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Ministers have dismissed calls to sack housing tsar Sir Roger Scruton despite fresh revelations that he once said the neo-fascist National Front party was an “egalitarian” movement.
Professor Scruton, who was unveiled last week as the chair of a new public body to champion “beautiful” British buildings, is already under fire for his views on rape, homosexuality and anti-semitism.
But Labour MPs renewed calls for his dismissal after HuffPost UK unearthed his description of the National Front (NF) – an openly racist party that rose to national prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.
The party was “an egalitarian and populist movement, hostile to constitutional government and to traditional authority, fired by ideology and by a spurious search for a common purpose”, Scruton wrote in an article in The Times newspaper in 1983.
The article was published just months after the National Front had pledged to ban all non-white immigration and to introduce ‘phased repatriation’ of minority ethnic communities if it won power.
The professor had also argued that it was “absurd” to depict the NF as a party of the far right, claiming that its views placed it more firmly on the left of the political spectrum.
“I constantly come across people who show no other signs of being mentally retarded … who nevertheless solemnly subscribe to the view that on the ‘far right’ of political opinion lies fascism, and on the far left communism,” he wrote at the time.
Sir Roger’s defenders pointed out that he did not think that ‘egalitarian’ was a compliment and showed no sympathy for the National Front.
But Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy told HuffPost UK: “Roger Scruton’s description of an overtly racist party such as the National Front as ‘egalitarian’ is yet more evidence of why he is unfit to serve as a government adviser.
“It displays either an immense ignorance or worse contempt for the minorities that were hounded and persecuted by the National Front during the 1980s. The National Front was only egalitarian for white people.”
But when the issue was raised in an urgent Commons question, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire rejected calls to sack Scruton and made a staunch defence of his appointment.
Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, Andrew Gwynne, said: “Communities are more than just bricks and mortar and planning processes - they are about people, people from diverse backgrounds.”
Gwynne demanded to know if Brokenshire agreed with the academic when he had suggested that homosexuals had an ‘obssession with the young’.
He also demanded to know if Scruton’s remarks about the National Front were “acceptable” in the eyes of the minister.
Backed by a string of Tory MPs, Brokenshire insisted that while he did not agree with all of the professor’s “strong and controversial views”, he had made “a huge contribution to public debate” and was “uniquely qualified” for his post.
But the Communities Secretary did say that Scruton had accepted “he got it wrong” on homophobia in 2010.
“It’s part of this public debate that leading intellectuals are entitled to explore ideas and change their minds where necessary,” he said.
The National Front was later replaced by the British National Party (BNP) as the foremost far-right group in the UK.
The NF never had any elected representatives, apart from a handful of councillors who defected from other parties. Even during its heyday, it gained just 190,000 votes when it stood 303 candidates in the 1979 general election.
In the Times article he also said that fascists had shown popular support in the past.
“Whereas fascist governments have come to power with extensive popular support, and occasionally renounced power in favour of constitutional government, communist governments have almost always gained power by a coup d’état, and have never peacefully relinquished it.”
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire is due to speak alongside Scruton at an event on Wednesday hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank.
Scruton was knighted in the 2016 Birthday Honours for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”.
Within days of the Government announcing his new post, it emerged that the academic had described homosexuality as ‘not normal’ and said Islamophobia was a ‘propaganda word’.
He had written a 2008 piece for the Telegraph in which he said: “Every now and then, however, we wake up to the fact that, although homosexuality has been normalised, it is not normal.”
Buzzfeed News has revealed that Sir Roger in 2005 called date rape a “supposed crime” and dismissed sexual harassment as “impoliteness” and advances “made by the unattractive”.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government again defended Scruton’s appointment, claiming due diligence was conducted beforehand.
It stated that “as a long-standing public intellectual, has strong views on a number of issues”.
“He received a knighthood in 2016 and advised the Coalition government on design. His commitment to driving quality in the built environment is well known and he has published extensively on architecture and place, which makes him an excellent candidate for the unpaid chairmanship of the Building Better, Building Beautiful commission.”
Last week, Sir Roger said he was “offended and hurt” by suggestions he was Islamophobic and said “nothing could be further from the truth”.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.