I just happened to take look at the Battle of Ideas debates for 20th/21st Oct and noticed that the on line magazine Spiked seemed to be surprisingly well represented. At least 12 of the speakers are either current or past writers for Spiked. As a comparison the Guardian had 9 speakers. As Spiked is a little known organisation with a right wing contrarian / libertarian agenda, this seems strange but not inconsistent with the concerns raised by commentators like George Monbiot. Writers for ‘Spiked’ have complained that they are unfairly treated by the likes of Monbiot but as an independent observer it does seem strange to me that so many names from such a small publication appear in a set of debates arranged by an organisation that is promoting free and open debate.
The more I peruse the Battle of Ideas web site the more suspicious I become. Speakers from the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and ‘Spiked on line’ dominate the debates. The writing of these same people dominate the suggested reading for the debates. In this example: Not in front of the children: are our kids oversexualised? , of eight articles in the suggested reading list, three were from Spiked on Line / Institute of Ideas writers all taking the same ideological stance.
The Institute of Ideas and Spiked on Line clearly have an ideological agenda which is fair enough. But is their influence on the Battle of Ideas clear to all the attendees and speakers at the debates? I suspect not.
When I look in detail at the content of items in ‘Battle of Ideas – Hot off the press‘ I cannot avoid the impression that there is an agenda to promote a particular set of ideas without this being made explicit. Is this appropriate for a conference encouraging open debate?
Oh, and finally, it seems as if the ‘Battle of Ideas’ has an obsessive concern for the freedom of smokers but conversely little concern for the freedom of parents to bring up children in the absence of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.
Am I being paranoid? Anyone prepared to agree or disagree with my observations??
Final Conclusion I did not attend the 20/21 Oct Battle of Ideas but did follow the Twitter Feed. From this admittedly weak evidence it appeared that there were some interesting debates and many participants enjoyed the event. However the Tweets from the plenary indicated that this was first and foremost an opportunity for Furedi, Hume, Fox, et al to promote their idiosyncratic neoelibertarian views on freedom. Their influence pervaded the two days. I will follow future debates with renewed interest.
Here is the list of those I identified as being linked to Spiked that were speaking at the weekend’s debates (there may be more):
Duleep Allirajah, sports columnist, spiked; ‘long-suffering’ Crystal Palace fan
Tim Black, editor, spiked Review of Books; journalist, spiked
David Bowden, coordinator, UK Battle Satellites; poetry editor, Culture Wars; TV columnist, spiked
Neil Davenport, writer; head of sociology, JFS Sixth Form Centre; contributor, spiked
Claire Fox, director, Institute of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze
Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury; author,Wasted, Politics of Fear and On Tolerance: in defence of moral independence
Ann Furedi, chief executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service
Helene Guldberg, director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood and Just Another Ape?
Patrick Hayes, journalist and political commentator, spiked; columnist, Huffington Postand Free Society
Mick Hume, editor-at-large, spiked; author, There Is No Such Thing As A Free Press …and we need one more than ever
Rob Lyons, deputy editor, spiked; writer on science and risk; author, Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder
Brendan O’Neill, editor, spiked; author, Can I Recycle My Granny and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas