Sipping a pint of beer while talking passionately about politics, Laurence Fox reminds me of someone I can’t quite put my finger on.
Every word that comes out of his mouth is the launch-pad for a controversial opinion piece.
I pose the actor, best known for his role in the ITV drama series Lewis, a simple question. How does it feel to be the most hated man in Britain?
‘It is a crowded field,’ he laughs.
Sipping a pint of beer while talking passionately about politics, Laurence Fox (pictured) reminds me of someone I can’t quite put my finger on
Indeed, he has become a hate-figure among many since shooting to prominence in January thanks to an appearance as a panellist on BBC1’s Question Time.
During the programme, he disputed the claim that the Duchess of Sussex had been treated in a ‘racist’ way by the British press.
He also clashed with an audience member who called him a ‘privileged white male’.
And last month, he invited more obloquy by launching The Reclaim Party – to fight for freedom of speech, ‘reclaim British values’ and challenge what he regards as a ‘culture war’ taking place in Britain.
Brushing the vitriol aside, he said: ‘You wouldn’t think I was ‘the most hated man in Britain’ if you walked down the street with me. People come up and say, ‘God, that’s brave’.’
He gives short shrift to critics such as the journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who branded him ‘attention-seeking’ and sarcastically said he ‘finds being privileged, male and white ever so hard’.
Fox says of another critic: ‘I don’t need to read why I seem to occupy such an unhealthy amount of space in [Guardian columnist] Marina Hyde’s mind.’
To me, Fox, 42, is an emblem of the new political cleavage, or ‘culture war’, between those who believe that Britain, and more specifically ‘white people’, are at the root of all evil, and others who maintain that we can, and should, be proud of our liberty and our history.
It is part of a worrying new strain of authoritarian thinking in Western society, backed up by online public shaming on a par with the ‘damnatio memoriae’ (condemnation of memory) inflicted upon disgraced Roman Emperor Commodus.
(His brutal misrule precipitated civil strife and ended when his advisers had him strangled.)
Little matter if the political cause is noble – the flattening of dissenting and differing opinions is an existential threat to our freedoms.
Warming to his theme, Fox explains: ‘This very small ‘progressive’ group of people are trying to make us all think in a certain way and impose certain ways of behaviour on everyone else. They’re a cult – and they have no forgiveness.’
He is still fuming after a tense confrontation on Wednesday with Alibhai-Brown on Jeremy Vine’s Channel 5 talk show.
How does it feel to be the most hated man in Britain? Evgeny Lebedev (pictured right) interviews Laurence Fox (left)
She harangued him, labelling him a ‘racist bully’ and also again called him a ‘privileged white man’. In his view, it was her comments that constituted racial abuse.
Fox readily admits that he is privileged, but does not see the reason to reference his skin colour. ‘Bringing race into it doesn’t do anything except create division.’
For him, white privilege doesn’t exist as a useful concept.
He says he found Alibhai-Brown extreme and intolerant. ‘When I’d finished with her on the programme, I thought to myself, ‘You really need to get more Right-wing’. But at the same time, I said to myself, ‘She’ll hang herself anyway’.’
‘If anything,’ he adds, ‘the thing about Leftists and woke idiots who walk around parading their virtue is that they are not nearly as smart as they think they are.’
But his real gripe is with the producers of the Jeremy Vine show. ‘Channel 5 refused to release the show on to their catch-up service.
‘It doesn’t fit in with the London narrative where the Lefties are really kind and compassionate people.’
Fox tells me he has consulted lawyers and is planning to take legal action against Channel 5 to force it to release the show, and will submit a complaint to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.
Part of one of the biggest family acting dynasties in Britain, Fox relishes taking up the cudgels to defend diversity of thought and therefore, as he sees it, creativity and the arts.
‘Showbusiness is going to get more monochrome and monocultured and less exciting to be in. It’s so much less about art than about the constant push for equality.’
He freely admits that his acting career has suffered as a result of his outspokenness.
Significantly, the actors’ union, Equity, was forced to apologise after calling him a ‘disgrace to our industry’ and claiming he’d been given a platform to ‘bully and berate women of colour’ for debating the issue with a Question Time audience member.
