Weekly news round-up

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email. If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

The Lockdown Files — book your tickets for this exclusive event here!

Tickets are now on sale for The Lockdown Files Live, an exclusive, one-off event at the Emmanuel Centre on 10th June in which FSU General Secretary Toby Young will interview journalist Isabel Oakeshott live on stage about the Matt Hancock WhatsApp messages which she leaked to the Telegraph and that became the basis of the paper’s Lockdown Files. The evening will include a series of hilarious readings from the WhatsApp messages featuring actor and leader of the Reclaim Party, Laurence Fox, as Matt Hancock, and Tim Hudson reprising his role as Boris Johnson, whom he’s currently playing in ‘Dom – the Play’. An Audience Q&A will end the evening. You can find out more and book your tickets here.

General Admission to The Lockdown Files Live is priced at £25, and you can buy tickets on Eventbrite here. If you’re interested in purchasing VIP tickets for the event, you’d be well advised to buy your tickets soon. The VIP tickets to the Weekly Sceptic Live with Nick Dixon and Toby, also at the Emmanuel Centre, have already sold out (although General Admission tickets to that event, also priced at £25, are still available and can be purchased here).

The latest episode of the FSU’s podcast now available!

In this week’s episode of the FSU’s podcast, That’s Debatable!, our hosts, Tom Harris and Ben Jones, discuss the halting of the Orwellian Worker Protection (Amendment to Equality Act 2010) Bill, the infringement of PG Wodehouse’s (posthumous) right to freedom of expression by publisher Penguin Random House, and the threat posed to free speech by Northern Ireland’s proposed hate speech legislation.

You can listen to a clip here and download the full episode here – and don’t forget to search for That’s Debatable! on your favourite podcasting app and hit ‘subscribe’ so you don’t miss next week’s episode.

Essex Police ‘hate crime’ investigation demonstrates need for officer free speech training

FSU General Secretary Toby Young joined GB News’s Michelle Dewberry recently to discuss Essex Police’s decision to send a team of six officers to a family-owned pub in order to seize a collection of golliwog dolls – or “golli*** dolls” as the Independent insisted on describing them – before launching an investigation into their presence at the venue as a possible ‘hate crime’ (Express, Mail, Mail, TCW, Telegraph). The story was back in the news this week after it emerged that the pub in question has since been targeted by vandals (BBC, Evening Standard, Mail, Sky News).

Are the dolls offensive? They could potentially be perceived as such – although ‘offense’ is taken not given, and, in any case, doesn’t in itself constitute an offence. The more important question from a free speech perspective is whether the display of these dolls in a pub comes anywhere near the threshold for consideration as a hate-crime, or even a racially aggravated criminal offence. As Toby pointed out during his GB News appearance, the answer on both counts is ‘no’.

The crime that Essex Police are investigating as a potential ‘hate crime’ is causing someone of a particular race ‘harassment, alarm or distress’, which is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986. But in order to secure a prosecution they’d have to show intent, and it’s clear that the publican didn’t intend to cause anyone ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ by displaying these dolls.

This incident is symptomatic of a wider problem with policing in the UK: too often, the police are prioritising the investigation of potential hate crimes and neglecting actual crimes – in Essex, for instance, the prosecution rate for burglaries is currently as low as 4%, while in 2022 the force attended just 686 of 4,920 car thefts (Mail).

Why might that wider issue be? As FSU Research Officer Carrie Clark points out in our most recent research briefing – The Urgent Need to Teach the Police about Free Speech – police training is at least part of the problem.

As reported in the Times last month, we used freedom of information requests to assess how well the police in England and Wales understand freedom of speech. What we found was that a majority of police forces conduct almost no training on the topic, while a huge amount of time is devoted to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training.

Specifically, 78% of the forces who responded to our requests currently provide no training on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights or our own common law free speech protections when investigating and recording ‘hate crimes’. Conversely, 56% of the forces we surveyed said EDI is inextricably embedded in police training.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that forces like Essex Police are wasting time pursuing vexatious complaints which are never going to result in actual prosecutions.

If Suella Braverman is serious about wanting to rebalance the operational priorities of the 41 police forces in England and Wales, then as per our report, it’s essential that police training be beefed up to include extensive instruction on Article 10, ensuring that officers understand their legal duty to uphold freedom of expression as a foundational value in a liberal, democratic society.

