Apologies for not having written this newsletter sooner. I feel particularly remiss because more than 1,000 new members have joined since the last newsletter and those people won’t have received any communication from the Free Speech Union until now, save for a pro forma acknowledgement. Let me take this opportunity to apologise to those new members and assure them that their welcome packs and FSU lapel pins will be arriving soon.
The reason I haven’t been able to write to you before now is because the FSU has been absolutely deluged with cries for help in the past four weeks. It’s open season on mavericks and dissenters at the moment. If you publicly challenge any of the sacred nostrums of the woke 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. In the past month we’ve been contacted by people in all of these fields who have either been fired, suspended or who are “under investigation” for having said or done something controversial, usually on social media.
And by “controversial” I don’t mean they’re guilty of hate speech. One person who asked for our help was Mike McCulloch, a maths lecturer at Plymouth University, who was being investigated by his employer for having liked a tweet saying “All Lives Matter”. Then again, the definition of “hate speech” is so nebulous and broad that it’s increasingly common for mainstream views to be labelled as such. For instance, another FSU member, the feminist campaigner Posie Parker, started a petition on Change.org asking the Oxford English Dictionary to keep its definition of “woman” as “adult female human”, and the moderators took it down on the grounds that it was “hate speech”. JK Rowling knows all about that, of course. In addition to helping Posie, we’re also helping a best-selling children’s author called Gillian Philip who was sacked by her publisher after adding the hashtag #IStandWithJKRowling to her Twitter account. And we’ve written to the editor of the Morning Star on behalf of another of our members, the cartoonist Stella Perrett, who was cancelled by the communist newspaper. Her sin was to draw a gender-critical cartoon (see below) which the Morning Star published and which then caused outrage among trans “allies” who demanded she be thrown under a bus. The editor, Ben Chacko, duly obliged, publishing a grovelling apology in which he compared the cartoon to a “transphobic hate crime”.
Many of these cases are ongoing, but we have chalked up some victories. We were able to help Mike McCulloch secure the services of a good lawyer and days later Plymouth University dropped the investigation. You can read a first-person account by Mike of that ordeal here. We also took up the cudgels on behalf of Stu Peters, a Manx Radio chat show host and one of our members who was unfairly suspended from his job for challenging the concept of “white privilege” in a heated conversation with a caller. Partly thanks to our efforts, his story attracted considerable publicity in the national press and a petition to reinstate him got over 8,000 supporters. I’m pleased to say, he has now been given his old job back. You can read about that here.
Stu Peters’ fate hinged on the outcome of an investigation by the Isle of Man’s Communications Commission – its equivalent of Ofcom, the UK’s broadcast watchdog. After an advertiser withdrew its sponsorship of Stu’s show, Manx Radio referred itself to the Commission and suspended Stu, pending the outcome of the investigation. We wrote to the Commission, pointing out that whether you agree with Stu’s views or not, he was simply exercising his right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Isle of Man is required to uphold under the Human Rights Act 2001. In its decision notice, the Commission agreed with us.
I was pleased that the Commission recognised its obligations under Article 10, which is more than can be said for Ofcom. In my last newsletter, I revealed that we had written to Ofcom asking it to overturn its decision to reprimand Eamonn Holmes, a morning television presenter, for saying on air that he thought dissenting views about COVID-19 ought to be discussed in the public square without those airing them being immediately slapped down by the mainstream media. What on earth is wrong with that? We also asked the regulator to issue a press release affirming its commitment to freedom of expression. Needless to say, those requests were rejected.
When Ofcom reprimanded Eamonn Holmes, it was basing its adjudication on ITV’s failure to comply with its official coronavirus guidance. It published its first guidance note on 23rd March, the same day the government imposed the full lockdown, and then issued further “confidential” guidance on 27th March, advising its licensees to exercise extreme caution when broadcasting “statements that seek to question or undermine the advice of public health bodies on the coronavirus, or otherwise undermine people’s trust in the advice of mainstream sources of information”.
