The witch hunting of Daniel Kawczynski

The Tory MP is accused of associating with fascists. It is completely untrue.

Frank Furedi

Topics Politics UK World

The ease with which Daniel Kawczynski, the Conservative MP for Shrewsbury, was isolated and asked by officials of his party to apologise for something that does not need or deserve an apology is testimony to the power of the intolerant and illiberal ‘shut-down culture’ haunting public life in Western Europe. It confirms a really worrying trend: the imposition of a quarantine around individuals and organisations who advocate conservative, religious or patriotic ideals.

The promoters of political quarantining always rely on falsehoods and slanders to discredit their opponents. One prominent victim of this kind of campaigning was the late leading conservative intellectual, Roger Scruton, who was branded as a far-right racist and anti-Semite last year. Last week it was Kawczynski’s turn. He became the target of a media-concocted story claiming he had participated in a conference in Rome that was organised by the far right. Not only did he break the quarantine imposed on certain conservative groups, but in associating with such groups he apparently also endorsed their allegedly racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic views.

In truth, the groups that attended the conference do not hold ‘far right’ views at all. Rather, they are conservative, traditionalist and pro-sovereignty in outlook. But the project of quarantining conservative, sovereignist ideas has been remarkably successful so far. Although he was eventually exonerated, Scruton was fired by the Tory government from his post as chairman of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. That he was abandoned and betrayed by his own party must have caused Scruton great anguish and pain. Now, like Scruton, Kawczynski has been abandoned by his own party. He was essentially given an ultimatum, ‘apologise or else’. According to my sources, he was also told by his party’s officials not to comment on this ultimatum.

The refusal of the Conservative Party to defend one of its own MPs speaks to the defensive posture it has adopted in today’s culture war. Even though it has just won a major electoral victory, the party appears unwilling to challenge in a serious way the imposition of a cordon sanitaire around traditional, conservative ideals.

Hopefully, Kawczynski will eventually be exonerated of the false accusations levelled at him. But in a sense, the real damage has already been done. The way he has been treated, and the reluctance of his parliamentary colleagues to have his back, will discourage many individuals from challenging today’s political quarantine. At least in the short term, opportunities for serious, open political debate will be further compromised.

What are the facts?

Almost overnight, Kawczynski, a respected MP, was transformed by his media and political detractors into the incarnation of xenophobic evil. Very few mainstream commentators and politicians were prepared to stand up to the powerful campaign of vilification directed against him. Very few even asked the question, ‘What did he actually do?’. Instead, the very fact that some media outlets branded him ‘far right’ was enough to condemn him.

Kawczynski’s alleged crime was that he attended a meeting of fascistic European politicians who apparently are in the business of promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In the words of former Tory Party chairman Lord Pickles, who serves as the government’s ‘special envoy on post-Holocaust issues’, Kawczynski brought ‘comfort’ to ‘racists and extremism’. Pickles claimed Kawczynski had ‘let fellow Conservatives down’.

It is worth noting that Kawczynski himself is not accused of saying anything remotely racist, xenophobic or anti-Semitic. In the eyes of his persecutors, his crime was that he attended a conference with questionable people. In other words, he is guilty by association.

But who is he guilty of associating with, precisely? Some of his persecutors have alleged that he mixed with well-known anti-Semites and therefore he helped to legitimise anti-Semitism and racism. Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, carelessly waded into the discussion, asserting that the Tories ran the ‘serious risk of the public assuming that they share [Kawczynski’s] views’, unless, that is, they made an example of him. The Guardian and the Independent echoed this sentiment, implying that Kawczynski’s guilt was beyond debate.

Anyone who only had access to the British media could be forgiven for thinking the conference in Rome was organised to promote hatred against Jewish people. The reality is very, very different. In fact, the National Conservative Conference was organised by mainstream conservative groups, not by the far right. The purpose of the conference was to reflect on the intellectual and political challenges facing conservatism today.

As it happens, one of the sponsors of the conference was the Jewish Israeli think-tank the Herzl Institute. If anyone is wondering where the organisers of the conference really stand on the question of anti-Semitism, the sight of a large Star of David in the main hall – part of the Herzl Institute logo – should have made it pretty clear. It should confirm that the conclusions drawn by Marie van der Zyl and others were simply wrong. It is ridiculous to claim that a conference in which all participants spoke in front of a Star of David next to Hebrew text was promoting anti-Semitism.

