West Yorkshire Police hit the headlines twice this week. First we learned that the fourth-largest force in England and Wales has decided to ‘screen out’ 46.5 per cent of cases a year, i.e. not investigate them. And these aren’t minor crimes, but things like theft, assault and burglary. Apparently, West Yorkshire Police’s 5,671 officers will spend their time on ‘more complex’ offences instead. What do they mean by that? A clue was provided by the second story which concerned the verbal harassment warning the force has given to Graham Linehan, a television comedy writer, after a Twitter dispute resulting from Linehan referring to a transgender activist as ‘he’ rather than ‘she’ — and using their original, male name — even though the person in question is biologically male.
Many people will think this is poetic justice for Linehan and, by rights, I should be one of them. The co-writer of Father Ted is a socialist zealot with more than half a million followers on Twitter, and for years he has used this platform to denounce anyone to the right of Jeremy Corbyn. His stock-in-trade is furious moral indignation, the effect of which is often to whip up his disciples into an outrage mob, baying for blood. I’ve been on the receiving end many times, the most recent of which was four months ago when I published an account of getting into trouble at the beginning of the year for breaching politically correct speech codes on Twitter — exactly the same thought crime Linehan has now been accused of. ‘A stupid, empty man, quick with a lie, shallow as a puddle, one of the worst the UK has to offer,’ he tweeted. Cue the usual pile-on from his left-wing followers. I could tell they were sensitive, bookish types because their language was straight out of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
But any schadenfreude I experienced was short-lived because I don’t think the police’s job is to intervene in social media spats and penalise whichever side is failing to comply with the latest diktats of the diversity-and-inclusion lobby. Call me a reactionary, but I think the police should be out solving crimes like theft, assault and burglary, not enforcing politically correct dogma. Linehan is experiencing exactly the kind of police harassment that Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor, predicted would happen in his own country two years ago if the law was changed to make it an offence to refuse to call a trans person by their preferred gender pronoun. Needless to say, Linehan has ridiculed Peterson on Twitter many times.
West Yorkshire Police isn’t entirely to blame for this misuse of resources. The concept of a ‘hate crime’ was first introduced into law by the last Labour administration and then defined in 2007 as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’. At present, there are five ‘protected characteristics’: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity, although the government is carrying out a comprehensive review of all hate crime legislation.
Don’t expect this to result in anything sensible; on the contrary, the government will almost certainly enlarge the number of ‘protected characteristics’ to include ‘gender’, following the demands of Labour MP Stella Creasy to make ‘misogyny’ a hate crime. Given that some feminists believe misogyny is responsible for everything from climate change to mansplaining, the mind boggles at the scope this will give to left-wing loons to sick the police on anyone who challenges their progressive mumbo jumbo.
Ordinary coppers don’t want to be spending their days chasing down thought criminals, obviously. Last month, the new head of the Police Federation complained that his 120,000 members were being forced to follow up hate crime reports when they would much rather be investigating burglaries, two-thirds of which were not properly investigated by the police last year. It’s their managers who are at fault, such as the bright spark at South Yorkshire Police who encouraged Twitter users to report ‘non-crime hate incidents’ — episodes so trivial they don’t even meet the absurdly capacious definition of a hate crime. I have instructed my ten-year-old son to stop calling his teenage sister ‘spotty’ in case he receives a visit from Inspector Knacker.
So even though Linehan is a loathsome, virtue-signalling prig, he deserves our support. He has discovered, belatedly, that those on the left are as vulnerable as those on the right if we don’t all stand up for free speech.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.