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FSU pays security costs to help save Bristol University Feminist Society event!

News of a terrific FSU success at the University of Bristol broke over the weekend, courtesy of the Telegraph.

When university bosses ordered Bristol’s Feminist Society, Women Talk Back, to contribute to the security costs for a panel discussion on “advocating, litigating and protecting women’s rights”, the event nearly fell through – but in an important victory for free speech, the FSU was able to intervene to save the event thanks to our Mactaggart Programme (more on that in a moment).

One of the invited external speakers was Akua Reindorf KC, a barrister ranked in Tier 1 of the Legal 500 2023 for ‘Employment’, and, since last year, also a Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

You might think that Ms Reindorf is exactly the type of high-profile, high calibre external speaker that a prestigious Russell Group university like Bristol would be proud to welcome onto campus.

Except, of course, that the employment, discrimination, and human rights law specialist had previously drawn the ire of transgender activists having criticised Stonewall in a report for the University of Essex on the no-platforming of two feminist law professors.

And once that fact became known, the institution’s response unfurled itself with all the grim inevitability of Greek tragedy, as senior administrators panicked themselves into imposing a series of strict conditions on the event, including that it “be limited to staff and students only on the grounds of health and safety and the deterrence of public disorder”. The feminist society was also ordered to pay £340 towards security costs, which left the group on the brink of axing the event.

Thankfully, the FSU has been able to strike a blow against this knee-jerk safetyism by funding a new venue off campus using money from our Mactaggart Programme.

The Mactaggart Programme was established very recently – so recently, in fact, that the contribution put forward to help secure the Women Talk Back event is the Programme’s first ever award. The Programme’s remit is to help foster a culture of open debate, independent thinking, and free expression amongst young people, and particularly students, by awarding grants to student societies.

I’m optimistic that English universities won’t use the ‘security costs’ excuse in an effort to cancel student events in future. That’s because the government last year accepted an amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that the FSU had been campaigning for that will make it harder for English universities and students’ unions to pass on security costs to student societies other than in exceptional circumstances. (You can read my letter to the then Higher Education Minister and Education Secretary thanking them for introducing the amendment, and the Education Secretary’s subsequent reply, here.)

Bristol University has form on this issue. As the then Higher Education Minister Michelle Donelan pointed out at the time, a student society faced a £500 security bill from Bristol University’s students’ union to allow Mark Regev, then the Israeli Ambassador, to give a talk, while charging nothing to allow his Palestinian counterpart to do the same (Jewish News). But others are just as culpable. The Jewish Society at Lancaster University, for instance, was also recently asked to pay £1,500 towards ‘security costs’ as a condition of inviting Mark Regev. Because the Society couldn’t afford this, the event was cancelled (Telegraph).

If you’d like to apply to our grant-giving programme to promote free speech among young people and at universities, please contact us here – students, student societies and academics are all eligible.

FSU investigation reveals College of Policing watered down Home Secretary’s NCHI guidance

Back in March, the Home Office published its first ever Code of Practice on non-crime hate incidents (or NCHIs), after the Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was “deeply concerned” about police “wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country” by focusing on hurty feelings. Under this new Code of Practice, police would be required to exercise their common sense and be mindful of people’s right to free speech before recording an NCHI.

Some 120,000 people had NCHIs recorded against them in England and Wales between 2014 and 2019, including children. Particularly troubling is the fact that they can show up during an enhanced criminal records checks that candidates are asked to produce when applying for certain jobs, such as teacher or carer.

Once the Code of Practice has been given the Parliamentary stamp of approval, police forces in England and Wales will have to wade through NCHIs in their databases and remove any that wouldn’t merit being recorded under the new guidelines, which we believe is the vast majority. Consequently, if you think an NCHI has been recorded against your name please contact us and we can start the process of getting it removed. You can see some guidance we’ve already published about that here. (And you can also read our 2021 briefing on NCHIs here.)

So, that’s the good news.

