We sit down for an exclusive interview with Laurence Fox, the anti-woke, anti-lockdown UK actor and singer who just announced that he’s running for London mayor. He’s a champion of free speech and founder of the Reclaim Party in the United Kingdom.
Jan Jekielek: Laurence Fox, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Laurence Fox: Thank you so much, Jan, for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Congratulations on the run, of course. You have a very, very specific idea behind running. From what I understand, winning isn’t your goal—sharing information is your goal. Tell me about this.
Mr. Fox: Similar to America, the United Kingdom is really struggling with the principle of freedom of speech. Without full and honest debate, we will end up in a place where the whole center of gravity of democratic communication has shifted so heavily over to one side, that it becomes very unstable. Therefore, it’s actually much more serious than people [know].
In England, we call it political correctness, but this is an extremist form of political correctness that has resulted globally in entire countries and nations being locked down without full scientific debate, with people being forced to wear masks even though it says on the box that this is not to protect you from a respiratory virus. We’re not being able to have discussions about our history, about anything, for fear of offending people.
One needs to accept that you have the right to offend, and you do have the right not to be offended. It’s through that conversation that mankind is going to actually progress and be progressive and these words that are hijacked about inclusion and diversity and equity, they’ve just been hijacked and dragged away from their genuine meanings. It’s not much more than over 100 years ago that women got the vote in the U.K. and that gay men were chemically castrated. So we are a genuinely progressive, tolerant and warm society.
I want to give people an opportunity to speak to that and also learn from it, rather than have to navel gaze and self-hate in the way that the universities are giving year after year of graduates who are taught to hate where they come from. That’s a negative way of looking at progress. It’s regressive rather than progressive.
Mr. Jekielek: You make this connection between this stifling of debate around the issue of race with the stifling of debate around the issue of what does the science say about coronavirus? Or are lockdowns a good idea or not? Or what kind of policy is even appropriate? I find that quite interesting without necessarily even talking about what the actual right policy is. How are these things connected?
Mr. Fox: How can you create decent policy without a full debate? So there is definitely an argument to say, “Are lockdowns effective in any way?” Because if you look around the world, from Sweden to Peru, interestingly, you’ve got very severe lockdown measures. In the U.K., we’re still under extremely heavy lockdown measures, and yet we’ve had a very, very high number of deaths per capita. There’s a debate to be had about whether lockdown is a decent approach.
It’s not to say that my personal opinion will get in the way of that, because my personal opinion is an instinctive one and a moral one, which is that the lockdowns are incorrect and wrong, even for viruses as deadly as Ebola. You have to allow people the freedom to look out. If you’re seeing bodies pile up on the street, then you’re going to not leave your house.
Then in the same way, it’s exactly the same with our cultural heritage. If someone says, “This man was a slave trader, we’re going to remove his statue and throw it away.” How do children learn? How do we broaden the debate? Why not say “Yes, this man or this woman or this person did do something wrong, in our current view of the world.” But wouldn’t it be better to teach your children what happened, and also to be intellectually consistent with that?
Ultimately, without the freedom to debate and the freedom to allow people to express themselves—it’s through speaking that ultimately we understand what we think. All of these things are linked, everything, through that debate, inquiry, and genuine intellectual curiosity—not the stifling of it.
Mr. Jekielek: I wanted to dig into how you got into the middle of this whole discussion about free speech and cancellation and so-called woke culture. Give me a sense of this path that you took to today.
Mr. Fox: I grew up in a family where my mother didn’t say many words, because she had five children who screamed and shouted across the table. That table was the bastion of free speech. But of the few things she did say, she would always say things like, “He who states his case first seems right, until another comes to examine him.” So we had as children and as young adults ingrained in our psyche the idea that one must be free to express oneself.
I noticed through my acting career working with a very traditional—I think in America they would call him a liberal rather than a leftist—actor, and we spent 10 years disagreeing but talking in a very friendly way about issues. Then there seemed to be this new wave of performers coming through who are very, very stringent about what can and cannot be said on set and things became very tense.
Then Trump got elected. Actually, what happened mainly, it really began to fizz in England with the Kavanaugh hearings in America, where people were getting very much into this idea of “believe the victim.” I thought that was a very much a hatchet job at the center of what our society is based upon, which is you don’t believe anybody, you examine them. He who states the case first seems right, until another comes to examine him. I made these points publicly and I made them privately to friends, and I was astonished by how many members of the acting community said, “No, no, you just have to believe the victim in this situation.”