One of the main speakers at the conference was Israeli academic Yoram Hazony. As Hazony ambled up to speak on the stage, his yarmulke visible to all, you could also see his wife with her ubiquitous knit cap covering her hair. The positive audience response to Hazony, who is a leading expert on the subject of Jewish nationalism, again suggests that the media depiction of the conference as anti-Semitic was driven by pure political malevolence.

It is a shame that Marie van der Zyl and her colleagues at the Board of Deputies have such a shallow grasp of what anti-Semitism actually means. Even worse, at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in many parts of Western Europe, crying wolf about it trivialises the seriousness of the threat faced by Jewish people today. If anyone should apologise as part of this sordid, concocted controversy, it should be Eric Pickles and Marie van der Zyl.

The invention of the new ‘far right’

The claim that the conference was organised by the far right is no less tendentious than the idea that it was anti-Semitic.

Judging by the remarks made about the people who attended the conference, it is clear that the current usage of terms like ‘far right’ and ‘fascistic’ has nothing in common with how these terms were used in the past. There was a time when the term ‘far right’ referred to essentially anti-democratic organisations that frequently relied on force and extra-parliamentary activity rather than on electoral politics. Today, the phrase ‘far right’ is promiscuously applied to anyone who has strong conservative, religious or patriotic convictions and who is an opponent of identity politics.

The prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Órban, a man of Christian, democratic and conservative convictions, is now routinely described as far right by his Western critics. If the term far right had been used as casually in the past as it is today, then people like Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle and Alcide De Gasperi would almost certainly have been denounced as far right. In fact, virtually every leading conservative politician of the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties would have courted this accusation.

Many of the so-called far-right sponsors of the Rome conference are actually individuals and groups who traditionally would have been seen as the mainstream wing of the conservative movement. Take the example of the Bow Group. It is the UK’s oldest conservative think-tank. Such a far-right figure as former prime minister John Major is a former president. Numerous former ministers have been members. Other sponsors of the conference were the Center for European Renewal (Netherlands), the Danube Institute (Hungary), the Edmund Burke Foundation (the US), the International Reagan Thatcher Society (the US), and Nazione Futura (Italy).

One can legitimately oppose the views promoted by these organisations. But simply to condemn them as ‘far right’ and ‘racist’ is just a way of saying that they do not have any legitimate role to play in public life; that they should be subjected to the political quarantine.

The cordon sanitaire around populism

The attack on Kawczynski is closely linked to the 21st-century project of delegitimising any views that call into question the illiberal and anti-populist consensus that is dominant among the Western political class. In effect, the use of the term far right is designed to signal that certain people are beyond the pale. Their views should not only be ignored – they should be No Platformed and blacklisted. This new intolerance against views that challenge the illiberal, cosmopolitan and anti-populist consensus is deeply hostile to debate, free speech and open political engagement. Instead, it demands the total isolation of anyone who opposes the new political orthodoxies.

The cordon sanitaire is not only aimed at keeping populist parties away from mainstream public life – it is also designed to delegitimise governments in Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Hungary and Poland, that take the idea of national sovereignty seriously.

What the Kawczynski affair demonstrates is that pure lies and invented accounts about a conference of pro-sovereignty conservatives will be endorsed by the powers-that-be. The speed with which the Conservative Party was prepared to sacrifice one of its own indicates that it is not prepared to stick its neck out and take on the culture warriors who are out to claim the scalp of anyone who stands in their way.

However, the cordon sanitaire cannot endure forever. It offers only a technical solution to the political challenge faced by the cultural and political establishment. Not so long ago, supporters of Brexit were denounced as far right, and far too few mainstream parliamentarians were prepared to counter this slander. And yet today, the UK is on the road to Brexit. Soon, many of the populist parties of Western Europe will learn to expand their influence to the point that the mainstream parties will have to engage with them. And as millions of voters have made clear in election after election, the pro-sovereignty governments of Central Europe are not going away anytime soon.

