Threats to free speech are nothing new in Britain

I’m not sure why people are getting so hot under the collar about this:

I remember when the phone hacking scandal broke, middle-class lefties lined up in their thousands to denounce Rupert Murdoch and call for the government to strip him of the right to publish newspapers in the UK. The phone hacking itself was pretty scandalous, but it was not a practice limited to News of the World and the News International papers, nor was the cosy relationship between newspaper journalists and corrupt British policemen. The political pressure which resulted in the Leveson inquiry came mainly from the left, people who were fully paid up supporters of Blair and Brown, and fervently hoped Rupert Murdoch would be banished from British shores forever. So let’s not pretend that the press isn’t already subject to regulations, inquiries, and political intervention.

If a free press and freedom of speech are principles which the British people, especially the lefty middle classes, hold dear it is news to me. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve seen in The Guardian which contain the phrase “I believe in free speech, but…” and which go on to suggest these freedoms should extend only to those who share the author’s political views on any given subject. And it was the British middle classes who voted for Blair, Cameron, and May all of whom were keen proponents of more restrictions on what people can say and what they can publish. For as long as I can remember, regular, robust defenses of freedom of speech have only been found in fringe publications and libertarian blogs. The Mohammed Cartoon controversy proved that beyond doubt way back in 2005.

For at least the past decade we’ve been bogged down in vague and draconian “hate speech” legislation, which now enables Plod to arrest people for saying mean things about Britain’s protected classes on Twitter and Facebook. I am told Corbyn’s supporters and the Momentum movement is made up mostly of Millenials, folk in their late teens or early twenties. Well, what lessons do you think they learned being raised by hand-wringing middle class lefties who voted for Blair and left The Guardian lying around? Even if their household was centre right, what free speech principles would they have learned? You’re not going to pick them up from The Times, Telegraph, or The Economist, especially if they’re talking about immigration, and their parents are as likely to sneer down their noses at George Bush or Donald Trump and gush over Barack Obama than explain to their kids that causing offence ought not to be a crime.

So as I’ve pointed out before, all Corbyn’s mob are doing is continuing in the same direction of travel Britain’s been moving in since at least 1997. They’ve looked around, seen that most people don’t really care about freedom of the press in any meaningful sense and are happy to vote for politicians who introduce draconian restrictions on what people can say and write, and acted accordingly. We can all blame Corbyn for this, and rightly call him an unprincipled scumbag who shouldn’t be anywhere near the levers of power, but the problem didn’t start with him, did it?

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29 thoughts on “Threats to free speech are nothing new in Britain

  1. The only thankful thing is that the legislation is so leaky that, as Old Holborn points out, the majority of successful prosecutions rely on the accused pleading guilty after much pressure by Plod.

    If you stand your ground the case generally evaporates.

    By the way, it is no coincidence that the first amendment to the USA constituation is Freedom of Speech and the second is the right to protect oneself physically. That’s the correct order, there can’t be the first without the second.

  2. By the way, it is no coincidence that the first amendment to the USA constituation is Freedom of Speech and the second is the right to protect oneself physically. That’s the correct order, there can’t be the first without the second.

    Yes, and one of the great ironies this past 48 hours has been Brits wringing their hands over Corbyn’s attacks on press freedom while simultaneously sneering at Americans’ insistence on retaining their second amendment rights. Saying you “don’t understand” American gun culture is a form of virtue signalling that even usually decent folk like Andrew Neil feel it necessary to engage in.

  3. Looking back (as one does from a more venerable age) you have plotted the course very well indeed. Corbyn is the merely the foreskin on the end of a big d…

    Like my leftie friends here who believe in freedom but ‘what would have happened in China if they hadn’t instituted the one-child policy?’/Venezuela’s an example (I’m yet to stick my finger in their eye over that one/welcome refugees (they know nothing about Germany or Swedenm nor care).

    We are heading clearly in the wrong direction. People like Peterson, Pinker, Hoff Summers etc. are provoking a reaction, but as my daughter who works in the City (posh. eh?) says ‘I can’t talk about Brexit/Trump/Peterson to any of my friends!’

  4. I agree Tim, but I am not sure it matters much.

    The Media in general have covered themselves with ordure over Trump, Brexit etc.

    Not many people care any more. We can get news easily enough online (though not, of course, from Facebook & Twitter) and there are plenty of people writing blogs from a reality-based perspective, like your good self.

    I don’t much care if they want to censer the Daily Mail – I don’t read it anyway. I don’t much care that the BBC is pro-immigration, anti-Brexit and thinks McDonnell is cuddly. I don’t watch them for news or opinions.

    The media in general abused its freedom to push its own agenda. I hope they all go actually, not only as now morally, bankrupt.