So I then ended up writing a song, because I also do music, called “The Distance” which said, “They have put something in the water. They seek a cure for the conversation. They stole a march on your indecision. And the first to fall is laughter. Just to quell the long offended, they seek to murder your opinion. The light has been turned on the age of reason, replaced by blinding fires that burn across the region. For the wrong to rule, the good must just stand idly by. So I need you more than ever, need your hands in this resistance, if we’re going to go the distance.”
I went to promote this song around the U.K., and I did a TV show called Question Time. And that’s when I tread on the time bomb. I responded to a woman who said to me that Meghan Markel had been bullied out of the United Kingdom via racism. And I thought, “No, that’s, that’s just not true. There’s a huge amount of goodwill towards Meghan Markel and Prince Harry in the U.K.” Then the woman proceeded to call me a white privileged male. Those words in that tone adopted a pejorative term, and I thought that was active, direct racism. So I said to her, “I think that’s direct racism.” And then everything exploded.
Mr. Jekielek: So after you actually spoke out about this in the most public way possible, what happened?
Mr. Fox: Yes, so when I spoke about it publicly, I went to bed at night thinking, “Oh, good, I know a lot of people that think the same as I think.” So I went to bed and I woke up in the morning and I turned on my phone and it just melted with a sort of pinging. I got on the train down to London. I got off the train and someone came up to say, “Good on you. Thank you for saying that. We needed to have that said.” I was walking around and people were saying. “Brilliant!” And I thought, “Oh good. I’ve started a conversation. Lovely.”
And then the actors union, Equity, decided that they would wade in and say that I bullied and hectored a woman of color. Which again, I find peculiar as well. Under what authority is it a woman of color or colored woman? I don’t understand who decided which one was the appropriate term. So they called on all actors to denounce me, which essentially, was the end of my acting career in one moment, which I found very sad and hurtful. Because actually, I was calling for tolerance and understanding, but I was being accused of racism.
So I then sued them. And I said, “You will retract that statement.” I threatened to sue them. They did, and we settled out of court, but the damage was then done. I lived in a period of shock for a while. I was very sad because, obviously 22 years, I was enjoying my acting career. I love creating. And then I thought, “No, something needs to be done about this.”
So I turned my back on acting for the time being. I hope to get back to it one day. Goodness knows what society is going to look like in a few years. But I hope we’re putting up the walls in the U.K. to the most egregious parts of identity politics, which America has been consumed by now. I thought I have to do something about this.
I have to be a representative for people. I have a platform. I obviously became hugely famous very quickly. I thought, “I’m going to use that platform to constantly remind people that it’s important that we talk and we don’t judge people on things that are just skin deep. It’s not the right way to do it.”
Mr. Jekielek: You caught the attention of a very prominent, at least at one point, conservative donor, Jeremy Hosking, who is supporting the efforts of Reclaim and your efforts. Tell me about that.
Mr. Fox: Yes, I was approached in a quiet way and they said, “Would you like to meet someone?” I said, “Sure.” I went to an office, and they said, “What do we do about the problem that’s going on in the U.K.?” I said, “I think it needs to be media.” Because obviously, I’ve been a fan of yours, and I’ve been a fan of lots of American videocasters in the modern in the new media. I said, “I think it needs to be media.”
He said, “No, it’s more dangerous now. It needs to be political; it needs to be a political voice.” He actually turned out to be right. He said, “The only way you’re ever going to be able to change anything in this world, really, is to threaten the people, threaten the government that you’ll take their votes off them.”
Hence that’s why I’m going to stand for the mayor. If you think about it now, the debate over coronavirus or the debate over statues, both of which are relevant to the U.K.—if I turn around and I say to the constituency in London, “This is what I believe. I believe in broadening up the debate and I will stand against us being locked down. I will stand for preserving our cultural heritage.”—my power to challenge the government and make the government change is much bigger than it would be as a political movement.
There are many wonderful political movements in the world, and there are very few political parties that will have enough clout. So I hope to grow the party and essentially I want to make both sides of the political spectrum be more sensible. That’s essentially what I want to do.
