The Telegraph

Bullying writers and publishers won’t solve anything

Published: 6 June 2024

Well, Fossil Free Books has certainly succeeded in making its presence felt.

Targeting the wealth management group Baillie Gifford – which invests 25 per cent of its clients’ money in supporting net zero, compared to 2 per cent in companies with fossil fuel links – seems odd, particularly when this latter figure is below the market average of 11 per cent.

Since it is one of the greatest supporters of UK literary festivals, in targeting it, FFB has engineered the end of generous and long-standing partnerships, including the Cheltenham Literature Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and the jewel in the crown, the Hay Festival. Will the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction survive, or will it also be thrown into the furnace of puritan rage?

I don’t suppose the cheery boycotters have given much thought to the law of unintended consequences. According to the organisers of the Cheltenham Literature Festival, corporate funds “ensure that wide access to a diverse culture remains something we can offer to all. Without it, there would be no free events, ticket prices would increase, schools programmes would reduce in scope; some festivals would close.”

There was the distress of the directors of the Borders Book Festival that, after eight happy and productive years working together on what included a vibrant and varied children’s festival and work with schools, they would sorely miss the Baillie Gifford support that had enabled them to put free books into the hands of thousands of children.

I aspire to being charitable and therefore to assume the young activists are simply ignorant rather than malevolent.

Surely they aren’t setting out to be destructive just for the hell of it? The Hay Festival is known for its efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint and encourage its attendees to do likewise, and has for years provided platforms to environmental evangelists. Why would they pick on it?

Dylan Jones, who spent 20 years as chairman, trustee, vice president and a member of the festival’s advisory board, fears intimidation will result, at the very least, in scaring off sponsors and higher ticket prices.

It has also helped to foment discord in the Society of Authors, an amiable and effective organisation, which had hitherto successfully stayed politics-free until the trans activism of its chair, Chocolat author Joanne Harris, a self-described intersectional feminist, caused a split.

Despite my several decades as a member, including a happy stint on the management committee, I was one of the many writers that defected to the Free Speech Union in 2022 over the Society’s failure to defend gender-critical writers.

Recent excitements have included an extraordinary general meeting at which a large majority vote called on the publishing industry to divest from any ties with the fossil fuel industry. A demand that the Society call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza was narrowly defeated. But there will be a next time.

Quaintly, FFB seeks to recruit followers “in the spirit of a just transition that protects the jobs and livelihoods of all workers”, and “unite in solidarity with the millions of people in the Global South who have lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones as a result of climate change.”

Bullying writers and publishers and making it harder for children to read and debate, is an interesting way of going about it.

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