When was the last time you heard the phrase ‘it’s a free country’? Ed West doesn’t think he’s heard it in at least the past 20 years. Perhaps that’s because it’s just not true anymore, he writes for the Spectator.
Take, for example, the story of the six former police officers convicted of sending offensive Boomer memes in a private WhatsApp group called ‘Old Boys Beer Meet’, private messages deemed to be too outrageous for the fragile public to see for themselves, Ed continues.
They were lucky to escape jail. Last year another British citizen was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison for sending offensive jokes in a WhatsApp chat with friends.
Or consider the case of police in Edinburgh turning up at the home of a parent who had complained to the school about a teacher ‘being allowed to impose her gender ideology on a classroom of little kids’.
Or how about the Conservative MP found guilty of a racially aggravated public order offence and fined £600 because he told an activist to ‘Go back to Bahrain.’
Or the case of Newcastle United banning a fan for more than two seasons for tweeting that trans ideology was harmful. Perhaps that is the club’s business – after all, the Saudi Arabian-owned Premier League outfit are allowed to take a sincere stance on progressive politics – except that she was also interviewed by police.
The fact is that if you walk around the centre of almost any British city you will see petty crime unpunished in a way that contrasts with the strict laws around speech. Around the corner from the Home Office in Westminster you may even see people taking hard drugs openly in daylight. This is anarcho-tyranny in action.
Much of this is down to section 127 of Communications Act (2003), which creates very harsh restrictions on freedom of speech. The liberal Economist recently lamented of this law that: ‘For a government that portrays itself as the protector of free speech, this is a sorry affair. Conservative ministers may despair at “cancel culture” or the excesses of censorious students. Yet when it comes to something much more fundamental—restricting the ability of the state to jail someone for speaking out of turn—the government is happy to maintain a deeply illiberal status quo.’
Freedom of speech and freedom of association are by far the most essential bedrocks of liberty, and both have declined in recent decades for reasons related to issues of identity.
Indeed, one might even say that those cornerstone freedoms are incompatible with the worldview which has now become all-powerful, and which sends the police around to the homes of citizens when they express a deviant opinion. It’s not a free country, after all.