The bad news is that earlier this month the College of Policing, a taxpayer-funded quango that provides national advice to police forces in England and Wales and which came up with the concept of NCHIs in 2014, published its own ‘interpretation’ of the Code of Practice, referred to by the College as “authorised professional practice” (or APP).

At the time that struck the FSU as an odd decision. After all, the intention of the Home Office was for the Code of Practice to be adopted wholesale by the College as its new operational guidance, not as something that needed to be ‘interpreted’.

It turns out that we were right to be suspicious, because as FSU Research Officer Carrie Clark has since confirmed, the APP effectively gives a woke spin to Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s draft Code of Practice, with the result that police officers could now continue to arrest people for expressing controversial (yet nonetheless perfectly lawful) opinions.

It was while preparing the FSU’s submission to the College of Policing’s public consultation on its new guidance that Carrie spotted a number of significant discrepancies between that document and the Home Secretary’s Code of Practice. We passed this information to the Telegraph which then broke the story (here). 

One of the clearest benefits of the new Code of Practice is that it provides no less than 11 examples of potential scenarios police officers and staff may encounter when managing reports of non-criminal incidents, 63% of which advise the police explicitly not to record one. The examples cover all the protected characteristics, including believing in the reality of biological sex. That’s important because tens of thousands of NCHIs have been recorded against feminists for expressing that belief.

By contrast, the College of Policing’s version provides just eight examples, only 12.5% of which advise the police explicitly not to record. In addition, three of the examples concern the protected characteristic of disability, meaning that the examples are heavily skewed towards this particular protected characteristic.

While some examples included in the College of Policing’s version have been taken almost verbatim from the Code of Practice, others appear to have been edited so as to be extremely unhelpful to anyone trying to understand contemporary challenges faced by the police. This is particularly true of the only example that concerns gender critical belief.

Example C in the Code of Practice describes someone complaining to the police that a Tweet expressing the view that biological sex, not self-declared gender identity, should determine access to single sex spaces such as women’s changing rooms is ‘transphobic’. The Code recommends that this should not be recorded as an NCHI.

But in the College of Policing’s version, this has been inverted, with an example given of a gender critical feminist accusing a pro-trans local authority of committing a ‘hate incident’. The guidance advises the police not to record this as an NCHI. That is a bizarre inversion of the Code of Practice’s advice and is unlikely to lead to fewer NCHIs being recorded against gender critical feminists.

The intention of the Home Secretary couldn’t be clearer: she wants officers to stop policing our tweets and start policing our streets. But the College of Policing seems determined to thwart her. We will be keeping a close eye on this one.

Christian mayoral candidate wins damages for unfair dismissal

In an important victory for common sense, Maureen Martin, the housing association employee who was fired from her housing association for expressing orthodox Christian beliefs in an election leaflet when she stood for the mayoralty in her London borough, has just won a substantial out of court settlement from her former employer (Mail on Sunday).

I spoke about the need to remedy this injustice last year on GB News (here), as well as writing about it for the Mail on Sunday (here), so I’m delighted for Maureen. It takes guts to stick up for yourself in the way she has, and the result is she’s struck a major blow for free speech. Her substantial out-of-court settlement sends a clear message to employers who disapprove of an employee’s orthodox Christian beliefs: sack them at your peril.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees based on a protected characteristic, and that includes religion or belief. Unfortunately, woke companies often disregard that when it comes to expressions of orthodox Christian beliefs, hoping their victims will go quietly. In Maureen’s case, they picked on the wrong woman.

This demonstrates exactly why the FSU is campaigning for an amendment to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying non-woke things outside of the workplace. 

Christian Concern did a great job in helping Maureen take legal action against her former employer. But taking your case to an Employment Tribunal is a lengthy and often costly process. (The barrister Allison Bailey had to raise more than £500,000 to fund her recent legal case, for example.) That’s why we believe the Employment Rights Act needs amending to make it impossible for employers to sack employees who say something lawful outside the workplace.