Irrespective (the word tattooed on his forearm), Fox is sure he will act again. (He’s also had ‘freedom’ and ‘space’ – his late mother’s favourite words – inked on his hands.)
‘Once this is done and this battle is done, I will definitely take off the cloak, put it in the drawer in case it’s ever needed again, and I’ll be back acting again.’
And what is the battle ahead?
To Fox, it is nothing less than the defence of ‘Western democratic values – which he describes as ‘the stuff we had around dinner tables when we were children’.
These include the right to speak freely and disagree with others.
He rails against what he calls ‘permanently offended millennials’ and imagines that if there ever was a foreign strike against our country, they would simply say: ‘I find your submarine attack really offensive.’
This is an amusing point but it masks a very serious issue. Offending someone is not ‘violence’ – it is the essence of democratic debate.
As Barack Obama wisely said last year, simply being judgmental about others for their opinions is ‘not activism. That’s not bringing about change’.
He has become a hate-figure among many since shooting to prominence in January thanks to an appearance as a panellist on BBC1’s Question Time (pictured)
Fox’s insurgent political party, with its provisional title Reclaim, wants people to be proud of this nation – which he has described as ‘the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe’.
On its website, his mission statement pointedly reads: ‘We are all privileged to be the custodians of our shared heritage.’
This new role as a political party leader, he admits, is rather a change from his previous life.
‘I’ve gone from being a really well-paid guy who never properly went to work, to walking into a room and someone saying: ‘That’s b*****ks! You need to rethink that.’
The man who played two-time Prime Minister Lord Palmerston in the ITV costume drama Victoria is hardly lacking in ambition.
I ask him, does he want to be an MP? ‘I will end up in Parliament,’ he affirms.
Reclaim, which already has 20,000 registered supporters, plans to field candidates at the next General Election and Fox does not deny that he dreams of becoming Prime Minister.
The most wonderful thing about politics, he surmises, is that it’s about being the right man, or woman, at the right time, in the right place.
His political idol is Ronald Reagan, because of his famous ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!’ speech, challenging the then Soviet leader, in 1987, to pull down the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the repressive Communist era in a divided Germany.
I suggest to Fox that he does not have the same challenges that Reagan faced.
He swiftly disagrees: ‘I am hunting down proto-Communists – those people who’d rather that everyone had nothing.’
I push him again on these values he wants to protect so dearly. He demurs. ‘It’s difficult to talk about values because they’re innate.’
He quotes the recently departed Right-wing philosopher Sir Roger Scruton’s phrase about the ‘pre-political we’ – ‘a culture built around the things children learn around dinner tables.
‘Good manners, respect, chivalry’. Fox continues, talking about ‘society being humble and honest’, and about ‘the parts that matter: your church warden, your carers, the people who actually keep society going. Not half-baked actors and media moguls.’
Fox voted for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, before switching to the Conservatives last year, explaining that he could ‘never vote for an antisemite’.
But now, he says, neither party represents the ‘majority’ that he has ‘lived among for years’. ‘The Establishment is constantly surprised by the majority – and the majority is inevitably silent,’ he says. So is the current Government failing in its duties?
On Covid, he dismisses its strategy as ‘reactive’. He is intensely concerned about the impact of coronavirus restrictions. He’s particularly worried about families’ and small businesses’ finances: ‘The first lockdown took every person’s savings to keep their businesses afloat.’
He quotes Sunetra Gupta, the Oxford professor of theoretical epidemiology, who believes ‘there are 130 million people who are going to die as a result of these lockdowns in the Third World’.
What is his solution? ‘Shield the elderly and vulnerable, and let the virus do its bit. The Government keeps saying, ‘We’ll beat the virus’ -– but, I’d say: ‘Good luck with that one chaps!’
‘The truth is that the virus is microscopic and it’s much better at doing its job than you are.’
He drains his glass of beer. I ask him how he’s managed to attain such prominence while being a victim of so-called ‘cancel culture’.
The actor, singer and now politician rejects such a thought. ‘I’m not cancelled. I’m empowered!’