm of wokery and pressure from the rest of the group for his “increasingly right-wing views”, Marshall the banjoist has pushed his entire Twitter feed down the memory hole leaving only a mea culpa pinned to the start. It states:  “Over the past few days I have come to better understand the pain caused by the book I endorsed. I have offended not only a lot of people I don’t know, but also those closest to me, including my bandmates, and for that I am truly sorry.”

He adds in his adopted Newspeak that he will use his absence “to examine my blindspots”, and concludes: “For now, please know that I realise how my endorsements have the potential to be viewed as approvals of hateful, divisive behaviour. I apologise, as this was not at all my intention.”

You would have thought he’d had rats caged to his face to become so repentant. But no, it appears that, as ever, some people got angry on social media, after which his partners at the tweed and ‘tache firm he’d helped set up have made him genuinely believe he deserved it for mucking around in politically incorrect prole territory.

For don’t let the & Sons bit fool you. Like the band’s resulting output, their name was chosen to add an earthy patina to bely the fact that they were, as Bo’ Selecta!’s Mel B might have it, “posh as fook”, rather than as they would have you think: “common as mook”.

Their opinions are apparently equally ersatz and incongruous with their privileged backgrounds. Even Marshall’s (real-life) father, investor Sir Paul, is without doubt the former in the above class dichotomy, who – apart from being the first white dad to name his son Winston since Lord Randolph Churchill – was featured in The Sunday Times Rich List 2020 as being worth £630 million.

The extremity of his reaction suggests there might be more going on than we can tell

Not forgetting the small fact that they have themselves been raking it in as one of the most highly overrated groups in the world for the last 13 years. It can hardly have been for the money that Marshall Jr was forced to apologise by the rest, or that they thought their particular brand of neo-skiffle-pop should last forever; a way to unite middle class parents and their children in a type of music which never belonged to either. For mums & sons, then.

So why did Winston need to do it?

With history having been dutifully expunged from the record we can’t really know the extent of his cumulative transgression. His fate was perhaps ninety per cent sealed when he invited Jordan Peterson to one of the band’s gigs, maybe to discuss identity politics or just a mutual admiration for waistcoats; who knows?

Thankfully the tweet that broke the camel’s back remains in the ether, otherwise we could not recount the full horror of what he said to Ngo, which was: “Finally had time to read your important book. You’re a brave man.” And that was it. Really. Not so much an “endorsement”, then, as a gentlemanly nod of appreciation. And yet the outrage came cascading in so that he was sent summarily to Room 101.

His sentence has been quickly exalted by the mainstream press which, judging by the uniformity of its coverage, has no interest (in both senses) in checking if it was proportionate. One of them, the Evening Standard, describes Ngo as being “well-known for his far-right views”. The most casual googling will reveal that, if forced to label himself, he would say he was centre-right (not to mention the fact that he is a gay Asian-American from immigrant parents).

The paper goes on to say that he “has been heavily criticised in the past for painting left-wing activists as violent while ignoring the incidents caused by right-wing protestors”. In fact, when he was sprayed with chemicals, pelted with eggs and milkshake, and beaten around the head in the streets of Portland, Oregon by Antifa (that stands for anti-fascist), he was covering the actions of the right-wing group Proud Boys.

He later discovered the attack had caused a brain injury, which those on the left were quick to dismiss as fabricated, or even to say was brought upon himself deliberately to paint Antifa in a bad light. The book of course describes such events and the risks Ngo took to cover them as his hometown became a warzone onto whose ruins were sprayed the slogan Kill Andy Ngo.

And so, one can see why anyone would be found guilty by association with a man who threatens to, indeed, Unmask those brave black-clad gangs who assault gay men of Vietnamese descent in public because, you know, like, systemic racism and homophobia and stuff.

So yes, Andy Ngo is brave, and Winston was right to say so. He should not have apologised for it.

The question remains whether he should be condemned for finally loving his Big Brothers and Sisters or, in genderqueer-friendly parlance, Siblings. For now, I think no. The extremity of his reaction suggests there might be more going on than we can tell. And it appears some are already doing their best to see that we never find out – for our own good, of course.

After all, ignorance is strength.

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