If they won’t do it, I will go and attack them where they’re being very woke, where they’re being anti-nation and not patriotic. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll stand candidates there as well, if they don’t understand that people need to be represented. There’s 50 percent of this country that will not speak their mind for fear of losing their job. They need representing too.
Mr. Jekielek: As we speak, actually, it’s World Book Day. Curiously, we’re in the midst of the cancellation, at least some of the works of a very famous American author, Dr. Seuss. I’m going to quote from John Gizzi, U.S. journalist, “Today’s left may call Dr. Seuss’s cartoons racist and offensive. But in the 1940s the black press cheered him for cartoons mocking segregation in the armed forces and his early support of civil rights.” So it’s very interesting. It speaks to a whole bunch of issues that we want to talk about today. At the same time, you just sent me a photo of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson reading Dr. Seuss, in what’s apparently a very heavy troll. Tell me about what’s going on.
Mr. Fox: The cancellation of Dr. Seuss is very, very interesting, isn’t it? Because he would be considered very much on the left in the U.K. and a very free and artistic man. So it’s fascinating to see him get canceled. It draws into this brand new concept about digital book burning, I suppose—the vanishing of things that we hold dear to ourselves. I think it’s terrifying, really.
The argument from the left is “Well, there are only six books that we’re banning and there’s another 29 or something like that, so it’s not really cancellation or digital book burning. But essentially, this is what it is. It’s the modern equivalent of saying, “These books are not appropriate, and we have decided ahead of you.” One has to say, “Under what moral authority do you decide what I can and cannot consume?”
Mr. Jekielek: There’s a sense in the U.S. that most of the major institutions in the U.S. have been thoroughly occupied by people believing or at least forwarding this woke ideology. Now, is this the same situation in the U.K? How does this look?
Mr. Fox: Yes, it’s very bad in the U.K. We have this massive inconsistency at Oxford. They’ll change their Wykeham Chair of Physics to the Tencent-Wykeham Chair of Physics. They’ll take 700,000 pounds from the CCP, which is practicing massive religious-based discrimination of people, which is racism as well. They will also want to tear down the statue of Cecil Rhodes who they call a racist, these young students, under very dubious circumstances, a lot of which is anecdotal and via novels actually, via fiction.
So universities are dreadful for it at the moment. There are some okay universities. But we’re even to the point where our national health service, the Brighton National Health Service Trust, has renamed breastfeeding as “chest feeding.” These are abuses of language that need to be questioned, but for some reason people are asked to just accept it—it’s tolerant, it’s kind. But it’s not tolerant and kind. It’s controlling and it’s severe.
Mr. Jekielek: Let me jump on this example that you gave of Oxford. On the one hand, it seems like Oxford is perfectly happy to accept money from the Chinese Communist Party, with full knowledge that the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide in Xinjiang. This has been discussed in the House of Commons and determined in the Senate, the U.S. government understands this to be the case, [in addition to] all sorts of other crimes against humanity level abuses in China.
At the same time, Cecil Rhodes, many of us have heard about the famous Rhodes scholars. It’s a huge, huge laurel to be one. It’s based on a supposition that there was some kind of racism. There isn’t even any direct evidence, and his statue is being called to be removed, and perhaps his name may not be used anymore. Why do you think there is this bizarre juxtaposition? Why one in one direction and the other in the other direction?
Mr. Fox: I think it’s really interesting, isn’t it? The inconsistency of the ideology of what we loosely call “woke”rs, but is essentially progressivism. It doesn’t balance the idea of genocide of the Uyghur Muslims in China, compared to the way that we look at ourselves as a culture and how we operated in the past. Hilary Mantel said very well that it’s not our position to take up the past.
But we seem in western civilization and western free democracies to have reached this apotheosis. Now, we’ve worked everything out, where it’s all our fault, and we’re very sorry. Bristol council today voted through reparations for slaves in the United Kingdom. There are 3 generations, 4, 5, 6, 7 generations between us. We didn’t commit these crimes. Why are you so angry with us? There’s a desire to tear down what we are, rip it away, and feel ashamed.
But at the same time, you’ll allow a global superpower to commit horrendous acts of genocide against people and it’s fine. It’s consistently inconsistent, and it’s very anti-reason, anti-rational, which are all of the enlightenment values that our societies were built on. It’s worrying, actually. It’s a religion, it feels to me. It feels like the rise of a new religion—a new secular religion as Douglas Murray says, with no redemption and no forgiveness.