Take a second to re-read that and let it sink in. Now think back to the way in which the crisis and the management of it by various public authorities has been covered by the major broadcasters. Have you been puzzling over why it’s so one-sided? Why almost no-one challenges the official Covid narrative or the absolute necessity of the lockdown? Well, now you know. The BBC, in particular, seems to have become a propaganda arm of the state. Normal journalistic standards have been abandoned and it just regurgitates the views of the public authorities, transmits nightly “death porn” to terrify people into compliance and regularly warns its viewers and listeners about the “fake news” circulating on social media. Often, something condemned as “misinformation” one week – that face masks protect against infection, for instance – becomes Government policy the next, and the BBC’s phalanx of reporters all swivel by 180 degrees like a well-drilled marching band.
To try and force Ofcom to withdraw its coronavirus guidance – and stop silencing critics of the Government – the FSU has now applied for permission from the High Court for a judicial review. This is a powerful tool for those who want to hold public authorities to account: it was thanks to a judicial review that the Crown Prosecution Service recently withdrew its official guidance to schools that encouraged schoolchildren to report their classmates to the police for misgendering each other in the playground. If we can persuade a High Court judge that Ofcom’s censorious guidance is unlawful, it will have to be scrapped.
The evidence in our case includes a 5,000-word statement by Dr John Lee, a former NHS consultant and professor of pathology, pointing out the long catalogue of errors the Government has committed. It’s possible that some of these might have been corrected before wreaking such terrible damage if public discussion of “the advice of public health bodies” hadn’t been suppressed by Ofcom. For instance, discharging infectious hospital patients back into care homes, which has contributed to the huge death toll among one of the most vulnerable sections of the population. During times of national crisis, when opposition parties side with the government, a free press is the public’s only hope of exposing these kinds of mistakes. It’s all the more shocking, then, that Ofcom should have tried to muzzle it.
I will let you know what progress we make, but if you’d like to contribute to the litigation fund that enables us to pursue cases the this please click here.
Black Lives Matter
The sheer number of people who’ve been cancelled for criticising some aspect of the Black Lives Matter movement – or just because they’re judged to be out of sync with the BLM movement – is mind-boggling. I’m not just talking about Grant Napear, who was fired from his job as a basketball commentator for tweeting “All Lives Matter”. Or even Aleksandar Katai, the LA Galaxy player who has been “released” by the club following critical posts made by his wife about BLM protestors on Instagram. I’m talking about imaginary people too, like the characters played by David Walliams and Matt Lucas in Little Britain, the Major in Fawlty Towers and the Lego action figure Duke Detain. Any TV show depicting the police in a favourable light, from Paw Patrol to Cops, has been taken off the air, and various white cast members of The Simpsons have had to give up playing non-white characters. Racially insensitive products have been ripped from supermarket shelves – Uncle Ben’s Rice, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake and Waffle Mix, Fair & Lovely skin lightening cream – and the Dixie Chicks have been forced to change their name to “The Chicks” because Dixie refers to the southern states of the US that broke away to form the new Confederate States of America. Nothing and nobody is safe from these Witch-Finder Generals – they’ve even cancelled Eskimo Pies, a much-loved American ice cream snack. I’ve started compiling a list of the cancelled on the FSU’s Twitter feed and I’m already up to 50. I’ve no idea when it will end.
One of the most shocking of these cases is that of Nick Buckley. He was fired by a charity for vulnerable young people in Manchester after writing a blog post in which he took issue with some of the policies of the BLM organisation, such as dismantling capitalism. When he republished his post on LinkedIn, a “poet” called Reece Williams wrote the following comment: “Please know that we will be doing everything in our power to have you removed from your position. Expect us.” Nick wasn’t all that worried because he founded the charity, has been running it successfully for nine years, and was awarded an MBE last year. But in the current Maoist climate that wasn’t enough to save him. A petition calling for him to be fired was set up on Change.org and a week later he’d lost his job.
Nick is a member of the FSU and we’re doing what we can to help him. We’ve found him a good lawyer and the petition we’ve been promoting to get him reinstated has now been signed by almost 15,000 people, more than 30 times the number that signed the original. You can sign that petition here.
Another person to be cancelled in the wake of the BLM protests is the Historian Dr David Starkey. The language he used in an interview with the young journalist Darren Grimes crossed the line, as he admitted when he apologised for it. He described it as “deplorably inflammatory” and a “bad mistake”. But did he really deserve to be subjected to what George Orwell described as the “Two Minutes Hate”? In his public apology he said he had lost “every distinction and honour acquired in a long career” – a heavy price to pay for uttering one offensive word. Among the positions he lost was his Honorary Fellowship of Fitzwilliam College, which left me puzzled as to what standard Cambridge academics are being held to, given that a week earlier Dr Priyamvada Gopal – also a Fellow of a Cambridge college – was supported by the University after she tweeted “White Lives Don’t Matter”. “The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial,” it said. That’s a laudable principle, but why wasn’t Dr Starkey granted the same licence? I have written to Professor Stephen Toope, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, seeking clarification.