Frank Furedi’s How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Stephen Harris

11th February 2020 at 3:03 pm

I fully agree with your comments and those of the Spectator. I can only see this as a vote loser, as the Conservatives are rejecting the friendship of those who wish to dismantle the anti-democratic European Union. I am a friend of Europeans, but not of the EU, so we should embrace those of like mind and reject the Hard Left who wish to label all those who disagree with them as racist bigots.


11th February 2020 at 2:50 pm

Even though BoJo won, it appears we might just as well have elected the despised Theresa May for all the difference it’s made.
The Tories continue to pander to the ‘Woke’ cult and, until Johnson decides to show some spine and clear out these cultural fanatics, his leadership must be in jeopardy.

David Morris

11th February 2020 at 7:24 am

@Steve Moxon
Gerlich is under the mistaken impression that the second law of thermodynamics forbids a two way exchange of energy between bodies at different temperatures. It doesn’t. The 2LOT only requires that NET energy transfer be from hot to cold, as anyone halfway competent in thermodynamics can demonstrate. But I’ll spare your undersized brain the strain of having to cope with the algebra.

steve moxon

11th February 2020 at 2:46 pm

The amazingly dumb ad hominem betrays it is you who is the one unable to take in science.
Nobody who upholds the absurd anthropogenic climate change hypothesis has any interest at all in science.

Danny Rees

10th February 2020 at 2:44 pm

So the usual “far right is just something people who disagree with the left get called” line.

nick hunt

10th February 2020 at 3:02 pm

? The author explains that these groups were traditional conservatives being smeared by the UK left, so powerful it even has the Tory Party joining in the current character assassination of one of its own MPs. That’s extraordinary news. BTW does the MP deserve defending from his many bullies, would you say?

Ven Oods

10th February 2020 at 3:22 pm

It’s only a personal impression based on what I hear and read, but the real far-right does seem to be tiny and gets monstered every time it stands for validation outside its own limited fanbase.

James Knight

10th February 2020 at 7:02 pm

Wake up. Today’s left ARE the “far right”. White nationalism IS identitarianism. Eco extremists want to suppress democracy and have a primitive narrative on people being closer to nature (“blood and soil” as it was called). Others shout “white privilege”: screaming racism at others to distract from their own racism. So they call anyone who supports democracy and free speech as “far right”, to distract from the fact they are the far right who want to suppress free speech and democracy.

Just because today’s left believe in self identification doesn’t mean the rest of us have to fall for it.

Dave Roberts

11th February 2020 at 7:24 am

So, the native people’s of Europe should be demographically replaced should they?

Steve Roberts

10th February 2020 at 9:32 am

Excellent article, a further warning that if freedoms and democracy are to be defended after the Brexit “celebration” then we have to address the entire political class not just the reactionary “left” . Political clarity and definition needed not compromise.

Ven Oods

10th February 2020 at 9:13 am

“the reluctance of his parliamentary colleagues to have his back”
It’s almost as if McCarthy were still alive and chairing hearings.
That Kawczynski’s fellow MPs are spineless dweebs can surely surprise nobody nowadays?

Stephen J

10th February 2020 at 8:51 am

This is something that I have been commenting on for many years.

Historically, the far right, is an invention of the early 20th century communist. Hitler’s views and those of his local communist party were almost identical, until he decided to move into identity politics. Even then his views remained the same, it was his opponents who changed their view.

Leftists as a class thrive on isolating the detractor and then punishing them as a warning to those that remain. This is the nature of puritanism.

So Hitler believed in mobilising everyone to a common effort, wot about the workers?…. He believed in providing government initiated infrastructure projects, like autobahns etc.. He believed in the power of the government to “protect” (aka control) citizens and the way of life. However, he is singled out as being different… from the far right, rather than the left… despite the fact that their beliefs are virtually identical, differing only in the manner that Bolsheviks differ from Mensheviks.

So the only way to let it be known that he is an exception to the rule is that WE MUST DISASSOCIATE OURSELVES FROM THIS TOXIC INDIVIDUAL NOW!

So it was an accident, which nobody seems to want to correct.

Anyway, here goes…

The far right, is in fact… just another flavour of the left!

