There’s something fishy going on at Tory HQ | Stewart Lee

Is the Brexit-Covid government’s framing of free speech designed to make lefties fight among themselves?

Before Brexit, 44% of British musicians, including my showbusiness friend Fish from Marillion, earned up to half their income from now inaccessible European audiences. But, should Fish find some way around the government’s failure to preserve artists’ touring opportunities, his unfortunate choice of stage name could mean he was still subject to time-consuming delays at EU customs. Thousands of pages of Fish’s Fish Health Certification documents would need to be checked by penny-pinching EU officials, and Fish from Marillion would be left rotting on the quayside like some eels, an undignified state for the 62-year-old progressive rock survivor.

“No man may comprehend the heap of consequences that Brexit has piled on musicians, fish, and musicians called Fish better than I,” said Fish, over our weekly Zoom chat on Monday night, “but fate is inexorable. My delayed farewell tour, Weltschmerz, just became an even bigger scrotal irritant.”

“Would it make it easier as regards the new EU paperwork if you stopped being called Fish and went back to being called your real name?” I asked Fish, helpfully. “Stewart my friend!” Fish honked in dismay, “My real name is Dick. Derek William Dick. Do you not remember why I changed it? Derek Dick? It sounds like the name of some rustic mountebank who would make a bear dance for cakes and sausages. Heavens man! I’m losing on the swings. I’m losing on the roundabouts.”

“Maybe you should call yourself Dominic Cumming, Fish!” I quipped, “He seemed to be able to travel wherever he liked without any form of hindrance. Ha!” “Eh, what do you mean, sir?” Fish asked. “Well, last year he drove to Durham, didn’t he Fish, under lockdown?” “Oh, yes, I think I remember that, yes,” Fish mumbled. “Yes Fish,” I continued, undeterred, “and you could say it was necessary for you to perform your new album, and a selection of classics like Kayleigh, all across Europe in order to test your eyesight! Ha! Ha!” “There’s nothing wrong with my eyesight, son,” said Fish defensively, leaving the meeting.

Tragic tales like Old Blind Dick’s are legion. And the government is keen to distract from the obvious disaster of Brexit, even though Keir Starmer has chosen politely not to mention it in parliament. Last week, Dominic Skeletor Raab, having belatedly realised where France is and which of all our stuff comes from it, encouraged failing businesses to “take a 10-year view” of the route to the increasingly distant sunlit uplands of horrible chickens and reduced educational opportunities. But the Brexit-Covid government’s latest dead cat has been smashed down on to the kitchen table with a new level of desperation, weaponising compensation culture in a spurious war against already beleaguered liberal intellectuals.

Cold calls from compensation-claims solicitors are a bane of modern life, but I have at least learned to have fun with them. I told one cold compensation-caller last month that I had had an accident recently, yes, but it involved a collision with the stolen vehicle of a drugs kingpin who said he would kill me and anyone who reported it, so how did the solicitor know about it? He soon made his excuses and hung up. But last week, the Brexit-Covid government announced it will introduce legislation that will enable academics, students or visiting speakers to sue universities for compensation where they feel they have suffered free speech infringements. Or at least it says it will. Often the Brexit-Covid government just floats these provocative ideas to make the left fight among themselves and say ridiculous things, like when the Telegraph pretended the new head of the BBC was going to ban “leftwing” comedy last September, and then he never said anything about it ever.

A government insider says it will be the education secretary Gavin Williamson himself who will make the cold calls to potentially aggrieved truth-tellers, as a reward for the bravery he has shown in continuing in his unsuitable post when others would have taken the coward’s way out and resigned due to their utter incompetence. Initially a recording of Rob Brydon doing an accurate impression of Williamson will ask leading questions such as: “Do you feel your freedom of speech has been infringed, and if so are you owed money?”; “Political correctness has gone mad hasn’t it and do you think you deserve some cash to make up for it?”; “Will you say you think everything is all too woke nowadays in exchange for gift tokens?” The real Williamson will intercept the call if an aggrieved freedom champion takes Brydon’s voice bait.

A government insider gave us a list of the kind of questions the real Williamson will then ask: “Have you ever not been invited to address a university, ever, and if so why?”; “Have you been temporarily prevented, while appropriate questions were first asked by your employers, from hosting a video presenting an anti-feminist narrative of male victimhood to teenage boys at a famous English public school?”; and “Has the counter-extremist unit of the Department of Education stopped you from booking the far-right former editor of Breitbart Tech, who jokingly supported the delivery of pipe bombs to critics of Trump and lost his book deal for condoning underage sex, to address sixth formers at your Kent grammar school?”

There is an important debate to be had about freedom of speech and the part of once noble further educational establishments, now reduced to the role of qualification-manufacturing machines in a grubby customer-service provider transaction, have in maintaining it. But the government that lied on buses about Brexit, that changed the name of its website during election debates to fool surfers into thinking it was an independent fact-checking organisation, and that is headed by Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Bumboys Vampires French-Turds FactcheckUK@CCHQ 88%-lies Johnson probably aren’t the most trustworthy people to be framing it.

King Rocker, a documentary about post-punk band the Nightingales, featuring Stewart Lee, is currently streaming on Now TV


Stewart Lee

The GuardianTramp

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