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  Opinion   Columnists  06 Aug 2023  Kishwar Desai | Nigel Farage gets ‘uncancelled’; no such hope for J.K. Rowling

Kishwar Desai | Nigel Farage gets ‘uncancelled’; no such hope for J.K. Rowling

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Aug 7, 2023, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Aug 7, 2023, 12:00 am IST

If the cancel culture becomes a global movement — then one wonders if, one day soon, her books can be even be published without her name?

One high profile author who has become a poster girl for the cancel culture which accompanies any contrary opinion is J.K. Rowling. (File photo: AP)
 One high profile author who has become a poster girl for the cancel culture which accompanies any contrary opinion is J.K. Rowling. (File photo: AP)

The “cancel culture”, dear readers, still prevails. And one wonders if it is a means to focus our attention on a long festering wound, or is it really a blow against free speech? Depends how you look at it, say the wise souls, ducking out of the debate. Because the fall out can seriously impact your life and work.

The issue of transgender rights has become a critical one in UK, even in politics — and one high profile author who has become a poster girl for the cancel culture which accompanies any contrary opinion is J.K. Rowling. For years she was the country’s most celebrated author and the face of a publishing revolution while the Harry Potter series remains a bestseller. But now not only is she often reviled, trolled  and ignored in UK, from across the pond, in the US, comes the news that the Seattle Museum of Pop Culture has maintained an exhibition on the Harry Potter series — but removed all mention of Rowling. Can this be possible? It would be like saying that we can have “Mona Lisa” on display but we cannot ever mention Leonardo Da Vinci actually painted it.

This is a new level for the ‘cancel culture’ which is now separating the work from the creator — saying that these are two separate entities. The exhibition curator is transgender, Chris Moore, who explained in a blog that all mention of J.K. Rowling was removed from the exhibits (which are all based on the Harry Potter series) to “reduce her impact”.

Rowling had been present in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame previously —but as in the UK, the backlash against her has been severe as she has tried to express her opinion that “biological sex” is important and that it is not “people who menstruate” but women. She is unlikely to be a fan of the trend to use “them/us” instead of “he” or “she”.

However, if this latest trend of the cancel culture becomes a global movement — then one wonders if, one day soon, her books can be even be published without her name?

But, the “cancel culture” has spread to banks as well. Coutts is an elite bank. You need to invest £1 million in it or have a balance of £3 million and more to be able to have an account there for a mere £900 annual charge. It is also known to be a Bank for the Royal family. It is just a short distance from Trafalgar Square along the Strand.

Nigel Farage was an unlikely customer of Coutts. His fame rests on being a populist politician identified with the middle classes. It was his campaign to 'Brexit’ as chair of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which made him a personality to be noted. His campaign for UK to leave the European Community was well financed by donors and defeated David Cameron who had opposed Brexit.

Farage has cultivated a personal image of the hard drinking man of the people who hates “foreigners”. He is popular with the tabloids and some recently opened radio stations. Anyway , as it happened, he complained to the media that Coutts had shut his account. Given that his name and deeds divide the country sharply, this caused surprise and mirth. His image was not that of a Coutts client.

Farage is not a man to take being bounced out by his Bank lightly. So he publicised his plight. Initially, it was thought that, like MPs and members of the House of Lords, he was considered a Politically Exposed Person (PEP) and the campaign against terrorism and money laundering was tightening up its rules to filter out the PEPs. Farage said this was an attack on his rights. The story took wings.

At a posh dinner hosted by the BBC, Alison Rose, the chief executive officer of Natwest, a bank that owns Coutts, said to her neighbour Simon Jack, a BBC correspondent, that Farage was booted out because he no longer had the money to be a Coutts client. This was a scoop for Jack so he broadcast it on BBC. Farage, undaunted, asked Coutts for details of his transactions with Coutts, as he was entitled to ask.

This is where the story began to get murky. Had Alison Rose broken the norms of banking etiquette and talked about a client’s bank account? The Natwest Board, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, a former director of the LSE, consulted colleagues and decided Alison Rose had not broken any rules.

Meanwhile, Farage was able to find out that he had been kicked out not for his minimum balance but for his views. Coutts felt Farage was a controversial figure and bad for their image as a bank that embraces diversity (among its very rich clients, of course). When this got out, the story exploded. Natwest had to rely on government support during the 2008 crisis and government still owns 38 per cent of the bank. So the Treasury stepped in along with the Cabinet. Alison Rose, they said, had to go because she had broken rules. But the chairman of Coutts, Peter Pavell, also had to resign for what we Londoners call his 'woke’ attitude. Why should Coutts care about what the views of Farage were — acceptable or not? Farage may be xenophobic and not really upper crust. Even so, he was eligible to be a client.

So he could be taken back as a client. But not all those “cancelled” for their views can be “uncancelled.” Ask J.K. Rowling.

Tags: cancel culture, jk rowling, free speech, nigel farage, transgender rights