As part of that amendment, we’d like to see a statute of limitations on what people can be investigated for, even if it’s something they said in the workplace. In recent times, we’ve seen the rise of what the author Freddie deBoer has called “offence archaeology”, where people go back many years to try and find things people have said that are supposedly offensive in order to get them disciplined, sacked or cancelled – as happened, for example, in the recent, high profile cases of the then leader of Northern Ireland’s UUP Party, Doug Beattie (Telegraph), schoolteacher Christian Webb (Spiked) and American comedian Kevin Hart (Spectator). Like libel and slander, we’re campaigning for a 12-month statute of limitations on what you can be investigated for.

FSU response to Institute of Actuaries’ consultation on DEI

The FSU has responded to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (IFoA) consultation on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Like many other professional and supervisory bodies, the IFoA is proposing to update its Code of Conduct to get its members to comply with EDI orthodoxy. We are concerned this will result in further suppression of members’ free speech, especially as the IFoA’s Code of Conduct has very broad application and applies to members’ private lives, i.e., their behaviour outside of work.

In our response, we highlight how the existing IFoA Code already contains extensive EDI provisions. If these new proposals were to be implemented, we fear the IFoA would be adopting an approach to EDI that risks scope creep and threatens to punish anyone who dissents from woke orthodoxy. Our experience at the FSU is that changing professional codes of conduct to prioritise EDI, while no doubt well-intentioned, leads to people being put through unnecessary and stressful disciplinary procedures.

You can read our response in full here.

Government shelves Worker Protection Bill in big free speech victory!

News of a big free speech victory emerged this month, when the government withdrew its support from the “draconian” Worker Protection (Amendment to Equality Act 2010) Bill following a Tory backlash (Telegraph). Members will recall that our Chief Legal Counsel, Dr Bryn Harris, produced a very thorough briefing note on the Bill and it’s this note, which we’ve circulated widely in Parliament, that prompted the rebellion.

If the Bill had reached the statute books in its current form, it would have introduced a legal requirement for companies and public bodies to take “all reasonable steps” to prevent their employees being harassed by third parties (i.e., customers or members of the public) in a way that related to a “protected characteristic” as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (such as sex, gender reassignment, age, race, religion, etc).

The obvious danger, apart from the compliance costs, is that the legislation would have caused an explosion in costly litigation, forcing pubs, bars and restaurants to expel clients for “banter” and other trivial, perfectly lawful incidents.

Another more subtle, but just as significant danger was the ‘chilling’ effect the Bill would have had – as the Tory peer Lord Strathcarron pointed out during the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. For instance, it would have meant bookshops not inviting authors such as JK Rowling and Helen Joyce to give talks “knowing that an employee could sue for hurt feelings”.

With Tory peers having tabled numerous amendments to the Bill, a government source has now confirmed that there won’t be enough time to debate them all before the end of the Parliamentary session – making “passage of the Bill impossible”.

According to the government source quoted in the Telegraph, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch (who was responsible for the Bill), is now looking to ensure any future legislation is focused solely on preventing the sexual harassment of employees by third parties – an element of the current Bill that commands broad support.

The FSU is relieved that the government has listened to our concerns and those expressed in the House of Lords and withdrawn its support for this piece of legislation. The Equality Act 2010 undoubtedly needs reforming, but not in a way that further erodes free speech.

You can read more about this important victory on our home page.

The FSU would love to hear about your experiences of cancel culture!  

Thanks to your support, we’ve been helping to defend our members’ free speech rights for more than three years.

In that time, our in-house legal team, working with our casework team, has assisted more than 2,000 individuals. As a result, we’ve gained a unique insight into cancel culture – and contrary to the tenets of woke millennial orthodoxy, we’re now in a position to state with absolute certainty that reports of its non-existence are greatly exaggerated.

That said, we’d like to gain even further insight by hearing from our newsletter recipients, both those who have been helped directly by our case team, and also any others who may have been affected by cancel culture.

