One of the most tedious and repetitive observations made in the often tedious and repetitive discourse around cancel culture is the notion that ‘freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences’. This slightly sinister cliché is the progressive version of ‘well, think on, you wouldn’t have been shot if you hadn’t been trying to escape’. It is usually offered forth as if it is somehow a seismic statement.
Some clumsy clots – the hapless Graham Norton last year, for example, when discussing JK Rowling – have even tried to frame cancel culture as ‘accountability culture’ or ‘consequences culture’. But it strikes me that there is a shadow image of cancel culture that we might call ‘no consequences culture’.
As I write, the story of Azhar Ali, the Labour candidate in the Rochdale by-election, is still developing. Ali was recorded spouting the conspiracy theory that the Israeli government had deliberately allowed Hamas to rape and massacre its citizens on October 7th. This is a modern version of the ancient blood libel against the Jews.
Ali made a quick apology. And bish bash bosh, all was forgiven by the Labour party, which stood by him until Monday evening. Even then the party only withdrew its support for the candidate after ‘new information about further comments’ made by him came to light. Ali may well still become an MP – who votes with Labour in the Commons – if he is elected. It is, apparently, procedurally too late to switch him off the ballot, so he will still be the Labour candidate in the by-election.
Frontbencher Lisa Nandy was campaigning right alongside him on Sunday, after the revelation. (In a grim irony this was at a ‘women’s Q&A session’.) Another frontbencher, Pat McFadden, looked even more android-like than usual as his speech circuits informed Trevor Philips on Sunday that Ali’s ethnic conspiracy was ‘totally wrong’ but that he would remain the Labour candidate in Rochdale.