Mick Hume

No, thank you, Officer, I will not think before I speak

As my daughter was preparing for her AS level exam on 1984 this week, George Orwell’s dystopian classic loomed back into a news headline: ‘We are not the Thought Police, Chief Constable Tells Government’.

Leicestershire chief constable Simon Cole, who’s in charge of the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, told the press that the Government’s new counter-extremist and safeguarding bill risked asking the police to dictate “what people can and cannot say”. The top cop was adamant that “We absolutely don’t want to be the thought police.”

Well, (to borrow from another literary classic, Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop): Up to a point, Lord Copper.

The police may feel uncomfortable about being tasked with explicit political censorship. But elsewhere they are in the front line of the new free speech wars, leading the crusade against speech deemed merely offensive rather than extremist.

For example, the Greater Glasgow Police (who some might imagine would have their hands full pursuing actual offenders) recently tweeted a warning to all social media users: ‘THINK before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend.’ The force spelt out what it wanted Glasgow tweeters and posters to THINK about in order to avoid the knock on the door:

T – is it true?

H – is it hurtful?

I – is it illegal?

N – is it necessary?

K – is it kind?

Saying something the police consider ‘hurtful’ or ‘unkind’ is thus put on a par with doing something illegal. As for arresting social media addicts for ‘unnecessary’ posts, they are surely going to have to open special detention camps for all those who bore the world with pet videos every weekend.

This the face of the new Thought Police, seemingly more comfortable patrolling the tweets than the streets, inventing speech crimes rather than investigating real ones, ready to equate ‘offensive’ words with criminal offences.

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