In defence of Claire Fox

Claire Fox is one of my heroes; one of my favourite people in public life. And she still is.

To see her name being dragged through the mud since she committed to become a Brexit Party candidate for the forthcoming European Parliament elections has been difficult to watch and to bear.

David Aaronovitch started it off with a vituperative column attacking the ‘shadowy past’ of Fox and her colleagues in the old Revolutionary Communist Party who are now involved in the Academy of Ideas and the Spiked online magazine.

Nick Cohen (an old lefty hero of mine) picked up the thread, denouncing her as “one of the most immoral people in public life”.  Sunder Katwala of the ‘independent, non-partisan thinktank’ British Future has been running some huge Twitter threads attacking her and her candidacy. Fellow tweeter Otto English has also been running a relentless Twitter campaign against her. Newspapers and broadcasters have picked up and reported it.

The main and seemingly most substantive accusation being made against her is her support for the IRA.

I'm not altogether clear about this, but the circumstantial evidence is strong.

If it is true, I find it incomprehensible, particularly following the Good Friday Agreement and when set against her admirable belief in and defence of democracy following the Brexit vote. I find it dreadful, awful.

As with Jeremy Corbyn and others in their sympathies for the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah, I have no sympathy with any views like that.

However I would still strongly defend Claire as a person - and as a public figure who deserves our respect.


Some might call it hypocrisy given my condemnation of Islamist sympathisers for example, but I still defend Corbyn and McDonnell’s right to stand and be judged by the electorate (millions of whom are still happy to vote Labour). They are standing to run the country, which is a whole different kettle of fish to these largely symbolic European elections.

More than that, I know that Claire and her colleagues make an important – and overwhelmingly positive – contribution to our public life. They offer cogent, powerful critiques against prevailing orthodoxies which continue to make them enemies, but they stick at it and keep on coming back for more. This is rare - and valuable.

Their commitment to free speech and democracy is crucial in offering alternative views in our dreadfully conformist public sphere, hitting back against the authoritarianism and even totalitarianism of our times. They run the frankly awesome Battle of Ideas in London every year – a huge event where all manner of contentious issues get debated seriously between people of all sorts of viewpoints.

There is a personal angle too. I have skin in this game. It is unlikely that my book The Tribe would ever have been published without Claire taking an interest and supporting me. I will leave readers to judge whether this was a wider service to society, but I think I can safely say that without her my voice would not have been heard even in the limited way it is now. The rest of the left especially had turned a cold shoulder.

My views in the book and elsewhere – on immigration, the environment, climate change, Progress and development – are in many ways the polar opposite to hers. But she has still supported me, as no one else has.

I know there are countless similar stories of her generosity towards others. I have heard many, from people of all sorts of political backgrounds. Few people are more liked and admired by people who know her than Claire – and deservedly so in my view.

Some accuse her Academy of Ideas and Spiked of being cultish.

Having presented my book at the Battle and attended other events of theirs and their affiliates (and now being invited to address this year’s Academy), I’ve never heard a word from anyone telling me what to say or what to think. In fact I’ve found a broad range of views, discussed openly in a way that is unthinkable in most political environments. I’ve never found any of the principals less than polite, intelligent and good company.

With their many events – not just the Battle and the Academy, but smaller debating events in schools and prisons – they do proper work and in doing so make a huge contribution to our public life.

Claire is director of the Academy of Ideas and oversees the lot of it.

For me, when confronted by these running attacks on her, my reaction is this: I disagree vehemently with her on some of the things accused. But this is life. Despite their faults and when you disagree strongly with them, you stand by those who are worth standing by, who deserve your loyalty.

Claire’s denunciators may pose as neutral arbiters overseeing the health of our public sphere. But they have skin in the game too. Sunder and his organisation have done a lot of admirable work, but his political sympathies are obvious from his Twitter feed. British Future is funded by and does work with all sorts of groups who have political commitments, including the European Commission.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but I’ve never seen anything like the campaign Sunder has waged against Claire, from him or anyone else.

This is politics though. It’s a harsh and brutal world.

It’s also an imperfect world, of imperfect, flawed people who get things wrong.

For me, as imperfect people go, Claire Fox is one of the best.

Certainly, if I had a fraction of her courage, commitment and generosity, to people and to worthwhile causes, I’d be a better person than I am. We should be grateful to have her around.


  1. A fine account of a great lady. Hope we see her play a leading role in public life, God knows we need her like in politics.

  2. I am a former British Soldier who served in Northern Ireland at the height of the troubles. We had a lot of sympathy for the Catholic community and felt they were being disenfranchised on votes and opportunities. We also felt that the IRA was not the vehicle to correct this. Claire Fox was in the same mould of Mo Mowlem and through honest speaking was able to articulate the needs of the Catholic community as opposed to the IRA without which there would have been no GFA. To achieve this,Claire has been on a journey from outrage to consensus that the likes of Corbyn and McDonnel claim to have made, but haven't.

  3. I thought Mr Katwala's own image was crafted around him appearing moderate and cuddly? I wonder why he feels so threatened by Ms Fox? Perhaps he fears she may be too effective.

  4. Extremely well said. Very surprised at Nick Cohen.

  5. By supporting the Brexit party and indeed being a Brexit MP Claire Fox is going against the authoritarian even fascistic left who supports the neo liberal Davos man/Goldman Sachs agenda that brexit has so clearly shown them to be in lockstep with.


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