When it comes to the broader BLM movement and the claims the protestors make about the prevalence and effects of racism, the Free Speech Union does not take sides. We would defend a member who lost their job as a result of supporting the movement, just as we would someone who lost their job for criticising it. We think it’s vitally important that issues such as this, as well as other controversial subjects, should be discussed openly. Our society faces a number of serious challenges, many of them made worse by COVID-19, and we won’t solve those problems unless we’re able to have a proper, grown-up debate, with a wide range of different views being expressed. That cannot happen if Witchfinder-Generals are roaming the public square, looking for heretics to burn.
The FSU recently published some materials for fair-minded teachers who want to teach schoolchildren about the BLM movement and the issues it raises in a balanced way. I hope they’ll be used widely – we’ve been scrupulously even-handed, referring people to the best arguments on both sides – but I fear that’s unlikely. The BLM orthodoxy has become as embedded in schools as it has in universities, and anyone who challenges it is at risk of losing their job. That’s shocking, particularly in light of the fact that schools have a legal duty to teach children about politics in a balanced way under the Education Act 1996. Section 406 prohibits “the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school” and s.407 says that “where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils” they should be “offered a balanced presentation of opposing views”. As someone who spent 10 years of my life in education, I can tell you that this rule is more honoured in the breach than the observance.
Scottish Hate Crime Bill
The Legal Advisory Council of the FSU has submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee about the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. It is already an offence under Scottish law to stir up racial hatred, but this proposed legislation will extend this so it applies to “stirring up hatred” against people on the basis of their religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, transgender identity or variations in sexual characteristics, where “stirring up hatred” is defined as behaving in “a threatening, abusive or insulting manner” to a member of one of these groups, either with the intent to stir up hatred or where that is the likely outcome.
This is an absurdly broad definition of “hate crime” and will enable groups claiming to speak for people in these protected categories to lobby the authorities to prosecute anyone who challenges their ideology on the grounds that doing so is likely to stir up hatred. Under this new law, not only will those who challenge identitarian dogma be vulnerable to prosecution, but anyone who possesses “inflammatory material” will be too, as will theatre producers who put on plays expressing these forbidden ideas and the actors who perform in them. If the Bill passes, Scotland will become the most aggressive regulator of speech in the United Kingdom and one of the most belligerent in Europe. And it could easily become the basis of a similar law in England and Wales.
The FSU’s Directors Speak
During this febrile period, the FSU’s Directors have been airing their views about the protests and the pandemic. This piece by Inaya Folarin Iman in the Daily Mail, explaining why she doesn’t think statues of “problematic” historical figures should be pulled down, is excellent, as is this piece in UnHerd by Douglas Murray defending JK Rowling. And Nigel Biggar, who knows a thing or two about being pursued by a pitchfork mob, gave an interview in the Telegraph in which he deplored the intolerance of Social Justice activists. “Institutional leaders are acting like rabbits caught in headlights yielding to pressure,” he said. “At the moment we have crowds of mainly young people marching down the streets, shouting and screaming. They give the impression of numbers and power but do they represent majority opinion?”
The Workers of England Union
A quick reminder that if you’re worried you might be put through a disciplinary procedure at work because your beliefs are at odds with your employer’s, then you should consider joining the Workers of England Union. The WEU has won tens of thousands of pounds for members whose “philosophical beliefs” have been discriminated against.
We’ve negotiated a deal with the WEU whereby you can become a member for a discounted fee of £25. Unlike other unions, the WEU will go to bat for its members as soon as they sign up. If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, you can join online here, but don’t forget to email them here first, letting them know you’re a member of the FSU.
Frustratingly, we still haven’t been able to organise any events because large social gatherings are still banned, but we hope to do so just as soon as it becomes possible. I’m sure you’re as itching to get out of the house and participate in lively conversations and debates as I am.
Thanks again for becoming a part of the Free Speech Union. It’s your support that makes all our activities possible.