Free speech

I hate hate speech laws

I originally intended to observe that American universities’ anti-Israel protestors and Hamas terrorists deserve each other, because they’ve so much in common. They’re both vicious, authoritarian, fanatical, powered by antipathy and focused on either unachievable or pointless aims (even if Columbia did divest from Israel, the pittance withdrawn would have no effect on financial markets, much less on Gaza). But many commentators have decried the protestors chanting ‘From the Mississippi to the Pacific!’ as poorly informed, faddish, spoilt, pathetic and anti-Semitic. So rather than assess the logic of what I’d have called ‘woke-lam’, we’ll pivot elsewhere. On 1 May, the US House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Bill by

Scotland’s Hate Crime Act may have done us all a favour

Scotland’s Hate Crime Act (HCA) has, by common agreement, been an unmitigated disaster. Less than a week old, there are already calls for it to be repealed – like the equally misconceived but more awfully named Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. The police are now clearly hesitant of arresting anyone for hate crime The police have been swamped with thousands of complaints, many vexatious, all of which they are pledged to investigate. JK Rowling has blown the doors off with her ‘arrest me’ tweets, but the First Minister, Humza Yousaf, attracted more hate crime complaints in the first two days than she did. SNP Ministers like Siobhan Brown have been ridiculed for misrepresenting their own

War on words: is Scotland ready for its new hate crime law?

51 min listen

On the podcast: Scotland’s new hate crime law; the man who could be France’s next PM; and why do directors meddle with Shakespeare?  First up: Scotland is smothering free speech. Scotland is getting a new, modern blasphemy code in the form of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act, which takes effect from 1 April. The offence of ‘stirring up racial hatred’ will be extended to disability, religion, sexual orientation, age, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics. The new law gives few assurances for protecting freedom of speech writes Lucy Hunter Blackburn, former senior Scottish civil servant. Lucy joins the podcast, alongside Baroness Claire Fox, unaffiliated peer and

Kill the Bill!

The more you study what is going on with the Just Stop Oil protests and the Public Order Bill, the more weird and inconsistent our national attitude to protesters seems. Britain, according to those opposed to the Bill, is a police state. If you look at their response to the Just Stop Oil protests, however, we look like pushovers. It would be easy to come to the conclusion, watching protesters block roads and the police often just stand and watch, that Britain is in desperate need of more laws to deal with this kind of thing: to make it clear that yes, everyone has the right to protest but no,

Cancelled Kanye West buys cancelled free speech platform Parler

Hear Ye Hear Ye! The news today has broken that Kanye West – who calls himself Ye – has bought Parler, the Trumpist social media platform. The news was announced earlier by Parler CEO George Farmer, the son of Lord Farmer, the Conservative peer. ‘This deal will change the world and change the way the world thinks about free speech,’ said George. Farmer is also the husband of Candace Owens, the American MAGA celebrity, who appears to have been an important influence – is muse the right word? – in Ye’s conversion away from Hollywood La La Land and towards Trump-infused right-nationalist populism. Candace and Kanye both recently appeared together wearing ‘White

Who’s to blame for our censorious students?

Without freedom of speech, you do not have a university. More than any other value, it is freedom of speech that most defines the university, that makes it a special place in society set aside for debate and inquiry in which speech and thought should be freer than in practically any other workplace or institution. And yet an alarming proportion of students seem not to have got the memo. A new study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London confirms what has been clear for some time: that today’s students, far from being rebellious free-thinkers, are if anything more supportive of censorship than the general population. The numbers are pretty

Salman Rushdie overcame his fear

After Ayatollah Khomeini ordered Muslims to kill him for publishing The Satanic Verses in 1989, Julian Barnes gave Salman Rushdie a shrewd piece of advice. However many attempts were made on his life and the lives of his translators and publishers, however many times Special Branch moved him from safe house to safe house, he must not allow the ‘Rushdie affair’ to turn him into an obsessive. When I interviewed him ten years ago he had learned to live without fear. No shaven-headed bodyguards accompanied him as he walked into a Notting Hill restaurant. His eyes did not scour the room for signs of danger. If the other diners knew

The fight is on to censor Elon Musk’s Twitter

If Elon Musk truly intends to make Twitter a free-speech platform, he’s clearly got a fight on his hands. That was made abundantly clear by the collective meltdown among media and political elites that greeted the billionaire’s shock takeover of the platform last month. The vested interests in keeping Twitter a sanitised, censorious place are apparently considerable. And not only will Musk have the great and good, his own employees, our own Nadine Dorries and Joe Biden’s new ‘disinformation tsar’ to contend with, but potentially Twitter’s advertisers, too. CNN reports that giant American brands, including Coca-Cola and Disney, are coming under pressure to boycott Twitter if Elon Musk makes good

Sleepwalking into censorship: a reply to Nadine Dorries

In this week’s magazine I look at the threats posed by the so-called Online Safety Bill now making its way through the House of Commons. It gives sweeping censorship powers by creating a new category of speech that must be censored: ‘legal but harmful’. The government will ask social media companies to do the censoring – and threaten them if they do not. The idea is for the UK to fine them up to 10 per cent of global revenue (ie: billions) if they publish ‘harmful’ content – but harmful is not really defined. So censorship potential is wide open. Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has suggested that the jokes of the

Free speech shouldn’t depend on billionaires

If you take any interest in social media, Silicon Valley, or the culture wars — which all seem to be the same thing these days — you will be aware that the world is currently ending. At least, that is the impression given by those reacting to an attempt by Elon Musk to buy Twitter. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former labour secretary, inveighs against Musk’s ‘libertarian vision’ for the internet as ‘dangerous rubbish’ and intones that it would be ‘the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth’. (He also seems pretty peeved that Musk blocked him.) Professor Jeff Jarvis, TV Guide reviewer turned Supreme Arbiter

Mexico is no country for journalists

I’m writing this on my last day in Mexico City, having accompanied my 18-year-old daughter here for the first week of a six-month stay. She’s hoping to become fluent in Spanish before embarking on a degree in languages in September. My mission was to help her find a flat in a nice part of town and a job so she can support herself, and between us we just about managed it, thanks to the help of the local expat community. Mexico City reminded me of being in New York in the mid-1990s, where being British and having the modern-day equivalent of letters of introduction meant an entire social network opened

When did artists become the mob?

