We've had our run-ins over the years, Toby Young and I, not least at last year's Spectator summer drinks, when I unceremoniously debagged the poor chap as he tried to impress Theresa May with his impression of John Bercow. "Ooooorderrrrr" – great stuff. But when I heard he was setting up a Free Speech Union I knew I had to offer him my unreserved support. In today's world of liberal trolls and professional offence takers, forming a trade union for people who have been ratioed on Twitter just feels right.
While I look forward to supporting my comrades in arms – be they middle aged men who lose their jobs for leering at colleagues, disgraced academics whose theories have been repeatedly debunked or the former leader of a racist street movement – I must admit that I am motivated by more than idealism, for I too have fallen victim to the witch-finder generals.
From the Today producer who bumped me from a slot when a "more qualified" guest became available, to former colleagues at the Guardian who no longer invite me to their dinner parties, at times being a maverick journalist and free-thinker has felt like being a member of La Résitance in Vichy France, ducking and diving to evade the Gestapo.
But my most bruising experience happened when I gave a guest lecture on eugenics to the assembly at the free-school I helped set up. As I attempted to access the PowerPoint presentation on my laptop, my mouse accidentally glanced across an errant tab of step-sibling pornography that had formed part of my research. The images of two young supple bodies cavorting in staged interfamilial ecstasy were projected onto the white board and exposed to the hall of confused, terrified children.
A number of parents complained about this incident, and following a brief interview and some firm but fair words from the actual police, the self-appointed woke-police got to work. They dug up an article I wrote as far back as 2014, when I was a pup of just 37 years old, in which I argued that we were living through a “golden age of totty”. (Complainants also pointed out a number of social media posts made over recent months discussing phrenology, my attendance of rallies in support of political prisoner Tommy Robinson, and my previous warning for inappropriate behaviour towards the staff at parents evening.) But the fact that this article was written almost a decade ago was no defence in the eyes of these professional offence archaeologists. Before long the governor of the school’s board had surrendered to the twitch-fork wielding outrage mob’s demands. My membership of the board was suspended with only the merest hint that I might be able to return “if this all blows over”.
Is this Orwellian nightmare what our grandparents fought the Nazis for? For me to be harassed by Guardian reading busybodies for having the temerity to try and educate their kids? I don’t think so. Remember the fallen: the few of the Battle of Britain; the brave men of Dunkirk; the heroes of A Bridge Too Far. What they fought and died for was our right to exchange ideas and disagree passionately with each other in a courteous and good-humoured way. And I certainly do not consider the discourteous left-wing hyenas flooding Toby’s timeline in the last few days to call him a “bald grifter” or a “pathetic chancer” in any way “good humoured”.
Free speech is a foundational part of our democracy: It is the sacred right of those of us whose intelligence, wit and parents got us into the right Oxbridge colleges to make a living holding forth about the confusing sexual mores of younger people, or cast a wry eye at the way ethnic minorities dress, and expect perfect civility in return.
You only have to look around you to see that free speech is being systematically destroyed in this country. A country in which BAME musicians have swallowed the Corbynite kool-aid; in which a government advisor can be sacked for saying that black people have a lower average IQ than white people; in which newspaper journalists can run articles criticising Home Secretary Priti Patel despite her being so very attractive. Does that sound like freedom to you? It doesn’t to me. Something from the pages of Orwell more like.
That’s why mobilising in defence of free speech is so important. Against the woke cops, we must form an honour guard, sort of police force if you will, to enforce some basic protections around what we are allowed to say (and conversely stop the liberal whingers from getting a word in edgeways). I hope if you agree you will consider joining. And even if you don’t, perhaps you will join us too. If you don’t, you may find that the mob will come for you.
As told to Simon Childs