Laurence Fox, a free speech martyr? Pull the other one

Important viewpoints do get silenced in the media—just not the ones represented by Fox and his super-rich backers

February 03, 2024
Outside the Royal Courts Of Justice. Image: PA Images / Alamy
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Is Laurence Fox really the heretic he thinks he is? Image: PA Images / Alamy

Do you worry about your right to speak your mind? Are you constantly biting your lip rather than saying what you think? Are you just dying to use the P word but daren’t because, let’s face it, life in Britain today is like living under Stalin? 

If so, you’ll be devastated by the knock-back Laurence Fox, resting actor and would-be political saviour, received in the libel courts this week. He, like you, is dying to get all that stuff off his chest—but says he can’t. As he tweeted forlornly after the verdict: “We are close… to losing everything which made Britain great. Equality under the law. Policing without fear or favour. Army and navy gone woke. Championing Britain = racist. Loving your country = see above.” The end is nigh. 

Elsewhere on Twitter/X Fox lamented “the ridiculous language policing where it’s ok to shorten. ‘Australian’ to ‘Aussie’ but to shorten ‘Pakistani’ to ‘Paki’ is in some way a mortal sin. Makes zero sense.” 

Nothing about the libel judgment made sense to Fox. It stretches to 41 pages and boils down to this: three people on Twitter/X called Fox a racist: he responded by calling them paedophiles, as well as countersuing for the “racist” jibe. The judge found that Fox had defamed the tweeters while declining to find that it was libellous to call Fox a racist. Three-nil to the non-paedophiles. All clear?

How on earth, I wondered, can Fox possibly afford to play this kind of libel lottery? The answer is: he can’t. In a rambling monologue in the back of a cab back from the court Fox admitted “It’s not my money, thank God.” 

Fox’s generous supporter through his recent life has been one Jeremy Hosking, a multi-multi-millionaire (MMM) City financier who also funds Fox’s diminutive party, Reclaim, having previously sloshed a lot of money towards the Conservatives, Brexit and Nigel Farage. Oh, and he loaned the, um, colourful former Reclaim MP Andrew Bridgen nearly £4.5m to help him get through his own legal squalls involving his brother and the ownership of their potato and vegetable farm. 

In an article in April 2021, Hosking gave a small clue as to why he wanted to subsidise Fox’s new post-acting life. Calling Fox “admirable and courageous,” he hailed his protégé’s “vital agenda of arresting the subversion of Britain’s history, traditions and culture by our universities, woke activists and privileged media outlets such as the BBC.” In another interview Hosking referred to politically correct “storm troopers.” 

Yep, that’s what this breed of MMM really thinks. For this new gang of super-rich culture warriors, the gravest threat in the world today is not, it seems, poverty, or disease, or climate change—but “woke”. 

Meanwhile there is Sir Paul Marshall, another mega-wealthy City figure who is spaffing money at GB News (former home for Fox until he and fellow free speech martyr Dan Wootton went too far) and the UnHerd website, and who now has his eyes on the Telegraph.

A contested libel trial can easily land the losing party a bill for more than £2m. Why the burning need to establish the right to call someone who isn’t one a paedophile?

I am struggling to see who these voiceless people are—the ones who’ve supposedly been silenced by the woke storm troopers. Want to sound off about trans issues? I can introduce you to five or six editors who will roll out the red carpet. Keen to rant about immigration? Rant away, the floor is yours.

Burning to fulminate about wokery in general? Take your pick from an obliging array of newspapers, magazines, podcasts—and, now, TV channels.

Is it a bit “strong” for the Mail or Spectator? Then there’s a warm welcome at a splintered variety of websites which seemingly delight in the angry, the contrarian—and, sometimes, the outright bonkers. TheArticle is at the milder end; Spiked is at the puce-faced other extreme, with UnHerd, Quillette and the Critic floating in the middle. Fox has featured in, or been defended by, most of them. Call an innocent person a paedophile? Brendan O’Neill has got your back on Spiked. Julia Hartley-Brewer will invite you for a softball chat on Talk TV.

There is, in other words, an overflowing glut of anti-wokery, some of it millionaire-funded, much of it in what is sometimes derided as the billionaire press. It really is hard to see Laurence Fox as the Saint Sebastian of free speech.

There’s an argument that the hesitancy, the self-censorship, the lack of willing commissioning editors lies elsewhere. You don’t find many people in the mainstream media being given space or airtime to argue that Israel is engaged in a form of genocide. A sympathetic take on a young trans teenager struggling with their identity? A cogent defence of equality, diversity and inclusion training? A reasoned case for the benefits of migration? Warm words for climate change protestors?

You’ll find commissioning editors strangely unresponsive. 

Laurence Fox would have you believe these are liberal orthodoxies—a tyranny so powerful and prevalent that it needs brave truth-tellers like him to stand up and be counted.

As if to prove the point, he apparently performed a Harrow version of the All Blacks’ haka to an astonished court. The judge drily summarised Fox’s explanation of this as a demonstration of why sportspeople were wrong to take the knee “because it was a gesture of victimhood and meekness where a challenging assertiveness was plainly demanded.”

Multi-multi-millionaires are free to spend their money how they like—and if they want to bolster borderline fruitcake causes, fine. Lucky Laurence to have Jeremy Hosking to bankroll him. Lucky the line-up of GB News presenters to have Paul Marshall pay their mortgages while they metaphorically perform the haka in a victimised culture war pantomime.

But let’s not fall for the narrative that they are brave heretics—the Galileos of our age. Nor are Hosking and Marshall up there with the Medicis or Andrew Carnegie as world-class philanthropists. It’s a parable for our age—but not the one Lozza wants you to think.