Mr. Jekielek: With the creation of Reclaim as a political party, its initial purpose isn’t necessarily to win the House, so to speak, but to change policy. You’ve actually had a bit of an impact already through these efforts.
Mr. Fox: Our lovely Conservative government, who aren’t conservative at all, whenever I make an announcement, they tend to make one at the same time. So we released some polling; I commissioned some polling. I was interested to know how people feel about how free they are to speak in the U.K. It came back that half of the people are frightened of saying what they think and also a huge percentage of people are very upset about having their statues removed or their history rewritten.
The first day I announced the party, the government said that they were going to present a very conservative leaning people to run the BBC. Then when I released the free speech polling, the government said that they were going to create the position of a “free speech champion” in university. So I took that as my first one of my first great political wins.
All I’m asking them to do is accept the fact that there are people in our country and across the Anglosphere, who aren’t ashamed of what we are, who can look at things in a balanced way. And actually, thinking about this reactive Conservative government that we have in the U.K. to suddenly install the position of a free speech champion, imagine what in the wrong hands that free speech champion becomes. It becomes your biggest and most direct censor.
We’re in a very active place of culture at the moment, and our Conservative government will not stand up against it. Bearing in mind that our Prime Minister is a trained classicist, a lover of language, and he had nothing to say about the difference between breastfeeding and chest feeding, which I find astonishing.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve had some pretty prominent people step up and appreciate your work. I was just reading an article about how a former head of the BBC and Channel Four spoke about your interview and commentary on Megan Markel when you said, “What you’re doing is racist.” [He said] that this was a healthy change, that someone was actually speaking their mind, as opposed to cowering and not being able to speak.
Mr. Fox: Yes, it was Lord Grade, who used to run the BBC back when the BBC actually used to be the BBC, and they were impartial and they gently supported culture. Now the BBC is as bad as any other institution in the U.K. who is trying to undermine it. So that was very reassuring.
Probably the thing I’m accused of in a positive way is saying the things that people think, but are a bit frightened to say. Then when they look at someone like me, and the way that people go after me relentlessly on a daily basis they say, “Oh, well, I’m actually quite pleased, I stay quiet.”
The way I was raised, and the values I was raised in, I think are worth protecting. We don’t exist in a state of freedom; you have to nurture it and protect it. I’ve got two young sons and they’re very filled up with this language of racism and stuff. My eldest son said to me, “I’m sorry if this is racist, but I think mom is a better cook than you.” So they’re having it ingrained in their heads from a very, very young age.
And I said, “No, you’re not, you’re you. You’re as valuable as anybody else is, and that’s what matters in this world.” You can’t rip apart families and make people feel bad about things that they haven’t done, which is essentially what this modern revisionist history does, which is that anyone with white skin is fundamentally evil, and you don’t want the reaction to that. What’s going to happen as society moves forward, at some point, someone’s going to turn around and go, “Enough!”
And you don’t want identity politics from the right or from the white people, particularly. I don’t think you want that in a majority white country. You want tolerance and love and understanding between people. That’s what I think is most important, not identity-based, skin-color based hatred. It’s racism. That’s what it is, modern racism.
Mr. Jekielek: Something just struck me as you’re speaking now. Traditionally we think of this left-right spectrum as you described it. Lately, I’ve been thinking of it more as an authoritarian-freedom spectrum, or at least that spectrum seems to be becoming more relevant. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Fox: I completely agree. I think that it’s not really a left-wing problem, censoriousness. I can see why left-wing people are more sympathetic to the idea of reevaluating history, but I don’t think it’s left or right at all. I think it’s captured or free. That’s what I think it is. Are you into freedom, or are you into control?
Anyone who wants to mandate the way that you speak, the way that you treat people, the relationships you can have, the groups of people you can hang around with at work. We’re bringing segregationism into supermarkets in England. They’re saying we have to have safe spaces for different skin color people—this is really, really dangerous.
Freedom is about looking beyond someone’s skin color. As much as one notices that we are different skin colors, you have to encourage yourself through reason and rationality and love to make that as incidental as humanly possible to your relationships with people. And it seemed like we were getting there. It seemed like we were there.
