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CANCELLED: It's happened to cartoonist for the Communist Morning Star and gay pride parade organiser

The Chinese used to have a brutal remedy for those who transgressed the teachings of Chairman Mao. 

The rebels were dragged to so-called ‘struggle sessions’ where they were subjected to vicious abuse from an audience of true believers.

Offenders who failed to give grovelling apologies for their misguided views were, at the very least, shunned by society. In other words, ‘cancelled’.

The online mob so keen to erase Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling for taking a stand on transgender politics now uses a similarly ugly tactic to silence dissenters. Never mind the subtleties of Rowling’s case, denouncing her is all that counts.

What does it feel like to find yourself at the bottom of an internet 'pile-on'? The Mail on Sunday spoke to some of the victims of 'cancel culture' to find out [File photo]

What does it feel like to find yourself at the bottom of an internet ‘pile-on’? The Mail on Sunday spoke to some of the victims of ‘cancel culture’ to find out [File photo]

The trans debate is only one front in a cultural war between strident activists – many of them Left-wing – and those who dare to disagree with them. Other recent battlegrounds have included race, Brexit and immigration. 

Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union, who receives daily requests from people who have been – or fear they will be – ‘cancelled’, compares the prevailing atmosphere to some of history’s darkest episodes.

‘What’s disturbing about cancel culture is that we’ve seen it so many times before – in 17th Century Salem, in Paris after the French Revolution, in America during the McCarthy era, in China in the 1960s,’ he said. 

‘It’s as if a group of people are re-enacting some of the worst moments in human history, but because they’re not actually killing anyone they think it’s okay.’

But what does it feel like to find yourself at the bottom of an internet ‘pile-on’? The Mail on Sunday spoke to some of the victims of ‘cancel culture’ to find out.

The left-wing cartoonist

Civil servant Stella Perrett had supplied edgy cartoons for the Communist Morning Star newspaper for years until February 2020 when she found that being on the Left is no protection against cancellation. 

A lifelong feminist, she had strong views about ‘self-identifying’ trans women being allowed into female-only spaces such as domestic violence refuges and toilets.

She wanted to highlight the dangers of the ‘pledge’ by three women candidates in the Labour leadership contest backing self-identification to be enshrined in law, so she drew a cartoon of a crocodile sliding into a bathing pool and telling several worried newts: ‘Don’t worry your pretty little heads! I’m transitioning as a newt!’

Ms Perrett, 60, also included a note for publication explaining that when she was a girl, she was convinced that she was really a boy, but realises now it was just a phase. 

Civil servant Stella Perrett had supplied edgy cartoons for the Communist Morning Star newspaper for years until February 2020 when she found that being on the Left is no protection against cancellation

Civil servant Stella Perrett had supplied edgy cartoons for the Communist Morning Star newspaper for years until February 2020 when she found that being on the Left is no protection against cancellation

She wondered whether in the present climate she would have been encouraged to change sex, with disastrous consequences.

The Morning Star didn’t run her note, but it did publish the cartoon – and faced a ferocious backlash led on social media by Guardian columnist Owen Jones, who described it as ‘vicious’.

Others joined the fray, including members of trade unions who bankroll the Morning Star, which has a dwindling circulation of a few thousand copies. Without informing Ms Perrett – who is disabled by a condition called Erb’s palsy – the Morning Star immediately published an apology, but some of the bigger unions, including Unison, were unhappy even after that. 

A lifelong feminist, she had strong views about 'self-identifying' trans women being allowed into female-only spaces such as domestic violence refuges and toilets

A lifelong feminist, she had strong views about ‘self-identifying’ trans women being allowed into female-only spaces such as domestic violence refuges and toilets

According to some insiders, there was even talk of pulling the plug on the ailing newspaper, so within days came a much longer 600-word apology to its readers and a promise to the unions behind the scenes not to use Ms Perrett again.

A phone call from the police followed after a ‘hate crime’ was reported and recorded, but the police confirmed yesterday that no further action was taken.

Then, someone in the PCS civil servants’ union, for which Ms Perrett was an unpaid official, started baying for her to be kicked out of her post. She was summoned to a disciplinary hearing.

‘I was close to retirement, and while I loved my union work, I just decided to stand down,’ Ms Perrett told The Mail on Sunday.

‘The whole thing was tremendously stressful. I felt very let down by the paper and by the union. They both threw me under the bus.

‘Cartoons are supposed to be edgy – even offensive – to provoke debate, but these days some people seem to want to stifle views which are different from their own.’ The Morning Star declined to comment.

The radio talk show host

Manx Radio presenter Stuart Peters was last month suspended, following an argument with a listener on-air during which the broadcaster said he had not benefited from white privilege.

Manx Radio presenter Stuart Peters was last month suspended, following an argument with a listener on-air during which the broadcaster said he had not benefited from white privilege

Manx Radio presenter Stuart Peters was last month suspended, following an argument with a listener on-air during which the broadcaster said he had not benefited from white privilege

It followed a blog post by Mr Peters, 65, in which he had stated ‘white lives matter’ in response to the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests. 

