Housing secretary James Brokenshire has robustly defended Roger Scruton as the ‘right man for the job’ amid calls for him to be sacked from his new role as chair of the government’s beauty watchdog
The writer and philosopher has been at the centre of a media storm over a number of controversial opinions he has made, including that Islamophobia is a ’propaganda word’ and that homosexuality is ‘not normal.’
Scruton also claimed in a public speech in 2005 that there was no such crime as date rape and described sexual harassment as merely ‘sexual advances made by the unattractive’.
He has also faced criticism over comments he made about philanthropist George Soros in a 2014 lecture, where he said: ‘Many of the Budapest intelligentsia are Jewish, and form part of the extensive networks around the Soros empire.’
Shadow housing secretary Andrew Gwynne, who tabled an urgent question in the Commons over Scruton’s appointment to the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission, said his comments were ‘unacceptable’.
He added: ‘If we are going to have a society which welcomes free speech, we should also hold those people to account for what they use this privilege to say.’
But Brokenshire robustly defended Scruton, describing him as a ‘global authority on aesthetics’ and ‘a public intellectual of renown’. He said Scruton’s comments had been taken out of context.
‘I have to say it saddens me that someone who has done so much to champion freedom of speech and freedom of expression should be subject to misinformed ill-judged and very personal attacks of the kind we have seen over the last few days,’ he said.
‘It saddens me that his views have been so misrepresented, and his character has been smeared.’
📺WATCH: This afternoon the Speaker granted me an Urgent Question about the appointment of Sir Roger Scruton to become the Government’s Planning and Design Tsar.— Andrew Gwynne MP (@GwynneMP) November 12, 2018
Tory MPs defended his views because Sir Roger is an ‘intellectual’. I don’t think that remotely makes it ok. pic.twitter.com/0XnlmV2jUF
Gywnne also called for Brokenshire to pull out of a lecture being delivered by Scruton at the Policy Exchange tomorrow night (Wednesday 14).
Labour MP Clive Efford argued that what was at stake was not defending freedom of speech but whether someone who had ‘extreme views’ was suitable for a high-profile public role.
But Tory MPs lined up to praise Scruton, with Conservative former minister Edward Leigh accusing Labour of ‘student union smear tactics to deliberately attack a distinguished philosopher’.
But another Tory former minister, Ed Vaizey, echoed concern raised by architects at the new commission’s emphasis on ‘beautiful’ buildings.
While he defended Scruton’s character, he added: ‘I don’t want him to lead a commission that simply advocates for Neo-Georgian pastiche as a definition of beauty, and I hope the commission will include contemporary architects, women architects and people from BAME backgrounds as well,’ he said.
However former Tory transport minister John Hayes, known for his distaste of contemporary architecture, was overjoyed at the traditionalist’s appointment. ‘Scruton will bring a lively, imaginative, well-researched report which will inform all of our thinking and, my god, we need it after years of dull egalitarian Modernism.’
In a statement last week, Scruton said he was ‘offended and hurt’ by suggestions that he was any way antisemitic or Islamophobic, insisting ‘nothing could be further than the truth’.
He said: ‘If people actually read my comments regarding the interplay between George Soros and Hungary, they will realise they are not in any way anti-Semitic, indeed quite the opposite.
‘My statements on Islamic states points only to the failure of these states, which is a fact.’