Free speech

Why I was sacked from Eton

One of the things I’ll miss about teaching at Eton is the ever-present threat of an ironic riposte from one of the boys. ‘Cheer up,’ I told one who looked un-enthused by Milton in my first week at the school, nine years ago. ‘Two hundred years ago, you’d have been down a mine!’ ‘Sir,’ he replied deadpan, ‘we’d have owned the mines.’ The class erupted in self–deprecating laughter. I’d arrived. It was the boys themselves who suggested and named the YouTube channel Knowland Knows, which has since got me summarily dismissed. The axe fell swiftly after I asked why a video entitled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’ (originally intended as half of

Cambridge academics have just won an important battle for free speech

Academics at Cambridge won a cheering victory for free speech today when they voted by an overwhelming majority to reject plans from the vice-chancellor to change the rules governing debate at the university. They rejected the university’s proposals to insist that students and staff be ‘respectful’ of opposing views. They decided, instead, that the rules should say students and staff must ‘tolerate’ opposition. The result was as close to conclusive as you can get. Only 162 academics voted in favour of the university’s plan, while 1316 voted in favour of the change. (A further 208 academics wanted neither.) As I explained in The Spectator last week, the distinction between respect and tolerance

Eton was right to sack teacher Will Knowland

Last week Eton College made the controversial decision to sack an English teacher after he refused to take down his YouTube video entitled ‘The Patriarchy Paradox’. In the 30-minute lecture, Will Knowland argues that the patriarchy results from biological differences rather than social constructs and that the system benefits women. Eton’s decision is not, as many people would argue, an attack on free speech and fundamental liberties. It is an attack on foolishness. If Knowland’s intention had been to encourage healthy academic debate, then there are many other outlets he could have chosen: an assembly, a debate, or one of his English lessons. Putting up a YouTube video in which

Toby Young

The battle for Eton’s soul

When trying to get my head around the row that has engulfed Eton College in the past two weeks I keep getting sidetracked by the comic details. Like the fact that the headmaster, Simon Henderson, is nicknamed ‘trendy Hendy’ on account of his mission to transform Eton into a modern, progressive institution. By all accounts, he has set about trying to cleanse the school of its ‘toxic’ traditions with the zeal of a captain in the Red Guards, promising to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum, recruiting the creator of the Everyday Sexism blog to lecture the staff on the gender pay gap and, at one point, proposing to scrap Eton’s famous uniform.

Tolerance is out of fashion at Cambridge University

A struggle begins in Cambridge on Friday, which will determine the freedom to argue in the university. As the students of today are the elites of tomorrow, and as the same fight between liberalism and, for want of a better word, wokeism is being fought everywhere, it is an early skirmish in the fight over everyone’s freedom. At its heart is a distinction with a difference worth fighting over: the line between ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’. Tolerance is an old liberal virtue that is tougher than it looks. After the devastation brought by the wars of religion, the early Enlightenment decided, in the words of John Locke, that ‘the civil magistrate has

Will my kids report me for hate speech?

When Humza Yousaf, the SNP’s cabinet secretary for justice, announced that his new Hate Crime Bill would remove the ‘dwelling exemption’ in the Public Order Act 1986, people were understandably horrified. As things stand, you cannot be prosecuted for stirring up racial hatred because you’ve said something inflammatory about race or religion in the privacy of your own home. But that’s far too wishy-washy for Yousaf. Not only does he want to enlarge the number of ‘protected’ groups, he also wants the new speech restrictions to apply in people’s homes. Henceforth, Big Brother will be watching you in the kitchen and the bedroom. If Humza Yousaf has his way, there

The trans debate could cost this Cambridge porter his job

This is a story about a man called Kevin Price, who was until last week a councillor and who is, for now at least, employed as a porter at a Cambridge college. The story illustrates two points. First, political conflict over trans rights and women’s rights is far from over, especially in the Labour Party. Second, people who say the wrong thing in this debate can put their livelihood at risk. Mr Price last week resigned from Cambridge City Council. He had sat as a Labour councillor since 2010 and was once the council’s deputy leader. He resigned rather than follow the Labour Group whip and vote for a motion

The creep of internet censorship

Kristie Higgs, a 44-year-old school assistant, didn’t realise that criticising the sex education curriculum at her son’s school on Facebook would get her fired. For one thing, her account was set to ‘private’, so only her family and friends could read it. For another, she was posting under her maiden name, so no one could connect her with her employer. Finally, the school that sacked her for expressing these views wasn’t actually her son’s, but another one altogether. This seems a pretty clear case of a person losing her livelihood for dissenting from progressive orthodoxy. Kristie’s case is being heard at an employment tribunal in Bristol this week. The dispute

