Great Britain is a free society, with checks and balances, individual liberties, institutional integrities. Really? Doesn't look like that to me and millions of others. The gloss is good, irresistible even, and not all of it a facade. Relatively speaking, such claims are justifiable. Just.

However, those fundamental principles are being devitalised and shaken by a significant number of the great and the good who should be dependable custodians of our unwritten constitution and democratic guarantees.

They are all on the right, but not the right as once we knew it. Conservative politicians, even Thatcherites, were committed to the separation of powers, individual rights, and state non-interference in private and state-funded sectors. The academy, the arts, media, science, civil service too, were kept beyond the reach of political interference and bullying. Sure, Lord Tebbit made polecat sounds. And there were periodic accusations hurled at the 'leftie' BBC. But these were, you felt, teases and small distractions.

Now, and particularly since the divisive Brexit debates and votes, a new vociferous right is on the move. It has a terrifyingly authoritarian agenda and a whole new gang of feral bulldogs and helpful pups who want to enforce their values in all areas, personal, social and political.

Chris Heaton-Harris studied at Wolverhampton Polytechnic and is now the MP for Daventry and a Tory whip. This week, he wrote to the vice-chancellors of every university in the UK, very politely requesting the names of academics lecturing on Brexit and copies of all course material. (Ok sir. I am a professor at Middlesex uni and confess to being a strong Remainer).

The letters were branded "McCarthyite" by Professor Kevin Featherstone, head of the LSE's European Institute. The dean of Durham Law School, Thom Brooks, called it "dog whistle politics at its worst" and Lord Patten, chancellor of Oxford University, denounced the "idiotic and offensive Leninism".

Universities Minister Jo Johnson suggested that Heaton-Harris might have been researching a possible book. Bunkum. These guys have gone for judges, artists and journos. Now it is the turn of universities where, allegedly, all top posts are held by Remainers or lefties. Be frightened, very frightened. Again, bunkum.

Jo Johnson MP Tory minister Boris brother
Jo Johnson, the Conservative party's universities minister Reuters

As Jackie Ashley, journalist and president of Lucy Cavendish College in Cambridge, wrote: "'s clear that most of the main faculties and departments are worried: about whether they will still be able to attract the very best minds from across the continent after Brexit; about research funding; and about joint projects that may come to an end. This has nothing to do with ideology. This is about the bread and butter business of higher education. Does it need saying that individuals and institutions should be able to argue in their own interest without being accused of treason?"

She declared these were her personal views. That such credible people should feel the need to explain tells you how oppressive the atmosphere is becoming.

The Home Office is doing its bit to terrorise universities. Staff have to watch out for students who express un-kosher opinions on Israel or appear to espouse radical views. These injunctions are aimed at Muslims. But they affect everyone and everything. Visiting speakers and volunteers have to show their passports, foreign students are made to feel insecure.

The younger Johnson adds further pressures. He has two messages for universities: they must not support 'safe spaces' or permit students to lobby to keep out speakers because freedom of speech is sacrosanct. But, no radical or 'anti-Israel' speaker should be allowed access to campuses. Fear of the authorities spreads and smells

This week, a manufactured university crisis was presented to the British public. The Telegraph ran a front page story accusing students of plotting the removal of white writers from the English syllabus and replacing them with black and Asian writers. This was a cold and calculated lie. The paper later printed a small "clarification". Campaigners simply want to make the curriculum broader and include, say, Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison and Hanif Kureishi. None has called for the mass expulsion from the canon of white writers.

Are we still arguing about this? I studied English in Oxford in 1972 when most of my lecturers were terrifyingly ignorant of authors such as V. S. Naipaul (another Nobel prize winner) and Wole Soyinka. In the 45 years since, we've had Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Meera Syal, and other amazing writers. They changed the literary and cultural landscape. Reactionaries detest these changes and want to reclaim the country. Their current chosen site for the cultural war is academe.

Schools will be next. Then possibly theatres, publishing houses, commercial broadcasters, parliament. The new right seeks to misinform, to punish dissent, control minds, grow a submissive population. Our democracy is not safe. Wake up. Beat back the feral bulldogs.