He said his suspension, following complaints from 13 people but also messages of support from 27 listeners, amounted to an ‘Orwellian attempt at mind and speech control’.

A few weeks later, he was cleared by the Isle of Man’s Communications Commission, which said that while it considered his comments insensitive, they were not made to ‘stir up racial hatred’ and did not breach its broadcasting code. Mr Peters returned earlier this month, but in a somewhat muzzled form, with the phone-in section of his show voluntarily removed.

He said: ‘I believe that the vast majority of people are kind, considerate and open-minded, and I fully intend to ensure that their voices are heard.

‘But I will not expose myself, Manx Radio or anyone else to the comments and abuse of the last three weeks, and have asked the station to remove the live phone-in element of my show’.

The gay pride parade organiser

Charlie Shakespeare had his plans for a virtual gay pride parade earlier this year torpedoed because he had retweeted statements from Nigel Farage and free speech campaigner Toby Young. 

Left-wing activists led by Labour’s diversity adviser announced a boycott when anonymous Twitter posts revealed he was a Tory supporter who had called for a ‘clean-break Brexit’.

Linda Riley, the publisher of Diva magazine, who was appointed as an LGBT+ adviser by Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, told event planners: ‘My brand will not be associated with anybody who RT’s [retweets] Toby Young and Nigel Farage.’

Riley subsequently wrote in Diva that this was the ‘deal-breaker’ but that she had other concerns.

Mr Shakespeare said: ‘Once the event was derailed, we did not receive promised sponsorship money and so our own funds, which we had put into the event to that point, were lost.’

His employers at a children’s theatre in South London also received emails calling on them to sack him, but refused.

He said: ‘We tried to create an uplifting event, which would raise funds for charity, with acts putting in hours of work.

‘We’ll never know what we might have achieved because cancelling me was far more important to them than the happiness of the LGBT+ community I had put hours of work into representing.’

The free speech academic

Dr Adam Perkins, who specialises in the neurobiology of personality, was looking forward to addressing guests at his university, King’s College London, on the subject of free speech, but the event two years ago was postponed after organisers said his security could not be guaranteed.

An earlier controversial lecture had been abandoned when it was disrupted by demonstrators, and while a new date was offered, Dr Perkins was not available and the lecture never took place.

King’s, dubbed ‘Cancel College’ by one of its academics in a recent anonymous article for The Critic magazine, has been accused of becoming a particularly ‘woke’ institution.

In a book entitled The Welfare Trait, Dr Perkins had argued that children whose families depend on benefits tend to be less motivated and more resistant to employment than their parents.

He recommended that policies should be altered so the welfare state did not encourage families in disadvantaged households to have more children.

His views sparked complaints to his employers, a response that Dr Perkins says is a favoured route for cancellation.

‘Since my book came out, there have been five separate complaints alleging, for example, that I possess ‘a small narrow mind’ or have ‘contempt’ for working class people,’ he said.

‘The unfortunate truth is that scientists like me are permitted to toil away in peace, provided our findings are restricted to obscure journals, but the moment we publicly blaspheme we are targeted by the Witchfinder Generals of the academy. 

To be fair to King’s, the fact I still have a job there despite multiple attempts by the liberal lynch-mob to get me fired shows that it does actually stand up for academic freedom. The same can’t be said of other universities, which have caved in and fired non-PC academics after campaigns by online mobs of Left-wingers.’

A King’s College spokesman, said: ‘We take our own commitments to freedom of expression seriously. Universities in particular have a unique challenge to create environments in which open and uncensored debate from all sides… can take place without fear of intimidation and within the framework of the law.

‘We work hard to meet these responsibilities and have not cancelled any events.’

The Twitter row lecturer

Dr Mike McCulloch found himself under investigation by his employers at the University of Plymouth for ‘liking’ tweets saying that ‘all lives matter’ and ‘gender is real’ on his Twitter account.

The PhD physics lecturer made clear that ‘opinions are mine & not those of my employer’, but this did not satisfy those angry at his dissent from the liberal academic orthodoxy.

Earlier this month, the 51-year-old former Labour Party member was summoned to a hearing after a colleague sent copies of his Twitter feed to his bosses.

‘I was reported to the equalities team over tweets I’d liked, including the ‘all lives matter’ one and another opposing mass immigration,’ said Dr McCulloch, who has worked at the university for a decade. ‘I was told there would be an investigation by a senior colleague with a panel, and I could feel my career slipping away.

‘I could sense they were going to ask me to promise not to express my political views on Twitter, and I don’t like people telling me what I can say or think, and I would have had to say no.’

His ordeal ended when the Free Speech Union found a lawyer for Dr McCulloch who pointed out that universities are required to protect the right to freedom of speech of their staff under the Human Rights Act 1998.

‘When the lawyer wrote to the university to ask which rule I’d actually broken, they dropped the case the next day,’ said the academic. ‘It’s very sinister if people are now telling me what I am allowed to ‘like’.

‘It seems it is possible for a single anonymous person anywhere in the world to destroy somebody’s career. Our whole society is becoming hysterical, which is a very dangerous thing’.

The University of Plymouth said it ‘fully upholds freedom of speech and academic freedom’.

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