Daily Mail

How the war over trans rights is killing free speech at the world’s most sanctimoni­ous newspaper

An exodus of talented women writers amid allegation­s of bullying. A pugilistic male columnist lashing out at anyone who dares disagree with him. And an indulgent editor who’s letting him get away with it...

- By Stephen Glover

THE father of the late journalist Malcolm Muggeridge once advised him: ‘Never work for a liberal. They’ll give you the sack on Christmas Eve.’ Perhaps because Muggeridge was once employed by the Guardian, this piece of advice has been taken by some to refer to that great, though sometimes infuriatin­g, liberal newspaper.

On the surface it appears virtuous and high-minded, but underneath there is a good portion of dirty washing, which it is not keen to share with the rest of the world.

An obvious example is Guardian Media Group’s use of an offshore tax shelter in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying tax on the £302 million in profit it realised from the sale in 2007 of some of its shares in Auto Trader. The paper invariably decries tax avoidance in others.

I’ve written about many controvers­ies at the paper over the years, but they largely pale into insignific­ance in comparison with the convulsion­s that have seized it for more than two years — and recently come to the boil.

The Guardian has been accused by one of its columnists of ‘ censoring’ important discussion­s about gender identity. Hadley Freeman, who worked for the newspaper for 22 years, has resigned to go to another title.

In a valedictor­y letter to Katharine Viner, the editor-in- chief, which was leaked to Private Eye magazine, Freeman criticised the paper for abandoning its tradition of balance (which some may think has been more honoured in the breach than the observance).

Freeman alleged that the newspaper’s once-willing embrace of complex questions had disappeare­d with respect to the ‘gender issue’. She also recalled being ‘ repeatedly warned off in the Corbyn era [from] writing about Labour from my perspectiv­e as a Jew’.

In normal circumstan­ces, the resignatio­n of a columnist, even one so relatively well- known as Hadley Freeman, would hardly be deemed headline news.

But her embittered departure is the latest episode in a culture war that has been raging at the newspaper for more than two years. It is no exaggerati­on to say that t Freeman is a casualty of f ‘cancel culture’ in the ‘gender r wars’. As we shall see, she is far r from being the only female e Guardian journalist who has s felt censored.

What is happening there is s not merely alarming for those of f us who, h however much we may have been annoyed by it over the years, still respect the paper as a formidable bastion of Leftist thought.

The controvers­ies are also an indication of the toxic divisions on the Left, and in particular within the Labour Party, about gender issues. After all, much to the dismay of some Labour MPs (let alone the rest of us) Sir Keir Starmer refused to say in March during a radio interview whether a woman can have a penis.

Hadley Freeman is no rabblerous­er. In an article for the online publicatio­n UnHerd in February — subsequent­ly published in the Mail — she calmly laid out her reservatio­ns about the excesses of the trans lobby, and wrote ‘ that for the first time in my 20-plus years of being a liberal journalist, I felt completely isolated’.

In a later piece for the same publicatio­n, she criticised ‘trans activists — and, most of all, [the LBGT lobby group] Stonewall — [for] pushing far beyond civil rights for trans people and insisting instead on unpopular and unworkable policies, such as trans women in sport, child transition and [opposition to] any open acknowledg­ement of female biology’.

Now I realise that most of us are mystified by the sometimes hysterical debate about an issue that seems peripheral to our everyday lives. But for a highly vocal minority, Hadley Freeman might as well have been lighting the touchpaper to the bonfire of their most cherished beliefs.

Prominent amongst them was Owen Jones, a trans-rights activist who is a columnist on the Guardian, where he is held in unparallel­ed esteem by the aforementi­oned editor, Katharine Viner (who, by the way, recently married BBC presenter Adrian Chiles).

Very many Mail readers will be unaware of Jones’s existence, but he is a significan­t figure. In fact, with his one million Twitter followers and his successful YouTube channel, this profession­al pugilist is one of the most influentia­l people on the Left.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips has amusingly likened this former spear-carrier of Jeremy Corbyn’s to ‘a noisy, over-excited child who’s had too much sugar’. That is a rather gentle appreciati­on. His detractors regard the pint- sized polemicist with a mixture of fear and loathing.

But he’s clever and fluent and quick on the draw, and has used these attributes to his advantage on social media, where he expertly whips up his not usually very reflective followers, and sprays his critics with vitriol.

One of his occasional targets is the BBC, which he chooses to view as a reactionar­y outpost of the Conservati­ve Party. Some of us see that as an eccentric standpoint, to put it mildly.

Jones has not yet responded on Twitter to Freeman’s resignatio­n, though he has lashed out at her as a colleague on that platform in the past. But there seems little doubt he has been instrument­al in fostering a culture at the Guardian which she, with others, found intolerabl­e.

He has attacked several female Guardian journalist­s on social media over what he regards as their transphobi­c opinions without ever attracting any public censure from his indulgent editor. I’ve little doubt that on any other newspaper he would have been sacked.

