From time to time, amid the inundation of insanity swamping Britain and the Western world, one especially demented incident stands out, like an atoll on the surface of the ocean, commanding attention by reason of its extravagant lunacy. Just such an episode is l’affaire Boothroyd. Baroness Boothroyd, the 91-year-old former Commons Speaker, is under investigation by the House of Lords commissioner on standards, for failing to attend a course on sexual harassment that is mandatory for all members of the upper chamber.
Lady Boothroyd informed the commissioner that she was unable to attend because she had undergone open-heart surgery and, on medical advice, was shielding from the dangers posed to someone of her age and medical situation, by living outside London. Her post-operative state of health similarly prevented her participating in the training remotely. To this, the standards commissioner, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, replied that she would be investigating Lady Boothroyd.
The perversity of that decision is aggravated by the fact that the House of Lords authorities had foreseen the possibility of such a situation arising and had made sympathetic provision for it. In its second progress report on the Valuing Everyone training course last year (Chapter 1, paragraph 10), the authorities declared: “The Commissioner will open an inquiry into the members referred to her, though she shall be empowered to excuse particular members from investigation due to exceptional circumstances such as ongoing serious health problems.”
That exemption might have been specifically tailored to meet the case of Baroness Boothroyd. If the long convalescence from open-heart surgery, in the midst of a lethal pandemic, at the vulnerable age of 91 does not constitute “serious health problems”, what on earth does? How could Lucy Scott-Moncrieff conceivably justify overruling that exemption to pursue an investigation into Lady Boothroyd? Fortunately, Betty Boothroyd is of a robust temperament; but subjecting a nonagenarian to the humiliation of investigation by the standards commissioner, with the reputational damage that might incur, during a health crisis, could potentially have gravely debilitating consequences.
The authorities have behaved outrageously, in persecuting the only woman Commons Speaker, a politician who commands general respect, by investigating her on no valid grounds whatsoever. What is there to investigate? She has been given a completely satisfactory explanation which accords precisely with the exemption set out in the rules by which she is supposed to operate. This is not the kind of conduct the public expects from a parliamentary standards commissioner: she should consider her position.
The danger, however, in emphasising Lady Boothroyd’s conformity to the rules is of seeming to legitimise the insane premises underlying the imposition of sexual harassment training – and other related woke topics – on parliamentarians. The public is being deluged with so much woke nonsense, day and daily, that there is an insidious danger of failing to see how lunatic it is, simply because it is so pervasive. That said, the Boothroyd case is an instructive example.
Who, in their right mind, could consider Lady Boothroyd in need of training to prevent sexual harassment? Was she considered a potential perpetrator? If so, the Masters in Lunacy could have a field day examining members of the House of Lords administration. Was it with a view to teaching her, at age 91, to repel sexual advances? As a former Tiller Girl, Betty Boothroyd was surely seeing off importunate stage-door Johnnies before the parents of today’s woke obsessives were born. One broadcaster tweeted that she should be teaching the course.
The decision to impose the Valuing Everyone training course on parliamentarians was ridiculous; but worse was their acquiescence in it. The situation was so absurd that it jolted 88-year-old Lord Heseltine, harangued while recovering from a knee operation in a nursing home, out of the habit of a lifetime, so that he spoke sound sense for once: “To believe that people who actually indulge in prejudice or bullying or womanising are going to have their behaviour changed by reading a set of platitudes is naive and, to a degree, irresponsible.”
No wonder the public has so little esteem for politicians, when they subject themselves to a load of drivel. Baroness Foster described her experience of the course: “Expensive, patronising nonsense; treated like children with typical stereotypical role play footage. You couldn’t make it up!”
“Expensive” raises a significant question. How much taxpayers’ money is being squandered on this woke virtue signalling? The Valuing Everyone course is being run by Challenge Consultancy, which has also organised training courses on equality and diversity for the BBC, Bafta and Oscars judges, the Passport Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Scottish parliament. Its Holyrood course condemned as offensive the words “lady” and “girl”. How will that apply to the denizens of a parliamentary chamber who routinely address one another as “the noble lady”?
The course for the House of Lords, as of 8 March, had cost taxpayers £82,158, with further costs incurred for training MPs. Last September, the Mail on Sunday reported that parliamentary authorities had told the paper the Valuing Everyone courses had cost £746,250 and that “unconscious bias” courses could add a further £700,000 to the bill. You could refurbish a Downing Street flat several times over for that kind of money.
MPs on the “unconscious bias” course were told they were mammoths and urged to look away when speaking to people, to avoid triggering their bias, behaviour that could only make them appear even more shifty than they are already perceived by the public. One of the most insidious features of the woke dictatorship is that it infantilises people. These courses are, as Lady Foster indicated, infantile. But they are also about control, about exacting deference to the woke agenda. The absurdity of what was being inculcated in re-education camps never troubled Marxists: all that mattered was that it was formally assented to.
By September last year, 39,826 civil servants, in just four departments, had received unconscious bias training over the past five years. Such training is not only extravagant drivel, it creates self-consciousness over race, to a potentially neurotic extent, and is deeply divisive. It amounts to indoctrination in the woke interpretation of history, with a political agenda, and is intellectually abysmal.
The sinister origin of all this nonsense is the Marxist concept of “re-education”, brainwashing to make people conform to the woke agenda. When China or North Korea sent dissidents to “re-education camps” we used to deride the concept and express gratitude that we lived in a free society. Today, however, judges send offenders for re-education, an intolerable abuse of justice. Society has long endorsed, as a last resort, the incarceration of offenders’ bodies: their minds are a different matter.
Freedom is incompatible with a non-pluralist society. If people oppose mass immigration, as millions do, how can they be expected to embrace “diversity”? Ditto Christians, for many of whom opposition to same-sex marriage is mandated by their consciences: if they are not allowed to express dissent, we no longer live in a free society. The legal gagging on transgender issues, a crucial controversy since it is the first leftist dogma to repudiate science and give primacy to ideology over objective truth, is intolerable. Nor should woke corporations be allowed to subject employees to ideologically-based training: if they misconduct themselves, they should be dismissed, but they should be treated as adults.
In other circumstances, the public might have looked to its political leaders for redress. But when it looks at them today, what does it see? A pathetic procession of lemmings, docilely trooping off to attend fatuous indoctrination courses on sexual harassment, unconscious bias, diversity and equality. Anyone who needs training in how to behave towards the opposite sex should not be in Parliament, legislating for us. Anyone stupid enough to listen to politically motivated drivel about “unconscious bias” is not fit to govern us.
Can anyone imagine Winston Churchill being herded meekly into a half-baked lecture on sub-Marxist gobbledegook? That our parliamentarians accept this charlatanry signals the widening chasm separating them from the people they aspire to govern. Seeing their supine posture, leftists imagine they will be in control indefinitely. But that is not the temper of the wider public. The left made the same disastrous miscalculation about Brexit.
The British public has, in Marxist terms, raised its consciousness. It knows it can, when necessary, overthrow the prescriptive elites – something of which it was not aware before 2016. Someone has to end the woke hallucination. It will be less painful if it is done from the top; but if not, it will be accomplished more robustly from the bottom. Ask Red Wall voters.