  5. Most noticeable aspect of the Phone Hacking Scandal was that the non-Murdoch tabloids were totally silent on the matter. Like, ye’d have thought they’d have leapt at the chance to gloat over the satanic rival being caught red-handed doing some phone-tapping.

    It was almost as if…………..

  6. ‘Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins’ — ‘Night and Day’ (1978).

  7. I don’t understand American gun culture.

    You don’t have to, unless you’re American and have skin in the game. But it seems to be an area of foreign culture Brits feel comfortable sneering at, whereas if you applied this to, say, an aspect of African or Aboriginal culture you’d be sent of to re-education camp for sensitivity training.

  8. Junk journalism is the evidence of a society that has got at least one thing right, that there should be nobody with the power to dictate where responsible journalism begins

    That’s what I always thought about Charlie Hebdo: provided they’re allowed to do their stuff, everyone else can do theirs. They’re a useful bellweather.

  9. “That’s what I always thought about Charlie Hebdo: provided they’re allowed to do their stuff, everyone else can do theirs. They’re a useful bellweather.”

    That photo of European leaders walking arm in arm following that will come back to damn many of them when history reviews their subsequent actions.

    Freedom of speech is only real if you defend the opinions you don’t agree with.

    As you point out, the “but” is so telling in the “I believe in freedom of speech” statements.

  10. > We can all blame Corbyn for this, and rightly call him an unprincipled scumbag who shouldn’t be anywhere near the levers of power

    We can and should say that, because he is.

    >but the problem didn’t start with him, did it?

    You’re quite right. But he’s our current threat, so he must be our current focus. But you’re also right that the problem extends far wider than him and his Momentum mates.

    (It didn’t even start in 1997. New Labour was just a somewehat watered-down, and somewhat disguised, version, of sixties leftism. And that can all be traced back through various politicial meanderings to Lenin. And even Lenin’s effect on the world can be traced further back to Chernyshevsky. And Chernyshevsky back to Herzen.)

  11. You’re quite right. But he’s our current threat, so he must be our current focus.

    I’d rather hold May’s feet to the fire than some washed-up old Commie. And if the likes of Amber Rudd thinks she has a chance at the top job with her brand of authoritarian nannying, send her packing too.

  12. You’re underestimating Corbyn. Or, rather, you’re underestimating the left. Corbyn may be an old fool, but those around him are not.

    And history shows that there are a lot of leftists who did a lot of damage well after they had become jokes to most people. Including Lenin himself.

    Amber Rudd polls terribly with the Conservative members, so the only way she can get the top job is if the MPs all agree to give it to her, which I can’t see happening, or she goes into a two-way run-off with someone even less popular than her, which is going to be v ery difficult to arrange.

  13. It didn’t even start in 1997

    Yes, that was rather the point of my quoting from a 1978 play which had to be making the same argument.

  14. You’re underestimating Corbyn.

    I’m not, I’m saying the best way to defeat Corbyn and his lunatic supporters is for the Tories to sort themselves out, elect a proper leader, and start implementing some sensible policies.

  15. Henry

    she’s friends with about the only non-leftie prof at LSE and I think she has one more somewhere. But most are knee-jerk liberals (Yankee liberals that is), with no data and the presumption that things like: abortion, global warming, alt-right (everybody else), refugees unlimited, Brexit (bad), Trump (worse) are all givens and shouldn’t be discussed.

    I like it ‘cos when she comes home I have someone to talk to too.

    But you are right about her, and about me! There are times….

    A physics Professor (quantum, no less) friend who said I was wrong about the greenhouse effect of CO2. It’s arithmetic and automatically raises the temperature proportionally!!!! What does a man do? You fill your glass and look the other way.

  16. “You’re underestimating Corbyn. Or, rather, you’re underestimating the left. Corbyn may be an old fool, but those around him are not.”

    Quite. It seems fairly obvious (to me at any rate) that Corbyn isn’t really in charge. He’s a useful mask for others to wear.

    So, with regard to Tim’s post a couple of days ago, the reason that the Czech/Hezbollah/IRA attacks are useless is that since nobody under the age of ~50 really gives a shit anyway, they’re really only soaking up bandwidth that would be far better used against McDonnell and Momentum.

  17. Tim

    Sorry to be a pedant, but it’s “bellwether” (…what with you being a writer an’ all…)

  18. I’m not, I’m saying the best way to defeat Corbyn and his lunatic supporters is for the Tories to sort themselves out, elect a proper leader, and start implementing some sensible policies.