Scots poll in favour of free expression

The SNP’s determination to push on with its draconian Hate Crime Bill has put it on the wrong side of Scottish public opinion. A new poll indicates popular unease with plans to criminalise speech on everything from religion to ‘transgender identity’ if it is deemed ‘likely that hatred would be stirred up’. The Savanta ComRes poll of 1,008 Scottish adults found both generalised endorsement of classical liberal precepts such as free expression, open debate and the absence of a right not to be offended, as well as more specific concerns about the Bill itself. The headline findings are: 87 per cent of respondents agreed that free speech was an ‘important

We’re facing a tsunami of censorship

It’s open season on mavericks and dissenters at the moment. If you publicly challenge any of the sacred nostrums of the social justice left and you work in a school, a college, a university, an arts company, a public broadcasting organisation, a tech company, a charity, a local authority or, indeed, Whitehall, you are at risk of being cancelled. How do I know? Because in February I set up the Free Speech Union to protect those being targeted in this way and in the past month we’ve been contacted by people in all of these fields who have either been fired, suspended or are ‘under investigation’ for having said or

The death of free speech

Oh, to be in America, where cultural decay and self-destruction compete equally with hyper-feminist and anti-racist agendas. Gone with the Wind is now off limits and Robert E. Lee’s statue in Richmond is unlikely to remain standing (I give it a week at most). And over here poor old Winnie is also in the you-know-what. Why didn’t anyone tell me Churchill was a Nazi? The Cenotaph also has to go; those guys it honours were racists. Two weeks ago in these here pages Douglas Murray said it all about a US import we can do without. Alas, when Uncle Sam sneezes, the British bulldog gets the flu. The scenes may

America has turned into a bad joke

Gstaad     Rumours about the virus are flying around this village. First there was talk of a hotel being temporarily quarantined, then a shindig given by a fat social climber where one of the guests was said to be infected. So far these seem to have been false alarms but still the fat old rich who don’t ski are panicking, staying indoors and incommunicado. This is good news. Even better news is that I’ve been skiing with my son and have never had a better time, although he did have to wait for me at times. The snow was unexpectedly good and there was plenty of it. My trouble

Why the Free Speech Union is taking on an Oxford college

The Free Speech Union has submitted a letter of complaint to the Rector of Exeter College after the Oxford history professor Selina Todd was barred from addressing a conference at the college on Saturday. Todd was stopped from speaking about the women’s liberation movement at an event that she had helped organise after trans activists complained about some of her views.  The Rector, Professor Sir Rick Trainor, has acknowledged the letter and said the matter will be investigated under the College’s complaints procedure. 

How far should we go to defend free speech?

This week sees the official launch of the Free Speech Union — an organisation that stands up for the speech rights of its members. It’s my baby, but a number of people have come on board as directors, including Douglas Murray and Professor Nigel Biggar. I’ve also had a lot of help behind the scenes from people who got in touch after reading about it in this column. I was on the Today programme on Monday to talk about it and have done a number of interviews since. By the time you read this, I’ll be recovering from the launch party, scheduled for Wednesday night. So far, it’s going pretty

Why ‘safe spaces’ are nowhere to be seen on Japan’s university campuses

A part-time lecturer and friend of mine was reported to his university last month for making ‘inappropriate comments’ in the teacher’s room. These comments, related to his sceptical views on man-made climate change. The accuser, another part-time lecturer irate at such heresy, clearly wanted my friend to be sacked. Had this been a British or American university, I would have gravely worried about my friend’s position. Luckily for him, it happened in Tokyo. So his job is safe. Why? I know exactly how this complaint will have been received: politely, of course, and with the Japanese equivalent of ‘Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention’. And I know

Four defences of free speech that everyone should read

Every generation, and individual, has to rediscover the arguments for free speech for themselves. Some people learn from major incidents. Some when the censors come for someone close to them, or an opinion that they hold. Others come to believe in free speech because they realise that while being offended on occasion might be terrible, it is nowhere near as terrible as any system designed to make being offended impossible. Fortunately there are short-cuts to finding the best defences of free speech. The English language provides an especially rich tradition on which to draw. From many centuries of literature allow me to list just four works: two classic, two modern.

Universities’ war against truth

Young people today are very reluctant to assume that anything is certain, and this reluctance is revealed in their language. In any matter where there might be disagreement, they will put a question mark at the end of the sentence. And to reinforce the posture of neutrality they will insert words that function as disclaimers, among which the favourite is ‘like’. You might be adamant that the Earth is spherical, but they will suggest instead that the Earth is, ‘like, spherical?’ Whence came this ubiquitous hesitation? As I understand the matter, it has much to do with the new ideology of non-discrimination. Modern education aims to be ‘inclusive’, and that