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Scruton sacked as chair of beauty watchdog over ‘unacceptable comments’

Roger scruton shutterstock 1098445052
  • 16 Comments

Roger Scruton has been sacked from his role as chair of the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission following controversy over ‘unacceptable’ comments about Islam and Chinese people

The government confirmed this afternoon (10 April) that the traditionalist philosopher had been dismissed from his role as chairman of the beauty watchdog with ’immediate effect’.

It follows criticism of remarks Scruton made in an interview with the New Statesman, in which he repeated controversial views on philanthropist George Soros, who has been attacked by Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

‘Anybody who doesn’t think that there’s a Soros empire in Hungary has not observed the facts,’ he said, adding that Hungarians were ‘extremely alarmed by the sudden invasion of huge tribes of Muslims from the Middle East’.

He then said Islamophobia was ‘invented by the Muslim Brotherhood in order to stop discussion of a major issue’.

Commenting in the interview on the rise of China, he said: ’each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing’.

His comments on Islamaphobia were immediately condemned by the Muslim Council of Britain as ‘deeply disturbing’. 

The Council said: ’The normalisation of such Islamophobic ideas, which are used by terrorists, is dangerous, and it is even more worrying that his appointment and views have been previously defended by senior Conservatives, including a government minister.’

Following his comments, the government came under pressure from Tory MPs to sack him from the commission. 

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat told BuzzFeed News: ’Antisemitism sits alongside racism, anti-Islam, homophobia, and sexism as a cretinous and divisive belief that has no place in our public life and particularly not in government.’

Scruton has faced calls for his sacking before when a video emerged of a public speech in 2005 in which he said there was no such crime as date rape and described sexual harassment as merely ‘sexual advances made by the unattractive’. He had also written that gay adoption was ‘not normal’.

However, he was defended by the housing secretary, James Brokenshire, who at the time said he was the ‘right man for the job’ and that has character had been ‘smeared’.

’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’, he said.

AHMM’s Paul Monaghan, architect and specialist adviser to the commission, said he was sorry to hear of Scruton’s dismissal, but had not read the New Statesman article.

‘The research part of the commission’s work was going well and a wide range of views had been harnessed by Roger,’ he said. ‘I think the Commission’s report was due towards the end of the year and I guess that it’s still possible to hit that deadline.’

Monaghan said he had met with Scruton and others involved in the commission’s work only last week – the fourth such meeting.

‘My own experience of Roger was that he was really open to suggestions and would listen to people and was learning about different kinds of architecture. The quality of people on the panel shows that it can improve the quality of the planning process, towns, cities and places.’

Asked if he would like to see an architect appointed as a replacement for Scruton, Monaghan said he’d rather see someone more ‘objective’. ‘Personally I don’t think it should be someone from our world,’ he said.

Fellow specialist advisor to the commission Sunand Prasad, a former RIBA president, called Scruton’s comments ‘shocking’ and said the government had no choice but to sack him.

He said: ‘The work of the Commission has been going very well and [Scruton] has been open and inclusive and has not shown any prejudiced or unreasoned thoughts as far as its work is concerned.

‘I thought hard about joining the commission but it has been very collegiate and structured. It’s been a big and wide-ranging discussion, not just about architecture but about the space between buildings, about economics, land and finance. Roger is a gifted chair. It’s tragic that he has these views.’

A government spokesperson said: ’Professor Sir Roger Scruton has been dismissed as Chairman of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission with immediate effect, following his unacceptable comments.

’A new chair will be appointed by the Secretary of State, to take this important work forward, in due course.’

  • 16 Comments

Readers' comments (16)

  • An accident waiting to happen. Intelligence is not the same as judgment.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    Why is everyone so scared of contrarian views. I don't really care what it is claimed he has said, what he inferred, what people decided he meant, which people third parties might have felt could have been offended by his comments, or whoever is actually offended. If you don't like what he said, then you can ignore him or you can confront him with your own opinions.
    If it turns out one, a few, or lots of people agreed with him (who knows), then you might be the one out of step. How will you know to adjust your views if you don't witness the debate.
    If everyone has to have identical views or only one basic view within a subjectively narrow range, what hope is there for any of us. That narrow range will eventually strangle you.

    I would far rather everyone spoke from their gut, and had to defend their opinions against anyone who disagrees.

    In most other cultures around the world, there is nothing people like doing more than to have a good argument about everything. Only in the new, pathetic West, are we scared of dis-harmony.
    How primitive are we, and how primitive have our universities become where nothing is allowed to disturb shallow feelings of beauty, harmony and mediocrity.

    Can only beautiful people, inside and out, serve on beautiful building commissions?

    Fin de siècle.

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  • Chris Roche

    Roger Scruton's appointment was a surprise, whereas his sacking for expressing inappropriate views was not.
    No doubt ARB did not hold him accountable for describing himself as an Architect, and no doubt the minister responsible for his appointment, is no longer defending the indefensible.

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  • A rare good decision from this government removing a divisive figure who had made many public statements demonstrating intolerant views against sections of society.

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  • Yasmin Shariff

    Scruton is expressing a prejudice inherent in today's homophobic, xenophobic and profit motivated culture. The Building Beautiful Commission with its token architectural advisor is doing little more than wallpapering over the obscenities of housebuilders. A new chair won't fix the problem. It is rather like getting a diyer to do heart surgery and then slapping paint on the cadaver to make it look pretty. How about a Ministry of Housing and Local Communities that actually has architectural teams planning and designing neighbourhoods where race, gender and the rich diversity of life and people can be nurtured and flourish. Time to quarterise the BBCommission with its colonial class-ridden phobias of the super privileged and over turn the prejudice that excludes architects and people with roots in non-western cultures. Resurrecting the Architects and Building Branch would be a good start.