    Given that there are no suitable candidates, though, the next-best way is to get as much dirt out there on Corbyn as possible so that he will have to deny it over and over again during the election campaign. Because there is one thing Corbyn can be relied upon to do when questioned hard by someone who doesn’t totally share all his premises and world-view, and that is lose his temper. He hates having to justify his past actions, which as far as he is concerned were all perfectly in the right. He hasn’t had to learn, as politicians who have worked their way up to the front-line have, the art of keeping one’s composure no matter what one is presented with. He’s spent his entire life surrounded by people who believe exactly the same things he does, and so he doesn’t have the patience to put up with people questioning his basic assumptions about the world (that Britain is bad, for example) while trying to get his message across.

    Remember when he hung on on Stephen Nolan that time? That’s not a one-off, that’s not out of character, that’s who he really is. It’s the harmless old well-meaning but incompetent and disorganised fuddy-duddy who is the act (well, the ‘incompetent’ and ‘disorganised’ bits are real, but the ‘harmless’, ‘well-meaning’ and ‘fuddy-duddy’ bits aren’t: he’s really a prickly bully). It’s an act he managed to pull off when he wasn’t under scrutiny as a serious contender for PM, but that won’t be the case next time.

    The dream scenario for the Tories at the next election is Corbyn during the short campaign on Newsnight or Andrew Marr, being asked to denounce the IRA, and then Hamas, and then the USSR, and eventually getting so fed up he just tears off his microphone, stands up and huffs out of the studio. That, played on every bulletin for a news cycle, will really destroy his ‘cuddly geography teacher’ image, and it’s easy to imagine (especially if, say, it’s Andrew Neil doing the questioning) and if the Conservative Press Office is canny, they can make it a virtual certainty that it will happen.

    So if (and I admit it’s a big if) the Tories are in any way competent at politics, this is they long game they are playing: just keep needling at Corbyn until he self-destructs under the pressure. And this bizarre video rant, as the tabloids would call it, may be the first sign they are succeeding.

  19. Sorry to be a pedant, but it’s “bellwether” (…what with you being a writer an’ all…)

    Ooh, I didn’t know that! Thanks!

  20. Because there is one thing Corbyn can be relied upon to do when questioned hard by someone who doesn’t totally share all his premises and world-view, and that is lose his temper. He hates having to justify his past actions, which as far as he is concerned was all perfectly in the right.

    During the last election campaign I saw Andrew Neil interview Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn came off extremely well, and there were plenty of questions about his IRA-supporting, which he just brushed off with mild-mannered lies. Theresa May came off terribly. It’s a risky strategy to think the same approach will trip him up next time around.

    It’s an act he managed to pull off when he wasn’t under scrutiny as a serious contender for PM, but that won’t be the case next time.

    You may be right, and I hope you are.

  21. A massive chunk of his self-confidence comes from things like the good polling of Rail Renationalisation, which of course people say they are in favour of because Labour has managed to give people the idea that it’s the same kind of question as, ‘Are you in favour of free cake?’.

    And those kinds of things weren’t attacked in the campaign last time, because apparently the Tories thought they didn’t even have to try to win, they could just coast to a landslide on their pre-campaign poll ratings.

    But once those things are attacked at their premises — once people start pointing out that the cake isn’t free, and nationalised cake was always pretty horrible anyway — so that his cushion of ‘the public really love my polices’ starts to crumble, and in a campaign where he’s really under pressure to become PM (because he wasn’t under any pressure last time — he knew he wouldn’t win, his expectations were rock-bottom so even in a total wipeout he probably could have survived as leader off the back of Momentum) I think we’ll see the mask start to slip and the real Corbyn start to show.

    And maybe Ken Livingstone will mention Hitler again. What do you think are the chances of that?

  22. And maybe Ken Livingstone will mention Hitler again. What do you think are the chances of that?

    One.

  23. “The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading the flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be noted by hearing the bell when the flock was not in sight.”

    Thought that sheep knowledge was one of this blog’s specialities!

    That line about what to do if you’re kidnapped by aliens and they smear paint on your groin was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

  24. Thought that sheep knowledge was one of this blog’s specialities!

    Gulp!

    That line about what to do if you’re kidnapped by aliens and they smear paint on your groin was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

    Heh, I’d forgotten about that!

  25. >that was rather the point of my quoting from a 1978 play which had to be making the same argument.

    Yep.

    >I’m saying the best way to defeat Corbyn and his lunatic supporters is for the Tories to sort themselves out, elect a proper leader, and start implementing some sensible policies.

    Definitely agree with that.

  26. “she’s friends with about the only non-leftie prof at LSE and I think she has one more somewhere. But most are knee-jerk liberals (Yankee liberals that is), with no data and the presumption that things like: abortion, global warming, alt-right (everybody else), refugees unlimited, Brexit (bad), Trump (worse) are all givens and shouldn’t be discussed.”

    Womiccumalobus offal the lot of them.

  27. Another reason to be criticising Corbyn a lot now is that before too long you may not be able to do any criticising of him at all. So get it in now, while you can.

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