Free speech

Justin Trudeau isn’t the progressive leader he thinks he is

It came as no surprise to me to see activists ‘celebrating’ Canada Day by setting fire to churches and toppling statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, while chanting, ‘No pride in genocide.’ Canada has managed to cultivate a culture that is simultaneously self-hating and self-righteous. We have no pride in being Canadian. Yet we are confident we are better than everyone else. It is true that Canada has a shameful not-so-distant history. An estimated 751 unmarked graves were recently discovered at a former residential school site in Saskatchewan. This is not an imagined or non-serious issue. But calls to cancel Canada Day seem wholly misguided and typically Canadian, as

How I was stitched up by the Royal Academy

Recently I found myself cancelled by the Royal Academy. It was a strange affair, and this is how it happened. I’m an artist who makes a living out of creating intricate hand-embroidered portraits and flowers. I was working in my garden one afternoon last month when a glance at Instagram took me aback. My friend Laura was defending me against… well, I didn’t quite understand who or what. Laura was at work and couldn’t talk, so it was only later that evening that I began to realise what was going on. It turned out that some keyboard warriors had mounted a witch-hunt against me with the intention of getting me

Don’t ‘Kill the Bill’

Are the rights of protesters and the rights of all other citizens fairly balanced? Think back to the Extinction Rebellion protests of April 2019, when climate activists chose to ‘peacefully occupy the centres of power and shut them down’, as they put it, including the heart of London. The protests, organised globally, were perhaps the most disruptive in history. A small number of people managed to stop hundreds of thousands more going about their daily lives. People could not get to work, see family and friends or go shopping, because the streets were blocked by an extensive series of roadblocks and other tactics. At one point, printing presses were blockaded,

What would ‘sensitivity readers’ have made of my student scoops?

‘Whatever you do, don’t call them snowflakes,’ Caroline said the last time I spoke to Oxford students. ‘That’s not a grown-up way of conducting a political debate. It’s like calling you a gammon.’ She’s right, of course, but by God they make it hard. This week we learned that the Oxford University students’ union is planning to elect a ‘consultancy’ of ‘sensitivity readers’ to scrutinise articles in student newspapers before publication to make sure they won’t offend anyone. If the union has its way, the editor of Cherwell, one of Oxford’s oldest student publications, won’t have final say over what’s published in the weekly paper. Once he’s signed off on

Nick Cohen

Beware Boris’s sinister crackdown on free speech

A Conservative government that boasts it is a defender of free speech against the attacks of ‘the woke’ is about to impose the severest censorship this country has seen in peacetime since parliament abolished press controls in the 1690s. In an extraordinary power grab – which is all the more extraordinary for the absence of opposition – ministers want to silence views that carry no criminal penalty. This is more than a much-needed crackdown on racial attacks on black footballers or incitements to violent crime or any other crime; it is an unmerited attack on free speech. The government’s draft Online Safety bill imposes a ‘duty of care’ on internet companies to remove content that

Oxford, ‘sensitivity readers’ and the trouble with safe spaces

The list of things that students must apparently be protected from grows longer every day. Controversial speakers, rude comedians, sombreros (banned at the University of East Anglia in 2015 because apparently it is racist for non-Mexicans to wear them). And now, their own student newspapers. Yes, the list of terrifying things that might offend students and ever so slightly dent their self-esteem — the horror! — now includes the student press. Officials in the Oxford Student Union are thinking of setting up a Student Consultancy of Sensitivity Readers to check the output of the university’s newspapers and make sure that no ‘insensitive material’ is published. It really is as chilling

Cambridge deserves better than Stephen Toope

Regular readers may be aware that in recent months I have been having a running-spat with a Canadian lawyer called Stephen Toope. I am rarely exercised by Canadian lawyers, but this particular one is the current Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, and he seems intent on running that crown jewel of an institution into the ground.  Since taking over as Vice-Chancellor, Mr Toope has been responsible for a wide array of anti-free speech initiatives through which, as I recently remarked in the Daily Telegraph, he appears to want to transform Cambridge University into something like the Canadian bar association, but without the thrills, or the pay. Anyhow – our spat came