The results of this survey will be used to help us engage more effectively in the public conversation and to inform our in-house case work. By cancel culture, we mean the general cultural background that leads to situations where our legal free speech rights as citizens are put at risk or actively curtailed, and unwarranted sanctions are applied.

Please follow this link to complete the anonymous survey: FSU Cancel Culture Survey.

It should take no more than five minutes and we will share a summary of the results of this survey in a future FSU newsletter.

Tickets now available for our live event with Prof Matthew Goodwin

We’re delighted to announce the first events in our summer season. Members receive discounts for live events and exclusive access to online content, so do consider joining the FSU. Membership starts from as little as £2.49 per month. 

On Wednesday 7th June, we will be hosting “Whose values? Whose voices? Are we being silenced by a ‘new elite’?” featuring Professor Matthew Goodwin, a member of our Advisory Council.

Professor Goodwin’s latest book, Values, Voices and Virtue: The New British Politics, has stirred up lively discussion about whether a ‘new elite’, with values alien to the majority, is becoming a dominant cultural and political force in Britain. Stepping into the middle of the culture wars and offering an analysis that is critical of both left and right, the book has succeeded in opening up debate about the causes and impact of populism, the nature of power and class identity, whether society can cohere around shared values, and how democracy can be revived.

We have brought together a great panel to discuss the book with Matthew: Professor Geoffrey Evans of Oxford University, Baroness Claire Fox and journalist Sherelle Jacobs. I’ll be chairing the discussion. 

There will be an audience Q & A and plenty of time to socialise afterwards, so if you can get to London, it’s a great opportunity to meet the speakers, as well as the FSU staff and other members. A welcome drink is included in the ticket price and the bar will stay open after the debate. The book will be on sale on the night. Tickets can be purchased here.

FSU Summer Regional Speakeasy in Cambridge – book your tickets here!

If you live in the Cambridge area, the first of our Summer Regional Speakeasies will take place there on Thursday 15th June. Journalist and writer Jane Robins will interview me about my perspective on the battle for free speech, and much more. There will, of course, be plenty of time for socialising with fellow free speech supporters. FSU members can book tickets FREE of charge for themselves and their friends. Non-members pay £10. You can book your places here.

FSU event on the return of blasphemy laws – snaffle the last few tickets here!

A few in-person tickets remain for our next event, “Blasphemy Law by the Back Door?”, which takes place in central London on Wednesday 10th May. Book your tickets now to avoid disappointment. Members who cannot get to London can join online – please see recent FSU Events emails or weekly newsletters for the link. All are welcome to attend in person, and tickets can be purchased here.

The Weekly Sceptic Live and the Lockdown Files Live

Finally, you can now also purchase tickets to two live events I’ll be appearing at.

The first is a live recording of the Weekly Sceptic – the regular podcast of the Daily Sceptic, my news publishing website, featuring stand-up comic and GB News presenter Nick Dixon, Daily Sceptic editor Will Jones and me. It’s at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on 20th May. The two-hour show starts at 7.30pm and includes an audience Q&A, along with a section called ‘Peak Woke’ in which Nick and I compete to see who can find the most egregious example of woke gobbledygook in the past seven days. Guaranteed laughs. Tickets are only £25 and available here – but hurry if you’d like to go. They’re selling fast.

The second is the Lockdown Files Live, an exclusive, one-off event on 10th June in which I’ll be interviewing Isabel Oakeshott on stage about Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages which she leaked to the Telegraph and became the basis of the paper’s Lockdown Files. The evening, which is also at the Emmanuel Centre, will include a series of readings from the WhatsApp messages featuring actor and leader of the Reclaim Party Laurence Fox as Matt Hancock. Doors open at 7pm (as does the bar) and the two-hour show starts at 7.30pm (including an Audience Q&A). You can find out more and book your tickets (also £25) here.

Kind regards,

Toby Young