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17 March 2021

First Thoughts: Cressida Dick’s “difficult calls”, Piers Morgan the martyr, and the cost of a non-curtsey

I hold no brief for Piers Morgan. But I disagree with his dismissal from ITV’s Good Morning Britain for three reasons.

By Peter Wilby

Should everybody resign? In the social media age, no public figure can escape calls for their instant departure if they are even vaguely responsible for an error, great or small. “Resign now” requires only ten characters on Twitter.

In the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard, Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, refused to allow Reclaim These Streets to hold a remembrance vigil; then, rather than denounce the forcible dispersion of a Clapham Common gathering that defied the ban, she defended officers, who faced “really difficult calls”.

Both decisions were trickier than they look to those “sitting back in an armchair”, as Dick contentiously put it. The first because the Home Secretary, Priti Patel – herself facing calls for resignation over allegations that she bullied civil servants – had ordered stricter enforcement of coronavirus rules against large gatherings. The second because as a gay female graduate – three categories traditionally regarded with suspicion by the average male constable – Dick must constantly prove to the ranks that she’s on their side.

Maybe she got the decisions wrong. But London is a large, turbulent city which, from the Chartists onwards, has hosted protests almost daily. Most of Dick’s predecessors probably got at least one big decision wrong. Before social media, they nearly always survived.

[see also: Who’s to blame for the violence at the Clapham Common vigil?]

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Etonian aggro

Male aggression is “a biological fact” which should be accepted and even celebrated. Women “prefer the smell of dominant males”. A few months ago, an Eton teacher, Will Knowland, aired such views in a YouTube video originally planned as part of a school course on critical thinking. When Knowland refused to withdraw the video, Eton sacked him.

The Free Speech Union, led by the journalist Toby Young, wrote to the Eton authorities expressing concern “about the implications… for freedom of thought and expression”, and dozens of Old Etonians, including a former Tory minister, threatened to withhold millions of pounds in bequests. A Times columnist saw the school’s action as “an ominous indication of how frightened our society is becoming of free discussion”.

But perhaps Knowland and his supporters should pause for a moment and reflect that, whatever schoolboys need in the way of discussion about gender roles, it isn’t anything that justifies male aggression.

A Duchess’s revenge

I hold no brief for Piers Morgan, an apologist for Donald Trump whom Trump nevertheless once described as “ruthless, arrogant, evil and obnoxious”. But I disagree with his dismissal from ITV’s Good Morning Britain for three reasons.

First, nobody should be sacked because a duchess (in this case, of Sussex) has complained. Second, it gives the wrong side in the culture wars a martyr. Third, he will almost certainly join GB News, gifting viewers and publicity to a planned new TV channel reportedly funded mainly by Brexit supporters.

Impartial bias

Talking of the new channel, we are assured by its director of news that it will be “free, fair, impartial”. Yet, having also said it will challenge “liberal-left assumptions”, it announces a segment on its nightly news programme called “woke watch”.

Imagine the reaction if, say, BBC Two’s Newsnight, after saying it will challenge reactionary assumptions, included a regular feature called “bigot watch”.

Taking the knee

After last week’s column suggesting that the monarchy should ditch its fustier traditions, a friend tells me of an elderly relative who volunteered to help Kensington Palace answer the thousands of letters that followed Princess Diana’s death in 1997.

My friend’s relative was asked to take tea and biscuits to another part of the building. In the corridor, she passed Princess Anne and, lest she drop the tray, decided not to curtsey. On returning to her post, she was told the omission had been the subject of a complaint. She immediately walked out and ceased to be a royalist.

[see also: Piers Morgan shows why a celebrity journalist is a terrible thing]

This article appears in the 17 Mar 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The system cannot hold