In defence of Julie Burchill

Her book on cancel culture has been cancelled. You couldn’t make this up.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
Editor

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Topics Books Free Speech UK

This article was published before the settlement of the libel and harassment action brought by Ash Sarkar against Julie Burchill, and before Julie Burchill issued a public apology.

Spiked Online accepts that apology as an accurate statement of the facts concerning that dispute. While we continue to make this opinion piece available to read, readers should note that nothing in it should be understood as challenging or undermining the apology. Where it differs from the apology in its description or characterisation of the events in question, it is the apology that should be taken as definitive.

The apology can be found here.


Cancel culture doesn’t exist, they say. In which case maybe someone could explain why Julie Burchill’s book on cancel culture has just been cancelled.

Burchill, Fleet St legend and contributor to spiked, was writing a book called Welcome to the Woke Trials. It promised to be a typically insightful and acerbic dissection of the hysteria and intolerance of wokeness. But it is no more. The yellow-bellied folk at Hachette Books have pulled the plug after Burchill got into a Twitter spat with Ash Sarkar.

The Twitter beef, like all Twitter beefs, is barely worth recounting. Apparently some Corbynistas, always on the hunt for someone they can publicly denounce in the neo-Stalinist fashion, discovered that Rod Liddle wrote a piece for the Spectator eight years ago in which he said he could never have been a schoolteacher because he would probably have tried to shag some of the teenagers. A joke? Disgusting. He was duly denounced as a paedo by the humourless literalists who clog up what passes for ‘the left’ in 21st-century Britain.

Burchill waded in. She took to task one of Rod’s Twitch-hunters – the Queen of Cancellations, Ms Sarkar – and asked her about Muhammad’s very young wife Aisha. She suggested it was hypocritical of Sarkar to go mental over Liddle’s mick-take aside about screwing teens given she follows a religion whose prophet is thought to have had a fairly iffy marriage.

Cue woke derangement. This is racist, they cried. Isn’t everything? One can of course question the wisdom of bringing Islam into a discussion about Rod Liddle and teenagers. I’d go further and question the wisdom of even being on social media. Seriously, leave it to the finger-pointers and witch-dunkers of the hyper-woke bourgeois left. Life’s too short. Go to a pub before they close again.

And yet the reaction to Burchill’s cutting tweets is unquestionably mad. First she was hounded off Twitter. Some genuine scumbags made fun of the fact that her son committed suicide (there’s nowt so vile as the ‘kinder, gentler politics’ crew). And then Hachette ditched the book. All over a couple of tweets that mainly just took the piss out of Islam. This is nuts.

If anyone ever again tries to say cancel culture doesn’t exist, remind them of this: a book on cancel culture was cancelled because the author made fun of Islam. This orgy of censorious fury ironically proves the point of Burchill’s book – that the unwoke are being tried and found guilty and cast out of polite society. That it can happen to one of Britain’s best and best-known journalists, at the hands of a mob of middle-class mummy’s boys and girls whose achievements wouldn’t cover a Rizla sheet, is just depressing.

I have no doubt Burchill’s book will find a publisher. Indeed, she told me in an email today that she very much plans that it will. But that shouldn’t distract us from the ominous nature of the cult of cancellation and the way it seeks to destroy anyone who dares to question woke orthodoxies or take the piss out of a certain religion. Woke trials, indeed.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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

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