Ivory Tower: gunpowder, treason and plot and higher education regulation
5 November 1605, a cell in the Tower of London. We see a recognisable figure with a moustache and beard sitting in the dark. We hear only the flickering torch by the cell door and the drips from the ceiling. Soldiers approach with a man dressed all in black, who enters the cell.
Prisoner: I’ve already said everything I have to say to the Prevent Officer.
Visitor: Now, now, don’t be like that. I’m here to help.
Prisoner: Are you a priest?
Visitor: No, but you can think of me as having a shepherding role.
Prisoner: Who are you?
Visitor: I am the Free Speech Champion.
Prisoner: You’ve come to rescue me?
Visitor: Not quite. Mr Fox is it? Any relation to Lawrence? Or perhaps Liam?
Prisoner: Guy Fawkes, no relation.
Visitor: Pity, I thought for a minute we might have been able to get you a spot on Ye Question Time. Anyway, Mr Fawkes, it looks like you have been a very naughty boy.
Prisoner: No comment.
Visitor: Caught underneath parliament with a tonne of gun powder.
Prisoner: No comment. Where is my lawyer?
Visitor: I believe he had a tragic mishap on the way here when he tripped and accidentally brutally cut his own head off with a pike.
Prisoner: God rest his soul.
Visitor: Tell me Mr Fawkes, when did you become so woke?
Visitor: Yes, did it start by reading Ye Guardian, then you moved onto gender studies, soon you found yourself drinking oat milk and gluing yourself to the King’s highway?
Prisoner: I don’t know what you mean.
Visitor: Come now, you’ll be telling me next that you didn’t want to blow up parliament, you only wanted to remove a few statues.
Prisoner: I thought you said you were Free Speech Champion?
Visitor: Yes, but only for the free speech we recognise. Not all this wokey-kokey.
Prisoner: I only recognise the supremacy of the Pope.
Visitor: Ah, now we are getting somewhere. So, you are a Remainer.
Visitor: One of those people who can’t give up on Europe, always looking to the continent and seeking to undermine the sovereignty of this island nation.
Prisoner: I’m from York, I’m as British as you are.
Visitor: Well, we’ve got you on charges of wokery and popery, so we will see about that. Have you ever been to Sussex, Mr Fawkes?
Prisoner: I’m sure I’ve passed through it.
Visitor: That’s how you catch it, see.
Prisoner: Catch it?
Visitor: Woke, it’s highly contagious. You just need to be within a few feet of a Catholic and you can catch it.
Prisoner: I’ve been one all my life.
Visitor: So, you are a super spreader? This isn’t going to end well for you. Are you a member of the PLM movement?
Visitor: Papist Lives Matter, a rather ill-conceived notion if you ask me.
Prisoner: Never heard of it.
Visitor: Have you read CRT?
Prisoner: I don’t even know what that is.
Visitor: Critical Religion Theory, it’s infested our universities.
Prisoner: Both of them?
Visitor: Don’t play the wise guy with me Fawkes. Tell us who your fellow conspirators are.
Prisoner: No comment.
Visitor: Look, you either tell me or they will torture the names out of you, then hang and quarter you. If you cooperate with me, I might be able to get your sentence commuted.
Prisoner: To what?
Visitor: Well, there is a shortage of horse-drawn carriage drivers at the moment. Or I could find you a place on an educational course.
Prisoner: I’ve always wanted to study music.
Visitor: No, I’m sorry, we only fund science and technology. So it would be a skills with leeches bootcamp, or an introduction to gunpowder.
Prisoner: I don’t think I need that.
Visitor: Yes, ELQ rules might stop us sending you on that one. What about a nice apprenticeship? A northern lad like yourself, previously in the army, would suit you down to the ground. Learn a trade, join a guild.
Prisoner: Can’t I go to university?
Visitor: Sorry no, I appreciate that given your propensity to blow up people you disagree with, you would probably fit right in, but we’ve got levelling up to think about?
Prisoner: I could level things.
Visitor: I think we’ve had quite enough of your attempts to level things, Mr Fawkes. I mean levelling-up across this great nation of ours.
Prisoner: By pulling down churches and suppressing minorities?
Visitor: There you go with all your wokey-popey talk, again. Be serious Mr Fawkes, northerners don’t go to university, they learn skills.
Prisoner: Do they?
Visitor: Yes, they want higher technical qualifications, not airy fairy, wokey popey degrees. Who ever heard of a university in the north of England?
Prisoner: It could happen one day.
Visitor: You are clearly a fantasist Mr Fawkes. You’ll be telling me next that the prime minister was married in a Catholic church.
Prisoner: I grant you that one sounds ridiculous.
Visitor: Just make this easier on yourself and give me the names of your associates.
Prisoner: You promise you won’t torture me?
Visitor: Well only a little bit.
Prisoner: What about my free speech?
Visitor: Free speech within the law Mr Fawkes.
Prisoner: What about all the laws banning Catholics from professing in public?
Visitor: Quite Mr Fawkes, you see how my hands are tied, I’m terribly sorry.
Prisoner: Are you going to cancel me?
Visitor: You’ll be quite dead if that is what you mean.
Prisoner: I thought anyone who had been silenced could appeal to the Free Speech Champion.
Visitor: You are not in the least bit appealing to me Mr Fawkes.
Prisoner: Can’t I even be re-imbursed for my travel costs? I pre-booked a boatman for my get-away from parliament.
Visitor: Let me just check if you meet the criteria for a successful claim. Are you or have you ever been a Conservative Party MP?
Visitor: That concludes the check, sorry no, you don’t qualify.
Prisoner: Oh, the humanity! When will this antagonism end? The division between protestants and Catholics has gone on so long.
Visitor: Not as long as the dispute over university pensions.
Prisoner: There is that.
Visitor: Or the government’s response to Ye Augar report.
Prisoner: I suppose so.
Visitor: You see Mr Fawkes, you and your associates will be forgotten tomorrow. Soon, all this Jesuit woke will be just a passing fad.
Prisoner: I don’t think so.
Visitor: The government has legislated on the matter. That is the end of it.
Prisoner: As Free Speech Champion you should know one thing.
Visitor: Pray tell what is that Mr Fawkes?
Prisoner: That you can kill a man, but you cannot kill an idea.
Visitor: But you can legislate so that universities become afraid of their own shadows and begin to second-guess their true purpose—we call it the BBC strategy. Good day Mr Fawkes, I will leave you to the Prevent team.
Prisoner: You’ll see, one day there will be effigies of me everywhere.
Visitor: I wouldn’t give a penny for your thoughts Guy, I really wouldn’t.
The visitor leaves, as the door slams shut and the soldiers march off.