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Zoe Williams wheeled out to complete the hatchet job on Sir Roger – full transcript


This is the full transcript of the BBC Radio 4,‘Today’ programme interview with Zoe Williams, 26 April 2019, which started at 8.51am

JUSTIN WEBB: Let us turn back to something we were talking about earlier on in the programme, at some length, it is fair to say, with Sir Roger Scruton, because Sir Roger Scruton was interviewed by the New Statesman, he, of course, is the Right-wing philosopher, the New Statesman did their interview with him, it cost him his unpaid government job. He says that that is unfair, actually rather more than unfair, and he also said that the storm around him particularly affects people on the Right, and it’s become difficult to express views on the Right that are very widely held. Let’s talk to Zoe Williams, the Guardian columnist. Good morning to you.

ZOE WILLIAMS: Good morning.

WEBB: First of all, on the . . . we played a clip of the interview, and you heard the interviewer George Eaton sort of encouraging Roger Scruton not, not, not challenging him at all . . .

WILLIAMS: That’s . . .

WEBB: It, it has a sound, doesn’t it, as if someone is being entrapped, but in a way it’s just the way that you work, when you’re interviewing someone for a paper?

WILLIAMS: It’s interesting, because broadcast journalists are there to challenge the interviewee, right? So they say something and you . . . you push back, but print journalists are there to get the maximum amount of stuff out the interviewee. So, you kind of give them enough rope to hang themselves. And I don’t mean that in a dishonest way.

WEBB: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: I mean you wouldn’t . . . you would never challenge somebody on their views in a print interview, because you want them to get to the point where they’re most clear and most distilled on what they think. So, you know, the number of times I’ve sat through . . . (fragment of word, unclear) through a kind of sexist rant, just going, ‘Yes, yes, that sounds goo— that sounds great’ I would never say, ‘That sounds really sexist,’ because it will just close them down.

WEBB: Yeah, and you would be embarrassed, potentially, if that tape of . . . the tape of the interview were then just played publicly, kind of (words unclear due to speaking over ‘how it was’?)

WILLIAMS: It’s al— you know, the idea of anybody releasing a tape of you interviewing somebody is just appalling, because you’re there laughing at your own jokes, you know, it’s just awful.

WEBB: On the other hand, what Sir Roger says, and what seems pretty clear from some bits of the tape is that, at least on Twitter, George Eaton did do him, he released stuff selectively, that doesn’t give a proper picture of what he was saying, is that fair?

WILLIAMS: I think the Chinese element of the interview probably was a bit unfair to Roger Scruton, yes.

WEBB: So, we should explain to someone who didn’t hear it . . .

WILLIAMS: (laughs)

WEBB: Is there’s . . . there’s essentially a bit of the interview about China that makes it look as if Roger Scruton is kind of making a racist comment about Chinese people and he says he wasn’t saying that at all, he was saying that the government of China is forcing them all to, to be the same.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean, he’s, he’s talking about, kind of, uniformity and conformity as a result of an authoritarian state, whereas it sounds like he’s saying all Chinese people are the same. But you know, Roger Scruton talks a lot about context and he forgets the context that his own remarks are, kind of, heard in, which is the context of everything else he thinks. He does say a lot of these kind of very flattening generalised . . .

WEBB: (interrupting): So what do you make of his point then, that, that Right-wing people like him are pushed out of the public square, bullied online and bullied off . . . off the airwaves?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, it’s just . . . it’s really extraordinary. You look at . . . so, so Sir Roger Scruton’s defence of his Hungarian point, he said that, you know, he wasn’t saying what he thought about migration to Hungary, he was just representing the views of the erm . . . ordinary Hungarian, when he talked of an invasion of Muslims . . .

WEBB: Hmm.

WILLIAMS: . . . an invasion of . . .

WEBB: Tribes of . . .

WILLIAMS: Tribes of Muslims.

WEBB: Hmm.

WILLIAMS: Now, (fragment of word, unclear) actually, this is just a myth concocted by Orbán in order to demonise foreigners, right? Immigration to Hungary is very low. They have been systematically dehumanised by an incredibly Right-wing government, to the point that they are now interned in camps where, on record, there is not enough food.

WEBB: So your case then . . .

WILLIAMS: So . . .

WEBB: . . . this wasn’t . . .

WILLIAMS: . . . my case is that . . .

WEBB: . . . an ideal interview, but, but what has happened is a revealing of someone rather . . .

WILLIAMS: (speaking over) My, my . . .

WEBB: . . . anything else?

WILLIAMS: My case is that he was talking about what, what looks like a very, very dark far-Right totalitarian state. And he’s . . . and we rely on the mainstream Right to be able to distinguish between a kind of hysterical outburst and an actual threat to democracy and to humanity. And if people like Roger Scruton are going to parrot the views of Orbán and just say, ‘Oh, I was, I was, I was merely representing the views of the ordinary Hungarian.’ That is actually quite dangerous and we should be worried about it. So, you know, I don’t think conservatives are being silenced. I don’t think they should be silenced. But I do think if they say things like that, they deserve to be challenged and if they don’t like to be challenged, that’s, you know, that’s for them to kind of . . . come to terms with.

WEBB: Zoe Williams, thank you. And the whole interview that I did with Sir Roger, 17 minutes of it, we’re going to put out later today on social media. Thank you.

You can listen to the interview here.


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Edited by Kathy Gyngell

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