Then all of the fruit had been picked off the tree, the really solid food being picked off the tree in terms of the civil rights movement in the U.K., and suddenly we were looking for racism everywhere, and we’re finding it everywhere. It’s very depressing for children. And I just think, no, this is not right.
We must challenge the causes of direct racism, we must face up to them and say this is wrong. Any form of direct racism is wrong, but to label a nation, in the U.K.’s case, of 70 million people as being systemically, fundamentally racist is very, very damaging for the cohesiveness of society.
We want to bring society together. We don’t want to go, “You’re all racist, by the way, if you’re white-skinned. You’re not entitled to an opinion either, because you’re oppressors.” It’s very, very unhealthy. I hope that it’s not something that we’ve made, that this identitarianism is the end of capitalism. It feels like very much the end of an empire almost. It feels like end-of-empire behavior, doesn’t it? Very decadent and peculiar.
Mr. Jekielek: Lawrence, you’ve been working with Calvin Robinson on a number of things in the Reclaim party. Tell me about what’s happening with that.
Mr. Fox: Yes, I was very lucky to have seen Calvin emerging through social media actually, and being someone who happened not to have white skin standing up for the fact that he wasn’t an oppressed victim. He was a real, solid believer in the values that make Britain a wonderful and tolerant place to be.
So I approached him and said, “Can we work together, and can I get some understanding over things that are quite complex, like critical social justice and critical race theory and all these things?” He’s been fantastic. One of the reasons why he and I work well together is because he finds this whole thing extremely racist and patronizing.
He said, “What are the obstacles between me succeeding in life in this country? Truly, what are those obstacles?” And the amount of racial abuse he has received is astonishing. He has been called a house n-word, all of the worst things. Someone said the other day that he needed to have the black beaten back into him. He’s been so courageous, and so steadfast.
Ultimately, what he’s trying to do is set an example for young kids of whatever skin color—you must stand up. So he’s a hero of mine and I’m lucky enough to get to work with him and collaborate with him on things. What a great privilege and what an annoying irony for those that would wish to destroy positive good relationships. I say it’s really hard to call someone a racist when a person they’re working with is not white-skinned. I mean, what is this thing with skin color? Honestly, I can see in the past how dreadful it’s been, but really, we’re so much more than this.
Mr. Jekielek: So what’s next?
Mr. Fox: What’s next? I commissioned a legal review into some of the laws actually, that America is starting to want to bring in, in terms of an Equality Act. I see that the Democrats are trying to use that to supersede the First Amendment. So I have commissioned some top lawyers and actually, some really influential people are quite keen to get involved, so I have to be a bit secretive about that till it’s announced—to look at where freedom of speech is impinged, and where equality under the law is damaged.
We have an Equality Act in the U.K., where there are protected characteristics. It’s the same as what’s going on in America where you’re protected by certain things, which I think removes equality under the law. Because if someone is more protected than somebody else, then that’s equality gone. So I’ve got that coming out.
I’ve commissioned a big long paper on the effects of lockdown through various disciplines, from mental health, cancer, all of these things—a lot of that’s going on in the U.K. at the moment. I’m just going to say to people, I have the backing and the confidence to know that my position is a good one. So I’m impartial.
Whenever I commission someone, I say, “I don’t want you to tell me what I want to hear. I want you to tell me what is the truth.” We’re going to release over the next few months several papers that will give people the power to decide what they think.
I hope to create discussions in people’s houses and homes and dinner tables and hearts, not me banging a drum saying that I know what the answer is. I don’t know what the answer is, and my views are not the answer. The answer is the conversation, and I’m just one of millions and millions of voices.
Mr. Jekielek: Where can people get more information about this movement that you’re leading?
Mr. Fox: They can follow me, which is @LozzaFox on Twitter, as long as they don’t mind videos of my annoying dogs, who I love. Or @thereclaimparty on Twitter: or reclaimparty.co.uk. We have Facebook and all of these things as well. But yes, you’ll find that if you type in the reclaim party, you’ll end up staring at a picture of my ugly mug.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts before we finish up Lawrence?
Mr. Fox: I’m so pleased that I was introduced to you, Jan, actually, because my dad who I’ve got so much admiration for and has always encouraged so much free thought in his children, managed to find you and introduce me to a whole world of what’s going on. It’s been a great privilege and an honor to talk to you.
Mr. Jekielek: Those are very kind words, Laurence. Such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Fox: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.