The far right, would be, to take it back to its roots in the French royal court, those people that thought that peasants should choose cake, since all the bread had run out. i.e. they were unconcerned about the conditions of the poor, they thought that if they pursued their own interests (and by extension, those of the king) they would by nature, improve the condition of the general hoi-polloi.

That is if they thought about them at all.

There was never a massive structural plan to destroy communists (just for the sake of it) by something called a “far right”… it is done for the purpose of crying wolf.

steve moxon

10th February 2020 at 5:50 am

Very well said, Frank Furedi.
I regularly criticise Frank on here for being a Left apologist in not coming clean about the origin of ‘identity politics’ as Left backlash hate-mongering towards ordinary people, but here he mounts an excellent defence against a no-platforming attack by ‘identity politics’ totalitarians.
As he says, this is not only the ridiculous ‘guilt by association’ ruse, but there is absolutely nothing ‘guilty’ here with which anyone can be chastised for associating.
As such it’s ‘one better’ than the ‘guilt by association’ nonsense for which ‘identity politics’ bigots once attacked me. I had pointed out that the scholarship on the origin of ‘identity politics’ cannot be held to be invalid by seeing it as ‘guilty by association’ with Anders Breivik, in his citing some of it in his ‘manifesto’. I knew full well that the ‘guilt by association’ idiocy would then be directed at me; thereby itself pointing up the issue! This was of course lost on many, but there have to be those who keep shoving in the pennies until generally the penny drops.

Christopher Tyson

10th February 2020 at 7:02 pm

As you are a philosophical idealist, ‘the word’ matters a great deal to you. But anyone can say anything. You are pleased with Furedi today because he has written something you agree with. Tomorrow you will be unhappy with him again. Furedi is a materialist, he responds to the world as it is. In the 90s Furedi recognised the political defeat of the working class, he tired (yes it looks hopelessly ambitious now) to reconstitute the working class, to build a new working class movement. This failed and Furedi recognised this failure, he did not as you continue to proclaim, turn to identity politics, whether you continue to make these claims out of ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation for whatever reason, only you know. For the last 20 years Furedi’s work has concentrated of ‘the subject’ on rescuing the atomised individual. Hence his critiques of therapy culture, the cultures of fear and of risk. The call for a more robust individual transcends politics, Furedi might even call this pre-political, and finds common ground with both liberal and conservative ideas.

steve moxon

11th February 2020 at 2:49 pm

Posturing guff.
Frank is an apologist re the Left origin of ‘identity politics’ as backlash hate-mongering towards ordinary people, and he deserves full criticism for that.

L Strange

10th February 2020 at 4:52 am

This debacle has disgusted me. That the so-called ‘Conservative’ party would censure a Conservative MP for attending a conference on conservatism, beggars belief.

Looks like our politicians are the still the same old useless rubbish that threw Roger Scruton under the bus without a moments thought or even simply checking the facts, because of liars and bad faith actors at the Guardian and on Twitter.

They are so stupid – acting on these smears against Mr Kawczynski has, in effect, given them credence.

These idiots need to learn how to Google. Sharpish.

steve moxon

10th February 2020 at 5:54 am

Indeed, the ‘Conservative’ Party is not a conservative party. It has bought ‘identity politics’, including its apotheosis in hate-mongering towards the masses that is the scientifically illiterate idiocy if anthropogenic climate change.

David Morris

10th February 2020 at 7:52 am

As someone who has previously referred to Gerlich’s absurd 2009 paper on the ‘greenhouse effect’ to support his denial of climate change, you’re in no position to accuse anyone of scientific illiteracy Moxon

bf bf

10th February 2020 at 8:04 am

scientifically illiterate much

steve moxon

10th February 2020 at 9:01 am

There is nothing remotely “absurd” about the physicist Gerlich’s scientific paper, which is part of the overwhelming evidence against the truly absurd hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change … Morris.

nick hunt

10th February 2020 at 3:15 pm

The gulf between the U.K. Conservative Party and actual conservative ideas, the Party’s intellectual decline into (or takeover by) cowardly, obedient liberals obsessed with appearances and not offending leftists, and their striking fear and incomprehension of the massive shift underway from leftism towards populism, have all been brutally exposed by this incident. I see no sign that Boris is any different.

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