His first major fight was with feisty fellow columnist Suzanne Moore more than two years ago. In March 2020, Jones was one of 338 Guardian Media Group employees (many working in America or Australia, and often not as journalist­s) who wrote a letter of complaint to Viner in

‘Jones is regarded with a mix of fear and loathing’

‘He sprays critics with vitriol on social media’

response to a column by Moore which they deemed anti-trans.

Eight months later, Moore resigned, saying she felt ‘bullied and betrayed’ by her colleagues, who had reacted to her column standing up for women ‘as if it was Mein Kampf’.

Owen Jones later tweeted: ‘Suzanne Moore wasn’t targeted or bullied, and nobody tried to get her fired — yet she’s been able to pose as a free speech martyr silenced by the misogynist mob.’ For her part, Moore described Jones in one of several articles about the contretemp­s as a ‘twerp’.

Another woman journalist targeted by Jones was Sarah Ditum, a freelancer who writes for the Guardian. In August 2021, Jones denounced her to his Twitter followers as ‘cruel’, ‘ an unpleasant weird person’ and an ‘anti-trans activist’.

Ditum’s ‘sin’ in Jones’s eyes was to have written a seemingly inoffensiv­e article in the Times about the late author Terry Pratchett and an odd dispute regarding where he might, or might not, have stood on transgende­r rights.

Sarah Ditum complained to Viner about Jones’s attack. Catherine Bennett, a columnist on the Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, also complained that she had been bullied on social media by Jones and others after writing a piece about maintainin­g women’s rights.

An independen­t investigat­or was brought in by Viner. A copy of the report was leaked to Private Eye. It found that Jones had breached social media guidelines and that ‘ his use of language had been personalis­ed and demonstrat­ed a lack of profession­alism’.

Nonetheles­s, the irrepressi­ble troublemak­er gleefully tweeted: ‘It is completely and utterly untrue that I was found guilty of bullying anyone at the Guardian.’ This is strictly correct, but he was undoubtedl­y criticised in the report. Despite its perennial insistence on political transparen­cy, the Guardian has not published it.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Jones’s characteri­stically self

righteous and unapologet­ic response. What is astonishin­g is that his protector, Katharine Viner, didn’t publicly rebuke him.

Nor did she upbraid him when he laid into the Observer ( of which she is editor- in- chief). Jones denounced it on Twitter as being ‘ on the wrong side of history’ after it had published a leader on trans issues which didn’t meet with his approval.

Why does Katharine Viner put up with Owen Jones? It may be that she agrees with his views about trans rights, and is unwilling to defend the feminist viewpoint of several of her female columnists.

It is also the case that, although Owen Jones is the most prominent champion of trans rights at the Guardian, he is far from being a lone voice. If Viner were to move against him, she might have a revolution on her hands.

During Viner’s seven-year editorship, the Guardian has become the epicentre of fashionabl­e woke thinking — more Left-wing and politicall­y correct than ever, with a growing band of ever younger and increasing­ly strident pundits.

The paper has a new editorial tool called ‘Typerighte­r’ which does not merely correct poor English or bad punctuatio­n but insists on politicall­y correct terminolog­y. The word ‘aboriginal’ is proscribed. Journalist­s are enjoined to write ‘pro-choice’ but never ‘pro-life’.

There is perhaps another even more important reason why Jones is protected. The manic master of social media is simply too powerful to sack. He represents a new species of journalist. For him, the Guardian is merely one of several

‘It’s a row tearing apart the whole of the Left’

media platforms, and not necessaril­y the most important one.

The Guardian’s average daily print sale has dwindled to well below 100,000 copies. The paper no longer releases official circulatio­n figures, presumably out of fear of public embarrassm­ent.

It is now a very successful internatio­nal online newspaper. With his army of Twitter followers, Owen Jones is indispensa­ble — a kind of recruiting sergeant drawing in readers and fomenting controvers­y. Politicall­y, the Guardian increasing­ly aligns with him.

One wonders, though, how long Katharine Viner will be able to continue to patch up the bitter divisions between Jones and beleaguere­d female journalist­s. It is a fissure running through the paper.

The rift over trans issues in the Guardian is of course mirrored in the Labour Party. This is not just a row tearing apart a famous national newspaper. It involves the whole of the Left.

But the stand-off is particular­ly venomous at the Guardian, largely as a result of the influence of Jones, the editor’s aggressive pet. I suspect we have only seen the beginning of this battle.

The Guardian — founded 201 years ago as the Manchester Guardian — used to be a great liberal newspaper. It still has some fine journalist­s. But it is in danger of being taken over by the intolerant, illiberal Hard Left.

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 ?? ?? Controvers­y: There’s a venomous stand-off at the Guardian
Controvers­y: There’s a venomous stand-off at the Guardian
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 ?? ?? Rift: (From left) Editor Katharine Viner and writers Freeman, Moore and Jones
Rift: (From left) Editor Katharine Viner and writers Freeman, Moore and Jones

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