The Telegraph

We have all seen the Society of Authors’ contamination by wokery, which has coincided with Joanne Harris’ appointment as chairman

Published: 18 August 2022

I heard the tumbrils reaching the Society of Authors last March, when the president, Sir Philip Pullman, resigned as a consequence of a row over his support for Kate Clanchy. She had been disowned by her publisher Pan Macmillan when a book Pullman had thought “humane, warm, decent, generous and welcoming” was denounced for racial and ableist stereotyping.

When I read that he was leaving because he would not be free to express his personal opinion as long as he remained in the role, I had no doubt the problem was that he was guilty of holding the wrong opinions. Gradually, inexorably, I had been noticing that the Society was moving Left-wards.

Bitter experience over the decades working in and with a variety of institutions has taught me the immutable truth of what is known as O’Sullivan’s Law, laid down by my friend the writer John O’Sullivan in 1989 to explain why organisations such as Amnesty, which were created to be impartial, go nuts: “All organisations that are not actually Right-wing will, over time, become Left-wing.” It’s to do with the Left always being more driven, single-minded and intolerant than the Right.

When I was on the Society of Authors’ management committee in the 1990s, and for several years afterwards, it was content to carry out for all members the humble but vital tasks of a writers’ trade union that it had done so well for more than a century. Pay and conditions mattered, legal advice was always available, and many of us had reason to be grateful for the Society’s courage in sticking up for us in rows with publishers over contracts or helping us out when times were hard.

And the bedrock was freedom of speech.

Latterly, however, I could see the tell-tale signs of contamination by wokery, which seems to have coincided with the appointment as chair of the novelist Joanne Harris. Had I been on her board, I would have asked why she had appended to her Twitter profile the label “intersectional feminist”, which screams adherence to the pernicious critical race theory that is poisoning schools and universities by reducing individuals to an accumulations of demographic characteristics.

So it was no surprise when members, including Harris, became involved in the sex/gender punch-ups, and writers began to split between those who thought J K Rowling right to say that, while she loved many trans women, only biological women actually were women, and those who disagreed. To my horror, the contagion even spread to my favourite institution, the Crime Writers’ Association, an absolute bastion of tolerance and good humour, where a few years ago I inadvertently caused outrage for innocently using a word for a trans-person some now deem unacceptable. Fortunately, the “Oh, for God’s sake” response to those who wished me de-platformed drowned out the tiny angry brigade.

But I couldn’t help noticing that, like so many other institutions in England, distaste for unnecessary confrontation has inhibited the silent majority of writers: there is much quiet self-censorship. Publishers, bullied by hysterical junior staff – and, in some cases by their children – have sacked or censored authors for challenging fashionable ideology. The Society has made little fuss.

Which is why I’m delighted that this row has gone public. We, the majority, are mad as hell and we’re not going to take this any more.

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