Yes, free speech is under threat

Martha Gill argued in the Observer on 23.6.19 that free speech isn’t under threat and that only bigots and boors are claiming it is. Ironically, Gill’s article uses two of the classic tools employed by political correctness zealots to stifle debate. The first is the heavy-handed and simplistic labelling of people who disagree with mainstream liberal views. Those daring to stray from the designated path, especially in the key battleground areas of immigration and multiculturalism, are derided as “bigots”, “fascists”, “Nazis” or “racists”. This labelling demonises people, making it easier to attack or ignore them. 

Look what happened to Gillian Duffy when she complained to Gordon Brown about immigration from Eastern Europe during the 2010 election campaign. After giving her a metaphorical pat on the head, Brown got in his car and dismissed Duffy as a “bigoted woman”, his words accidentally broadcast on a Sky News microphone attached to his lapel. Brown may have been embarrassed when news of his comment broke but he wasn’t willing to deviate from his plan, which was to ignore the concerns raised by Duffy and her ilk, all provincial yokels who’d failed to understand that only one of set of views on immigration was allowed. 

Gill’s second weapon is the “no platform” argument, which posits that no one with “offensive” or “fascist” views should be allowed to speak. Some discussions should be shut down, she says, because they are “over”. This is a strange argument to make for someone who’s claiming that free speech isn’t under threat, but Gill appears undaunted by the contradiction. 

Even the most passionate free speech advocate, she says, wouldn’t want to reopen a discussion about whether the earth is flat or ethnic minorities should go to University. But if people want to make these arguments why shouldn’t they be allowed to do so? There is, in fact, a Flat Earth Society and the thought of forcibly preventing them from speaking sends a shiver down my spine. Who’d be next? What kind of society would we be living in? 

We all know the guardians of political correctness have focussed their energies primarily on immigration and multiculturalism, topics about which the debates are normally shut down well before they’ve reached a conclusion. Once the parameters of “acceptable” discussion on these topics have been crossed, offenders are trolled, publicly pilloried, physically assaulted or hounded out of their jobs. Examples abound.

Take the case of Sarah Champion, the Labour MP pressured to resign in 2017 as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities after she spoke out about British-Pakistani community-based sexual exploitation gangs. Her crime? She demanded that more be done to stop the gangs and asked the Government to investigate why so many of those involved in this sub-set of sex crime share the same cultural heritage. 

Undoubtedly, Gill would declare this line of inquiry to be “over”, but it’s far from over, with a variety of researchers and institutions pointing out the existence of links between cultures or sub-cultures and sexual violence. 

Champion’s is but one of the many scalps claimed by the political correctness lynch mob. Another one is Dr Noah Carl, who was fired by Cambridge University in April this year, primarily for having attended a right wing conference on intelligence. Then there is the case of the Asda worker sacked last June for sharing a Billy Connolly video about religion. At the time of writing, Labour members are calling for MP Chris Williamson to be dismissed for saying that Labour’s reaction to the anti-Semitism furore was overly accommodating. 

But gunning for dissenters’ livelihoods is not the only method used to punish those daring to stick their heads above the parapet. Violence is another weapon of choice and one that Antifa, in particular, is fond of. During Trump’s visit to London on June 4th, for example, police had to barricade his supporters in the Lord over the Moon pub for their own safety as a mob outside chanted “Nazi scum off our streets”. 

Black-clad Antifa thugs are normally joined at rallies by members of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and Stand Up To Racism, both of which are backed by our three main political parties. 

Gill said our laws don’t prohibit free speech. In fact, the Public Order Act 1986 can be used to punish free expression, but for the most part we’ve been muzzled less by laws and more by the suffocating culture of censorship created by liberals and our mainstream media and political parties. Members of this alliance are desperate to stifle debate about sensitive topics and yet their liberal sensibilities prevent them from facing up to the consequences of their censorious actions. But they can’t have it both ways. Either we have free speech and all lines of enquiry are allowed or we don’t.