Big Tech is turning into Big Brother

The Big Tech social media giants are having to rethink their policy of censoring anybody who suggests that Covid originated from a lab near Wuhan, rather than through some local chowing down on sweet and sour pangolin testicles. This is because it now seems quite possible, if not probable, that the virus was kindly bestowed upon us by Chinese scientists. I don’t know either way, but I would suggest that a suspicion that the virus was man-made, given the proximity of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, scarcely qualifies as a lunatic conspiracy theory to be banned from public utterance. But that’s what the Big Tech companies decided — almost certainly

For journalists like Protasevich, free speech is a matter of life and death

Last August I wrote a column in The Spectator’s US edition urging Donald Trump to take a leaf out of Alexander Lukashenko’s book and campaign for re-election on a vodka-and-sauna approach to managing the pandemic. Belarus was one of a handful of European countries not to impose a lockdown last year, with the President urging his citizens to have plenty of vodka and lots of saunas to avoid infection. To the consternation of other European leaders, Lukashenko’s laissez-faire approach hasn’t proved a disaster — Belarus’s death toll from the virus currently stands at 2,780, although some people don’t believe the official figures — and I thought it was funny that

Culture wars, identity politics and free speech: Rod Liddle and Peter Tatchell in conversation

ROD LIDDLE: I am honoured to be speaking to you, Peter, on this anniversary of 50 years of causing havoc with the British establishment. You’re one of very few political heroes of mine. I know very few people in the country who are as committed to what they believe in as you. Now a film is being made about your life, isn’t it? It’s going to be on Netflix and it’s called Hating Peter Tatchell, which a lot of people have done over the years. How did that come about? PETER TATCHELL: The film maker, Chris Amos, approached me several years ago and said, ‘No one has ever made a

Lisa Keogh and the myth of campus censorship

The next time someone tells you campus censorship is a myth, made up by right-wing tabloids and leapt upon by a Tory government keen to wage a ‘culture war’ against the left, tell them to Google ‘Lisa Keogh’. Keogh is a 29-year-old law student at Abertay University in Dundee. She is currently being investigated by the university for the crime of saying that women have vaginas and men are stronger than women. For all the naysaying on the left, campus censorship is now apparently so extensive that stating widely accepted facts is a risky business. Campus censorship is now apparently so extensive that stating widely accepted facts is a risky

University challenge: conservatives are now the radicals on campus

On the letters page of the Sunday Times last month, the presidents of the Royal Historical Society and the Historical Association were among the signatories to a letter boldly headlined ‘History must not be politicised’. They were incensed by a rumour that government funding might be cut for the Colonial Countryside project, which looks at possible connections between the British Empire, the slave trade and National Trust properties. Unable to recognise their own political bias, the letter-writers accused the government of ‘politicising’ history by trying to depoliticise it. This extraordinary self-belief, this insistence that academics occupy the high moral ground, reflects what is happening in British universities, not least among

What’s wrong with saying ‘Rule, Britannia’?

In the age of Zoom lectures and distance learning, it is almost comforting to know that students’ unions are still up to their mad censorious antics. The new normal cannot dent their zealotry, as a recent story from the University of Aberdeen attests. The Telegraph reports today that Elizabeth Heverin, a 19-year-old history and politics student, has been banned from all students’ union buildings, debates and services for two weeks for supposedly saying ‘Rule, Britannia’ during an online discussion in December. She sits on Aberdeen University Students’ Association’s council, and they were discussing whether to renew the union’s ‘demilitarised campus’ policy, whereby the army is banned from recruiting students in

