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'Band of bullies claim another scalp,' says Spalding-area MP Sir John Hayes

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In his latest Hayes in the House column, MP Sir John Hayes discusses a case of 'societal sickness'

The ‘woke’ mob recently claimed another scalp, this time a mild-mannered professor of philosophy at Sussex University, Kathleen Stock, who was pressured out of her academic post after 18 years of service, for which she was awarded an OBE in 2021’s Honours List.

Head hunting liberal zealots wield too much influence in higher education, from certain academics to various student bodies. This case illustrates why such individuals and gangs must be seen for what they truly are – a band of bullies.

Sir John Hayes (53133583)
Sir John Hayes (53133583)

As a member of the committee considering the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, I met Kathleen Stock last month when she gave evidence as an expert witness. Far from being a darling of the right, she is a feminist analytic philosopher who, in her words, suffered “three and a half years of low-level bullying, harassment and reputation trashing”. Some of her wrong-headed colleagues and a gang of airheaded students hounded her for daring to defend the importance of what, until recently, was understood as fact – that people’s sex is defined from their beginning in the womb. It beyond bizarre that this straightforward biological fact is, nowadays, contested.

To normal people she spoke common sense, the vast majority of Britons understand that whether you are a man or a woman has an existential importance in understanding our natures as human beings. Replacing these facts with the strange idea that we can identify as male or female whenever and however we choose is to reduce our sexual identity to no more than a moodful feeling which, as Professor Stock concluded, threatens hard-won protections and distinctions which defend the interests of women.

The trans-rights mob at Sussex University saw Kathleen Stock’s free expression as heresy and unworthy of measured consideration. As a result of daring to think freely, she was sent death threats - the police put a marker on her phone to send an automatic call-out to her house in case she called 999. Even Kathleen’s union let her down, calling, in response to her plight, for Sussex to “take a clear and strong stance against transphobia”.

Kathleen Stock’s position was made untenable by the very people with an ethical duty to defend her, which is why this Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is needed to fill the gap left by those universities which have abandoned their post as bastions of free speech, study and debate.

The frenzied fanaticism of this self-righteous plot led to students refusing to debate ideas, academics shutting down free speech, and a union letting down its member. A malicious cabal relied on intimidation and threats to hound a principled woman out of her job. They succeeded because good people said nothing and let it happen. This is too often repeated around the nation as baying crowds, realising they do not need to win the battle of ideas or engage with civil society, know that if they yell loud enough the institutions will capitulate.

The internet age has emboldened a culture of bullying. Anonymous, vicious hate-slinging has become second-nature to so many on social media that it was only a matter of time before such toxicity bled into the ‘real’ world. Facing crass brutishness has become accepted as part and parcel of public life, while harassment of public figures has replaced debate for those who have reaped the rewards of hate.

A society which sets the bar of public engagement so low is not one with a happy future. Hard working Britons too often find themselves browbeaten into acquiescence by causes they don’t believe in, and those who are inspired to public service face a whirlwind of normalised abuse and even violence.

Kathleen Stock’s case is a symptom of societal sickness. Yet rather than accept the rule of cowardly hate-peddlers, we must reject their barbarism and reassert the absolute necessity of courtesy, civility and, above all, kindness.

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