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  • McKenzie Architects are correct.
    This is basically oppression of free speech. And we should all know where that slippery slope has lead in the past. Tyrannical regimes that in the last century killed over 250m people. Who is to judge and how are the boundaries between what’s "acceptable" and "unacceptable" defined. That’s a very dangerous one to attempt to answer.
    This is not hateful speech.
    His statement about the Muslim Brotherhood is factually correct. His statement about Hungary, Soros and Victor Orban is factually correct. His statement about the Chinese is an amusing personal point of view that can be accepted or discarded without having to be “triggered” or "offended".
    Freedom of Speech is not just another principle. It's the mechanism by which we keep our psyches and our societies organized, and we have to be unbelievably careful about infringing upon that.
    The generally negative comments represent an elitist media caste that is obstructing a great populist revolution. This caste is spectacularly ignorant of what constitutes a progressive civilisation. They reduce human interaction to tedious name-calling between the “woke” and the “red-pilled”, awake to the truth of reality.
    It cannot be said too often that the first amendment to the United States constitution was adopted with the explicit purpose of protecting minority opinion. Though we have no such jurisprudential protection in Britain, and we – like most democratic societies – curtail speech that is libellous, incites imminent violence or whips up racial hatred, our inherited presumption in favour of free expression is more important than ever. A pluralistic, diverse society needs more free speech, not less. It needs fewer safe spaces and bans, and more civility and resilience.
    Now, I know what some of you are thinking: what right does a white, middle-class, straight, cis male like Scruton have to say anything about this? And the answer is: he should say what he likes, within the law, and so should you.
    Object that “speech is violence”, and I reply: tell that to the 262 reporters who, according to the Committee To Protect Journalists were imprisoned last year – a record high. It has become fashionable to claim that the wrong kind of words can cause damage to our “neural circuitry”. To which I say – really? Are we really going down the road where speech is included in the same category as fists and batons? Because once you allow that philosophical elision, you essentially ditch the Enlightenment – which, speaking for myself, I still find quite handy to have about the place.
    Of all the delusions that grip our fractious era, one of the worst is the confident belief that greater restriction of speech will necessarily serve progressive ends. I see no logic in that whatsoever. Everyone finds something objectionable or upsetting. It would be a moment of maximum peril if the primary test applied to expression became its capacity to offend. Why assume that those setting the rules would necessarily support the powerless or the disenfranchised? The injunction “You can’t say that” leads just as plausibly to Margaret Atwood’s Gilead or to Oceania.
    To be a citizen is to engage, and as an intellectual Scruton is a model of that engagement. Unless you believe that history has a self-evident direction – and it really doesn’t – you must accept that almost all progress is achieved by the hard grind of negotiation, tough debate and busy pluralism. The aphasia of “no-platform” and the bedlam of the digital mob add nothing to the mix. To quote the great African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates: let them talk.

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  • The thought police .. continuing its march through freedom of thought, speech, and democracy.

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  • While I am all for free speech if you represent a government as Scrutton did then you have to conform to there basic views, he did not so was rightly removed from his post. He is free to hold his views but they do disqualify him from holding a government position.

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  • Basically, what McKenzie Architects said.

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  • Agree with McKenzie and Atticus. So what if he said something that does not accord with the views of the government wonks. Can he do the job? No problem then.

    Remember those things called debates? Rather than silencing people who don't agree with you, the idea is to use your own reasoned arguments to put your point of view.

    If you do not have any reasoned arguments, then you can resort to the bullying tactic (backed by some draconian and dangerous law made by a minority) of sacking people; putting them in prison; closing newspapers or creating ridiculous 'safe spaces' and warnings of 'trigger points'. Then create a nasty Twitter storm to bring the wrath of the pitchfork waving mob right up to their front door.

    I'm expecting the thought police to hammer on my door at about 4.30 tomorrow morning.

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  • Looking at the roughly even balance above between the anti bigotry brigade and the pro free speech brigade, the on thing that's certain is that Scruton can count himself among the ranks of truly divisive figures of our time.
    And, surely, a red herring in the context of decent architecture.

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  • Felix Mara

    Democracies require free speech thresholds, but a 1mm step is ample.

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  • Gordon  Gibb

    There are some extreme comments from far right architects above, seen by them as normal and apparently justifiable on the basis of a nonsense argument about free speech. It saddens me how much this country has lurched to the right in recent years, as normalised by this nasty Tory government. It is also depressing that the comments above, not in accordance with our code of conduct, are aired by those who think themselves professional. You people really do need to get an education.

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  • Gordon Gibb far right architects? Give me a break there are people expressing there opinions on a subject matter.

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  • In addition to the poinsts Atticus raised, the editor of the New Statesman omitted the full context of what Roger Scruton said in the interview. Clearly referring to the Chinese Communist Party Scruton actually said:

    “They’re creating robots out of their own people by so constraining what can be done. Each Chinese person is a kind of replica of the next one and that is a very frightening thing.”

    That completely changes what he is said to have said, which was an entirely a justifiable statement given the reality of severe and worsening restrictions on freedom of speech,and access to the internet in China.
    Later challenged about the omission, the editor, a typically deceitful extreme left winger, George Eaton, tweeted that he "had to leave the first sentence out of the print edition for reasons of space".

    Yeh, very convincing.

    I thought the creation of this Beauty Watchdog was a strange idea from the beginning and I have no idea what it is supposed to achieve or how, but given that it exists, Scruton should be reinstated immediately and the two weak politically-correct (supposedly conservative) politicians who summarily called for his sacking before hearing Scruton's side of the story, should apologise to him.

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  • '....what it is supposed to achieve....' ?
    Presumably, that the government is 'doing something'.

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