The creeping criminalisation of causing offence

At a time when resources are scarce, the Merseyside Constabulary must have thought long and hard about its recent advertising campaign: a stern message to the people of the Wirral. ‘Being offensive,’ it declared, ‘is an offence.’ The slogan was put on a van along with text urging the public to inform on transgressors. Four officers posed beside it for a photograph, as if standing ready to enforce its orders. The police only recognised their error after a public outcry. ‘We would like to clarify,’ said Superintendent Martin Earl, ‘that “being offensive” is not in itself an offence.’ On its own, the incident is merely an embarrassment, but it represents

Rod Liddle

In defence of Piers Morgan

The Liberal Democrat party’s foreign affairs spokesgoblin, Velma from Scooby-Doo — or ‘Layla Moran’ as she is known to close friends and family —has decided that freedom of speech on university campuses is of absolutely no consequence. Indeed, she described the government’s initiative to preserve the rights of students to hear a diverse range of opinions as ‘divisive’ and quite unnecessary, while she was appearing on one of those BBC Question Time editions that nobody watches any more. Velma presumably thoroughly approved of her own party’s subsequent decision to remove the tweeted clip of her spouting this bilge so that the public couldn’t hear it. If you are opposed to

Of course there’s a free speech crisis on campus

A free speech crisis on campus? Apparently, it’s a myth, concocted by right-wing commentators and latched on to by a Tory government desperate to talk about something other than Covid. That, at least, is the unconvincing take being echoed across social media at the moment, as the campus wars erupt once again. When the government announced this week that it wants to toughen the law around free speech on campus, the National Union of Students dismissed the very premise. ‘There is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus’, it said. ‘Students’ unions are constantly taking positive steps to help facilitate the thousands of events that take place

Toby Young

My advice for the next ‘free speech champion’

I was delighted to hear the government plans to appoint a ‘free speech champion’ to the board of the Office for Students. His or her responsibility will be to make sure universities in England do everything that is reasonably practicable to uphold freedom of speech within the law, including preventing external speakers from being no-platformed by student activists. This legal duty has been on the statute books since 1986, but there is no enforcement mechanism. That’s why this announcement is so important. The new free speech tsar will have the power to fine universities that don’t uphold the law. Theresa May’s government took a dummy run at this when it

Portrait of the week: Hotel quarantine starts, Ribblehead Viaduct cracks and a royal guest for Oprah

Home The target was achieved of vaccinating, by the middle of February, about 15 million people of 70 or over, together with care home residents and workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable. But there was concern that a substantial proportion of care home workers declined the vaccine. By 16 February, more than 20 per cent of the population had been given their first dose. At dawn on 14 February, total UK deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 116,908, including 4,861 in the past week. Over the previous week, the seven-day moving average of deaths had fallen to 688 a day from 932 a

The problem with pop psychology

James Bond is not what he used to be. His motivations were once so simple: MI6 had told him to do it. Of late, though, he has been propelled about the screen by his inner demons, shooting people he’s not supposed to shoot, revisiting his childhood, collecting traumas, developing a mother-complex with Judi Dench. What makes Bond, Bond? Once, it didn’t matter, now it does. The next film, Bond girl Léa Seydoux has said, will be ‘even more psychological’. The screen reflects the culture. Psychology, it seems, is what we want now. The stuff is simply everywhere. Imposter syndrome, projection, narcissism, Stockholm syndrome, triggering, boundaries, personality type, self-care — these

Donald Trump and the limits of free speech

Is Donald Trump’s expulsion from Twitter an attack on free speech? A great many Republicans are saying so. You certainly can call it ‘deplatforming’: when you lose your speaking invite, your social media posting rights or your book deal. Josh Hawley, a Republican Senator, has claimed that his First Amendment rights were violated by Simon & Schuster when they decided not to publish his book. It’s a problematic definition, since it means that Simon & Schuster are also violating my free speech by not publishing my books. And in fact, the rights of most aspiring authors on the planet. But of course, the First Amendment expressly refers to laws made