In my column in this week’s Spectator I’ve written about my astonishment on discovering that Peter Wilby, the ex-editor of the Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman who joined the pile-on against me when I was cancelled in 2018, has just been convicted of possessing indecent images of children. Here’s how it begins:
According to the ancient proverb, if you sit by the river for long enough you will see the body of your enemy float by. That happened to me earlier this week when I discovered the fate of Peter Wilby, a former editor of the New Statesman and the Independent on Sunday. In 2018, when I was forced to resign from a government job over old tweets, Wilby wrote an article saying my public humiliation had come as no surprise to him. Apparently, I’d made a career out of “denigrating women, homosexuals, disabled people, ethnic minorities and anybody on benefits”, and “disgraced” the memory of my dead father. “At one stage he was more or less addicted to both alcohol and pornography,” he said.
That piece cut me to the quick. If you’re in the process of being cancelled – I ended up having to step down from four more positions that year – you read all your press coverage, desperately hoping someone is going to stick up for you. When I saw my name in the headline of Peter’s diary column in the New Statesman, my spirits soared. In addition to publishing various pieces of mine over the years, he had written a sympathetic article in the Guardian about my efforts to set up a free school. At last, I thought, a senior media figure who’s going to give me a fair hearing. So reading his little sermon was a bitter blow. It wasn’t just because I liked and respected Peter. It was the fact he had known my father, who died in 2002. It was like receiving a judgment from beyond the grave, delivered by proxy. I had “disgraced” him.
You can imagine my astonishment, therefore, when I read last Saturday’s Times: ‘Peter Wilby: former Independent on Sunday editor sentenced over child sex images.’ The article said that 167 indecent images of children were found on his computer, 22 of which were “the most serious kind”. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years. In addition to having to carry out 40 hours of rehabilitation, he is subject to a ten-year sexual harm prevention order and has been placed on the sex offenders register for five years. According to Adam Sprague, of the National Crime Agency: “The material accessed by Wilby and recovered from his computer showed real children being cruelly and sexually abused.”
My initial reaction was one of complete bewilderment. How could this eminent liberal journalist who regularly denounced right-wing sinners from his pulpit in the left-wing media have been harbouring such a shameful secret? When writing about the mote in my eye, why didn’t he pause to examine the beam in his own? It seemed extraordinary that he could have thundered away with such moral righteousness on the very same keyboard he’d been using to access child pornography. I was reminded of Christopher Hitchens’s famous quote about the hypocrisy of conservatives who condemn homosexuality: “Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.”
Perhaps the reason for my surprise is because at some level I still take the left’s virtue-signalling at face value. As Hitchens says, the evangelical preacher who turns out to be a sexual degenerate is a stock character in the pantomime of public life. But for secular holy men like Wilby to have feet of clay always comes as a shock. Not because it’s such a rarity – it isn’t – but because of their elevated social status. As far as the metropolitan elite is concerned, these are the people we’re supposed to take moral instruction from. When they tell us we should have voted Remain or have a moral duty to welcome illegal immigrants, they’re not just demonstrating their superior knowledge but their status as semi-official custodians of public decency.
Worth reading in full.