‘The mob’s going to want a chicken to kill and they won’t care much who it is,’ wrote John Steinbeck. ‘Why don’t people look at mobs not as men, but as mobs? A mob nearly always seems to act reasonably, for a mob.’ I’ve been thinking about those words in recent days as more ‘cancelled’ headlines fill the news. I was a co-founding member of the band Mumford and Sons, which I quit last year. I praised a book critical of far-left extremism in the United States and all hell broke loose, so I decided better to leave my band and save my bandmates the trouble. Better that than stay

Douglas Murray

In defence of bad jokes

I was once at a terrific Shabbat dinner where late in the evening one of the other guests suddenly said: ‘OK, who’s got the best Holocaust joke?’ Even people who know something about Jewish humour might be surprised by this. I said that one Holocaust-related joke I knew was the story from the 1970s of the Monty Python crew being invited to Germany to film a television series there. The Germans had called the Pythons to say that of course they had no humour of their own in Germany and would like to import some. The Pythons agreed, arrived in Munich and were promptly taken to Dachau. In retrospect, this

In praise of Harry Miller’s fight for free speech

Almost three years ago, I spoke on the phone to a man called Harry Miller. A Lincolnshire businessman, he’d just been interviewed by the police because someone had complained about things he’d written, on Twitter, about sex and gender and transgenderism. He was angry, and rightly so. After all, he’d broken no law, and even the police force involved confirmed that. Instead, he was contacted and a record was made of his conduct under rules around ‘non-crime hate incidents’ (NCHIs). These were introduced after the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence, with the intention of giving the police a means of tracking behaviour that, while not crossing the threshold of a

Some (tentative) reasons to be cheerful in 2022

Someone sent me a job advert recently for a Junior Research Fellowship at Queen’s College, Oxford. It states: ‘The Queen’s College embraces diversity and equal opportunity. Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in Oxford. The more inclusive we are, the better our work will be.’ Nothing particularly objectionable about that, although when the college says it aspires to be more ‘inclusive’ it doesn’t mean it wants conservatives to apply, even though they are among the most under–represented groups at Oxford. It makes that clear when it goes on to say Queen’s shares the university’s commitment to promoting equality

Rod Liddle

My meeting with the Durham University mob

My abiding memory of this fairly appalling year is of the face of the young student at Durham University who shouted ‘Disgusting!’ at me as I left the main college building. This followed a very short speech I’d given to about 250 students but which, I suspect, he hadn’t heard because he’d probably walked out before it began. That, incidentally, is one of the reasons this story in which I find myself took a comparatively long while to break. The speech was on a Friday evening — but it wasn’t until Monday, at the earliest, that the lefties got themselves into a real lather. Until then it had simply been

Could the ‘Kathleen Stock’ amendment backfire?

The hounding of Kathleen Stock – who left Sussex university following a concerted campaign against her by trans rights activists – was a disgraceful indictment of freedom of speech on campus. But one remedy for preventing a repeat – the so-called ‘Stock amendment’ to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, now passing through the Commons – isn’t the answer. Impetuous legislation is normally bad legislation; unless we think very carefully, we may end up with something ineffective or even counter-productive. At first glance, a simple ban on students piling in to demand the sacking or departure of professors on account of their politics or teaching might look good. Indeed, it could be defended

Life on campus is so much worse than The Chair

For those disappointed by the humorless and deeply earnest treatment of the contemporary campus experience in the 2020 TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the new Netflix series The Chair will be a welcome tonic. Over its punchy six half-hour episodes, the show, co-created by the actress Amanda Peet and produced by her husband David Benioff, deals with the iniquities of contemporary university life. Its setting is Pembroke, a fictitious minor Ivy League campus somewhere in New England. The action is mainly seen from the perspective of the English department chair Ji-Yoon Kim, a Korean-American academic who fears that her promotion has been brought about through ‘diversity issues’, rather

Will Knowland, Eton and the problem with the teaching misconduct panel

When Eton master Will Knowland was sacked last year over anti-feminist views contained in a YouTube video which he refused to take down, alumni and others rightly called out Eton’s small-mindedness and intellectual conformism. If the best-endowed schools in the land can’t stomach unorthodox opinion, what hope for UK education generally? They were, of course, entirely right. But there is a further, more serious, side to the story. This week’s widely-welcomed victory by Knowland is not the end of the matter. Eton, as it was required to do when dismissing a teacher for gross misconduct, had reported the circumstances to the professional body for teachers, the Teaching Regulation Agency. The TRA was

Why wealth matters in the free speech debate

The divide between the rich and the poor is obvious in Britain today. Whether in terms of income, geography or political outlook, the cleavage between the haves and have-nots widens conspicuously. It has become a source of much snobbery and resentment. But there is another field in which this division can be witnessed, yet all too often goes ignored: free speech. Increasingly, the freedom to express your political opinions has become the privilege of the rich, while the poor – or even those on middle incomes – now fear to say what they like. This is especially the case when it comes to talking about gender, race and Brexit. So fearful of speaking