Sorry, says Brendan O’Neill for The Spectator, but liberty means Joey Barton having the right to express views that some people won’t like — and for a government minister to decree that those views are “unacceptable”, and call on Ofcom to take action under the Online Safety Act is the stuff of tyranny.
This is the news that ex-footballer Joey Barton has been holding forth on X, previously Twitter, for the past few weeks, on women’s football, ‘wokeness’ and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). DEI is “BS”, he says, like a man who’s just been reading some of the FSU’s recent research briefings.
His big bugbear is women commentating on the men’s game. He thinks they’re unqualified for such a task. He referred to two female pundits on ITV as “the Fred and Rose West of football commentary”, which is mad, obviously.
At a Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee earlier this week, government minister Stuart Andrew was asked by Labour MP Julie Elliott what might be done “from a government point of view” about people like Barton who are “so offensive and so disgusting”.
What Mr Andrew should have said in response to Ms Elliott’s question of what might be done “from a government point of view” is: “absolutely nothing”.
“It is not the government’s business, and never should it be, to police or punish people for their opinions”, he might have added, before fixing the honourable member for Sunderland Central over the despatch box with a look in which reproach, sorrow and pity were nicely blended.
But he didn’t say or do any of that. Instead, the Conservative minister said that he finds Joey Barton’s views “not acceptable”, “dangerous”, capable of “opening the floodgates for abuse”, that he would “happily” speak with social-media platforms about it, and that Ofcom should take action under the new Online Safety Act. Why not have the police record a non-crime hate incident against him while you’re at it, minister?
As Brendan O’Neill says: “The very prospect of ‘government action’ against Joey Barton should horrify us. It is a testament to the normalisation of censorship in recent years.
“That a minister can imply that something might have to be done about a man’s opinions suggests Britain is losing the knack of liberty. The land of Milton and Mill is now run by officious cliques who think little of damning those who dare to speak out of turn.
“The snobbery heaped on Barton cannot be ignored. More right-thinking, more middle-class users of X have branded him a thicko, a misogynist oaf, and far right, of course.
“Barton is being made an example of by those who’ve sworn an oath of allegiance to elite consensus opinion. Men like him – intemperate of expression, possessed of wrongthink – must be silenced, apparently. You don’t have to agree with Mr Barton – on anything at all – to find such an idea repugnant.”
Worth reading in full.