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The Guardian’s “nervous breakdown” over slavery

Katherine Viner: “sick to my stomach”. Angel Manzano/Getty

The Guardian is currently engaged in an “orgy of sanctimonious breast-beating”, says Jonathan Sumption in The Spectator. After a two-year investigation, the newspaper has determined that its founding editor, John Edward Taylor, and some of his backers had “extensive links” to slavery. This has caused a “nervous breakdown” at Guardian Towers: staff are apparently “tormented” by the findings; editor Katherine Viner says she felt “sick to my stomach”. They’ve lost their marbles. Taylor, a successful cotton merchant, opposed slavery, and most of his backers were “active abolitionists”. Their “supposed offence” was dealing in cotton that originated on slave estates in the Americas – but in the early 1820s, those places accounted for “almost all the world’s internationally traded cotton”. Was the entire population of Europe also complicit, because they wore cotton clothes?

The newspaper’s justification for this absurd hand-wringing is that slavery is a “deeply unexamined” aspect of British history. What nonsense. The issue has been “constantly examined” by historians and commentators since the late 18th century. The truth, which Guardianistas rarely acknowledge, is that Britain was the last Atlantic country to participate in slavery on a large scale, and “the first to suppress it”. And while it’s true that we still have problems with racism today, those issues stem from the large-scale migration that took place after the Second World War, “long after Britain’s slaving past had become a bad memory”. Viner asks why her predecessors never considered the topic of slavery more thoroughly. Perhaps it’s because they have something she clearly lacks: a “sense of proportion”.