British Council
© British Council
The British Council Allied Centre, Liverpool, 1941-1946, the oldest cultural relations organization in the world.
Few will be surprised to learn that an organisation funded by the British taxpayer once issued a 'non-discriminatory' language guide that urged its staff not to refer to 'Brits', or use the phrase 'the Queen's English'. The reason the latter was 'problematic', we were told, was that 'it implies that these varieties of English are more correct or of greater importance than others'.

What may have come as a shock, though, is that the document - which could be called 'How To Speak Woke-ish' - was produced by the British Council, whose purpose is to promote Britain's values and culture across the world. Not only does it have a budget of £1.2 billion a year and employ 7,000 people, but it received a Royal Charter in 1940 - and its patron is Her Majesty the Queen.

It seems this public body, like so many others, has succumbed to the anti-patriotic self-loathing that is so prevalent among the Brexit-hating metropolitan elite.

Once a vehicle for the projection of soft power, celebrating the pinnacles of British culture like the plays of Shakespeare and the music of Elgar, it has become infected by what the late philosopher Roger Scruton called 'oikophobia' - the repudiation of one's own culture and the glorification of others.

Now the British Council has published a 'diversity and inclusion' policy that says the UK's record on 'ethnic conflicts, civil disturbances and genocides' puts it on the same footing as Syria, South Sudan and Darfur.

Notably missing from its list of shameful countries is China, for that is one part of the world where the British Council does take its commitment to 'decolonisation' very seriously. It is extremely careful never to breathe a word of criticism about the Chinese Communist Party's brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong - that well-known victim of British colonial oppression - lest it jeopardise the £219million a year it receives from the People's Republic of China.

'Imagine the BBC, but without the talent' is how one disillusioned ex-staffer described the organisation.

What's so depressing about the British Council's fall from grace is that it was once a huge force for good in the world.


Comment: Influence comes in all sizes and packages.


Other countries have similar bodies - France's Alliance Francaise and Spain's Instituto Cervantes - but few have the cultural reach and illustrious history of the British Council.

In its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, it was a beacon of light in a world dominated by murderous, totalitarian ideologies, whether Nazism in Germany or Communism in the Soviet Union. It sent poets such as T. S. Eliot on speaking tours and sponsored recordings of works by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Using its unrivaled resources and vast network of offices across the globe, it was able to bang the drum for values such as parliamentary democracy, limited government, free speech, religious tolerance and the rule of law at a time when they were in short supply. Even in the 1990s, it was promoting British fashion designers under the banner of Cool Britannia. I remember a party organised by the British Council in New York in 1997, which was the hottest ticket in town. But what has it done to promote the UK in 2022?

What the organisation disparagingly refers to as the 'Queen's English' is the lingua franca of the world. The Platinum Jubilee was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remind our friends and neighbours of everything that is great about Britain. Instead, in the run-up this historic event, it published Promoting Inclusion: A Guide On Sexual Orientation that informed its employees that using the word 'straight' to refer to heterosexual people is 'offensive' because it implies that 'LGBTQIA+' people are 'bent'.

Among the thought crimes this guide instructed its employees to avoid were 'homophobia', 'transphobia' and 'biphobia'. If you do a search for 'ism' in this document, 'heterosexism' comes up seven times, and 'tourism' only twice. That pretty much says it all.

But surely an organisation that exists to celebrate the best Britain has to offer, and with such a lavish budget, still occasionally hires our world-class novelists, poets and screenwriters to wrap themselves in the Union Flag and sing the praises of the home country? That's the impression you get from the Council's 'Writers Directory' - 38 pages listing our most celebrated wordsmiths of the past half century.

I reached out to all the people in the directory I vaguely know to ask what they'd done for the Council in the past few years. Without exception they said they hadn't a clue why they'd been included.

Broadcaster Jeremy Paxton said:
"I have no idea what you're referring to. I'm on their website? It's news to me."
Another said:
"I don't know how I ended up on that website. I've yearned for gigs like that but have never been asked."
A third responded:
'I cannot imagine why the British Council lists me thus. I cannot remember ever doing anything for them.'
So much for enlisting 'soft' power to enhance our standing in the world. Last year, the Government announced it was cutting the British Council's budget by £185million, a move that prompted howls of protest from all the usual suspects. A hundred MPs wrote a despairing letter to Boris Johnson telling him he was endangering 'global Britain'.

Perhaps it's time to put this propaganda arm of the diversity, equity and inclusion industry out of its misery. Either that, or stick the Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg, in charge and tell it to start doing what it says on the tin.
About the Author:
Toby Young is the General Secretary of the Free Speech Union.