How much vitriol will be poured on the student Tory who burnt £20 in front of a homeless man before we start to pity him?
It’s time to put down the burning torches
At some point, the tide will turn and the unthinkable will happen.
A moment will come to pass when, against all better judgment, reasonable and rational people begin to feel pangs of sympathy for Ronald Coyne.
The first whiff occurred to me on Friday evening. I typed his name into the Facebook search bar. There, you will find insults. Lots of insults.
“Ignorant disgusting little shit” and “utter pond life” were among some of the more printable tirades.
It wouldn’t be a new chapter in the Great Outrage Wars if the Far Left did not make a Nazi comparison, so here it was. “He looks like a melted Heinrich Himmler, the cadaver hued spunk spouting venereal disease.”
Then it became more concerning. A Facebook page called UK Revolution had written: “If you see him in public…Give him a ‘proper send-off’ before he leaves the city…”
Another warned Coyne that he should stay in his room and that the Samaritans may be receiving a phone call.
In more worrying developments, his room has been changed to protect his privacy and Pembroke College’s graduate president sent out a note warning students to be vigilant. The inference of the email is that some may seek to take retribution into their own hands.
As of Saturday night, over 13,000 had signed the petition for Coyne to be expelled from Cambridge. His face has been splattered across the national press and gone viral on social media. The most notorious villains have nicknames, so it is a surprise he has not yet been christened the Livingston Lout or Ronald the Ruffian.
Ronald’s reputation is damaged. His credibility is tarnished. It will take many years to recover and even then, it may never will. Family will be appalled. Employers will knock him back.
Coyne is facing bullets from all angles. The public at large, because there is a unique curiosity attached to Oxbridge students. Rightly or wrongly, we are elevated to role model status. Then there is the rage of the Left, because it consolidates conspiracy theories about the behaviour of privileged white men. Fanatical Corbynites, because this is the generation the Tories have produced. Scottish Unionists, because this boy is in some way twice-removed-through-sibling-and-marriage to Nicola Sturgeon. Desperate to absolve themselves, the Cambridge Conservatives deplored him as “disgusting and abhorrent.” Taken together, it’s a tour de force of mob outrage.
Yet where do we go next? Where does a civilised society take this? Do local activists read the Facebook vilification and take matters into their hands? Is it safe for Coyne to walk down the street to a lecture?
We can exclusively reveal the footage of the student burning money in front of a homeless person
Copyright: Tab Media ltd
Posted by The Tab Cambridge on Friday, February 10, 2017
When the story was broken by The Tab, my initial reaction was shock and anger. How could someone, just like us, be so heartless?
We hate his action, because he is so like us. And so too the sympathy will soon arrive, because he is so like us.
Encircled from all sides, however, Coyne is in danger of becoming a victim. Against all logic, we risk that he becomes sympathetic figure. This would be wrong. His action was dreadful. But as we enter day four of this episode, we must not allow the mob to become worse.
As a civilised society, we have a clear path to deal with misdeeds. Crime, punishment, rehabilitation and reintegration.
Yet this is an awkward case. It is awkward because Coyne has not broken the law. In many ways, it would have been far simpler had he punched the homeless man in the face. What followed would have been straightforward. Doctors, lawyers and teachers are not welcomed back to the industry after a criminal conviction and Cambridge could have quite easily shunted Ronald, a law student, out of the door on those grounds.
As it is, Coyne was cute and calculated. The design of his action was subtle enough to evade prosecution.
So, what will become of Coyne? One friend I spoke to this week argued he should be kicked out of Cambridge and allowed to go to a “lesser” university. Another said he should be banished from academic institutions altogether. Yet where does that take our society?
If he leaves Cambridge and is then accepted by Nottingham Trent or Northumbria, does it say that those universities are apparently fit for those people who burn cash in front of homeless people?
And I’m sure it must feel highly complimentary to those sweepers of streets and cleaners of toilets who are putting in the hours for minimal pay and have never burned cash in front of a homeless person. Why should the polytechnics or blue-collared work be cast as the preserve of the unethical?
There is no satisfactory conclusion to this dreadful affair.
No punishment seems appropriate to represent the dehumanising pain that this man suffered when Ronald flaunted a £20 note in front of him before setting fire to the cash on a freezing winter evening.
Humans mess up. We do bad things, say terrible things and think even worse things.
Bill Hicks, the American comedian, might have been on to something. “Isn’t humanity neat? Bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes. That’s all we are.”
On this occasion, Ronald has mastered all three things in one dire cocktail. Yet humanity has better features, too, and forgiveness is an essential faculty.
Indulge some whataboutery for a moment. If the person who had done this had been a down-and-out schoolboy in an Umbro tracksuit from the local council estate, what would have been the reaction? Would it have been to remove his education? Or to insist on further education? We are a society that believes in rehabilitation and we cannot insert terms and conditions based on a person’s background or privilege.
Cambridge, a behemoth of education, should not run away from this. To remove Ronald is to take the easy way out, a quick PR fix that resolves little.
In image-conscious Cambridge, the blame game started quickly.
The Conservative Association expelled Coyne and then threw him under the bus when they confirmed his identity to Varsity and national newspapers.
They absolved themselves from all blame. But they are wrong to do so. A culture permeates amongst those circles that can, sadly, encourage regressive behaviour. Can Cambridge as an institution, too, separate themselves from the pervading entitlement of the old place, with their penchant for haughty dinners, pomp, and backwards rituals?
Wantonly self-interested and frequently morally compromised, white Cambridge men in white tie function as an auto-satire of all that wider society imagine us to be.
The video that surfaced of Coyne serves as a ghastly embodiment.
Yet is this Coyne’s reality? We know that he is a fresher, presumably striving to fit in, trying too hard to impress new friends in elite circles. We know he had been pretending that Nicola Sturgeon is his auntie and emphasising his “Tory-ness” to make himself appear more interesting. Wandering the streets of Cambridge in the early hours, we can presume that alcohol may also have played a part. None of these things absolve his conduct, but they do go some way to explaining it.
His mother, Sandra, paints a picture: “We’re just a normal family. We’re not toffs, he’s not a toff. He was in chess club at school. It’s completely out of character. He did two years of volunteering at Stockbridge shelter homeless shop when he was at school.”
Most crucially, there was an indication that Ronald feels remorse. “He went out a few nights later around Cambridge with one his friends to do the homeless run and give out tea, coffee and sandwiches to them.” Let us hope he continues to do so.
But for now, it’s time to put down the burning torches and let justice take its course under the university disciplinary system.
For the alternative is mob rule. And then Ronald becomes the victim. And Ronald should never be the victim of this event.