Oi, Cummings! Leave those lefty kids alone – The Guardian

For a small fee, the opaquely funded Policy Exchange thinktank will exchange your old worn-out policy for a more rightwing one, chopped out in a pub toilet by co-founder Michael Gove. Nyaaaagh! Gerard Lyons’s uncut analysis of our thriving economic prospects under World Trade Organization tariffs has burned out my septum, and I’ve sneezed snot and blood on to my copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead!! Michael!!! Help me!!!! You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!!!!!

Last week Policy Exchange tried to make liberal higher educational institutions the next bogeypersons in the Rightwing Coup’s culture war, another target in an ongoing parade of necessary phantoms. The EU has been knocked off the top of the list, and the BBC’s head is already on the chopping block, gazing up lovingly into the eyes of its executioner, eager to please until the end, like a stupidly loyal dog.

As other dead cats disappear, it can only be a matter of time before Dominic Cumming’s blunderbuss is aimed at the marsh-dwelling myth of the will-o’-the-wisp, a small burning cloud of glowing methane, known for its leftwing sympathies, and responsible for curdling all the milk, souring all the cheese, and straightening all the bananas.

Meanwhile, Turning Point UK, the British incarnation of a wealthy American rightwing youth organisation, endorsed by the child-friendly Conservative luminaries Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg, is aiming to compile a student snitches’ website listing the dangerous leftwing academics exposing our kids to their anti-racist mathematics and frayed corduroy jackets.

This isn’t a new idea. When I was a leftwing student, I subsidised my full grant via a variety of jobs. I dressed as a monkey to leaflet for a fancy-dress shop, and was beaten soundly in the lane by hooligans to whom a boy dressed as a monkey for money, who just wanted to learn Anglo-Saxon poetry, was some kind of threat. And all through one beautiful and balmy Indian summer 33 years ago my lithe young body carried heavy suitcases up historic staircases for conference attendees at an Oxford college, a memory that now seems like a scene from an unwritten autobiographical novel which, like most autobiographical novels, has no need to exist.

My favourite guests were the ghost hunters from the Society for Psychical Research. One of whom, a hugely likable man I now think must have been the renowned Tony Cornell, told me in the bar about his machine, the Spider (Spontaneous Psychical Incident Recorder), which he hoped would trap ghosts. I began to believe I had retroactively imagined the invention until, halfway through writing this sentence, I used the internet to verify the Spider’s existence, and catapulted myself back through time to haunt my own memories in smaller trousers.

My least favourite conference attendees were the centre-right libertarians of the Freedom Association who, unlike the ghost hunters, didn’t tip me at all, seeing the practice as a socialist intervention in the marketplace. And they hadn’t invented any ghost-hunting machines with cool acronyms either. Founder member Norris McWhirter, who I knew as the boastful statistics goon from the BBC’s Record Breakers, had drawn napkin plans for a self-guided miniature vacuum cleaner, able to de-fluff the belly-buttons of freedom fighters whose attempts to discredit trade unions were hampered by distracting lint-clog. But Tony’s Spider was infinitely superior to the McWanc (McWhirter’s Automatic Navel Cleaner).

In the evenings, wispy-haired McWhirter would hold forth to his followers in the bar. I couldn’t help but overhear the spindly statistician outlining his plans to get sympathetic scholars to help the Freedom Association compile a dossier of students involved with left-leaning causes, which could then be given to potential employers. Drunk and irked I sarcastically interrupted: “Norris. What is the biggest blacklist of left-leaning students that has ever been compiled and how long exactly was it?” McWhirter fixed me with his angry iron gaze, but couldn’t resist an arrogant display of knowledge. “The biggest blacklist of left-leaning students that has ever been compiled is the one I am working on now and it is 43.6 centimetres long,” he declared, “But I think it just got longer by the length of one name. And what is your name?” “Don’t tell him Lee,” piped up Tony from a corner, where he was compiling a dossier of fraudulent mediums to supply to potential ectoplasm. But it was too late. And two years later, my mysteriously rejected application to be the chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers forced me instead into my standup comedy career. And the rest is history.

Why don’t Policy Exchange, Turning Point UK, Toby Young’s X-Men of Shits, and the Freedom Association just set up their own universities, teaching climate-emergency denial, anti-trade union theory, progressive eugenics and political correctness gone mad? Universities are supposed to be leftwing, daddio! And so are students. If you can’t believe naively in the possibility of a better, fairer world as a 19-year-old, when can you? You will have the rest of your life to be an arse, and in the end self-interest and disillusion will make Conservative voters of the best of you. For example, though known today as a white Tory party grandee, in the 1950s Kenneth “Kenny” Clarke was actually a black American jazz drummer, who pioneered the use of ride cymbals and irregular accents, and had an affair with Lenny Bruce’s ex, Annie Ross, before dying of heart failure in Pittsburgh in 1985.

And if I hadn’t lived the charmed life of the standup comedian, clowning around in the same clothes and off-the-peg opinions I sported at 17, I could have been chopping out policies alongside Michael Gove, and campaigning to have my former self retroactively banned for speaking at any venues that receive public subsidy.

Stewart Lee’s Snowflake: Tornado is at London’s Southbank Centre in June and July, and is touring nationally now

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