You can read the FSU’s report by Research Officer Carrie Clark here.

Female teacher at all girls’ school forced to apologise for saying “Good morning, girls!”

The Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has confirmed that saying “good morning, girls” or some variant thereof to a classroom full of girls at a girls’ schools is “absolutely fine” (Mail, Telegraph). That might sound like a statement of the obvious, but Ms Keegan’s intervention comes after a teacher who uttered those exact words at an unnamed private girls’ school was subsequently forced to apologise to pupils for her use of gendered, allegedly trans-exclusionary language (Express, LBC, Mail, Telegraph).

The woman, who gave evidence last week to an ongoing review into child and adolescent gender dysphoria care led by paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, said the problems began in May 2021 after some Year 7 students took issue with the way she greeted the class.

When the teacher refused to acknowledge their demand that she use gender-neutral language when addressing them, the 11-12 year-olds held a lunchtime protest and waved placards bearing slogans such as ‘Trans Lives Matter’.

“Not everyone here identifies as female,” they told her, before taking their complaint to the teacher’s line manager, the school’s Head of Year.

The teacher arrived in class the next day to find that the pupils had pointedly written their names and pronouns on the blackboard, including those of one girl who identified as ‘They/Them’.

The philosophy and religious education teacher says she was left feeling “humiliated” after being ordered to apologise in front of the class, and believes she was subsequently “managed out” by senior staff at the prestigious, £20,000-a-year school, which is part of the independent Girls’ Day School Trust, a network of 25 schools across England and Wales.

A clue as to where these 11 and 12 year-olds picked up this ideologically-loaded lingo came when she revealed that the problems started less than a week after the school sixth form’s ‘diversity and inclusion’ prefects delivered an assembly on gender and pronouns. During the session, the 17- and 18-year-olds showed a video discussing gender identities which described sex as being ‘assigned at birth’ rather than an unalterable biological characteristic that you’re born with. It’s an observation that confirms the finding from a recent report by the thinktank Policy Exchange that schools are increasingly influenced by gender ideology and now teach as fact the contested idea that biological sex is a social construct, just like gender.

Reacting to the news, Gillian Keegan told Times Radio: “We need to be sensitive, obviously, to children but more importantly make sure parents are fully involved as well. We need to look after the well-being of all pupils. In that case, the well-being of girls is also very important and ‘good morning, girls’ is absolutely fine to say in a girls’ school to a girls’ class.”

Ms Keegan went on to confirm that she is currently working on new transgender guidance for schools with Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, to be published before the start of the summer holidays (Telegraph, Times).

Referring to that guidance, the Education Secretary said: “We can’t mix up sex and gender. We’ve seen what happened in Scotland when it got that round the wrong way. And really our guidance needs to provide safeguarding for all children and make sure that, you know, it does cover all children’s rights as well.”

College of Policing advice waters down Home Secretary’s NCHI guidance

The College of Policing has watered down Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s new draft Code of Practice on the recording and retention of non-crime hate incidents (or NCHIs), with the result that police officers could now continue to arrest people for expressing controversial (yet nonetheless perfectly lawful) opinions (Reclaim the Net, Telegraph).

Last month, the Home Office published its first ever code of practice on NCHIs, after the Home Secretary said she was “deeply concerned” about police “wrongly getting involved in lawful debate in this country” by focusing on hurty feelings.

NCHIs are where a hate complaint is filed by police, despite no crime being committed. As FSU General Secretary Toby Young pointed out in the Spectator recently, 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 show up in enhanced criminal records checks that candidates are often asked to undertake when applying for certain jobs, such as a teacher.

The College of Policing, a taxpayer-funded quango that provides national advice to police forces in England and Wales, has now published its own ‘interpretation’ of the new Code of Practice, referred to by the College as “authorised professional practice” (APP).

Not only is that an odd decision – the intention of the Home Office was for the new Code of Practice to be adopted by the College as its operational guidance, not ‘interpreted’ – but from abundant internal evidence it’s clear that the College has put a “woke spin” in the Code.

The original Home Office Code provides 11 scenarios where officers should or should not record an NCHI. In seven (or 63%) of those hypothetical cases, the explicit advice is not to record an NCHI. However, the CoP’s new guidance contains just eight scenarios, all of which are different to those contained within the Home Office code. Of those eight, just one (or 12.5%) culminates in advice for officers not to record an NCHI.

As Toby Young told the Telegraph: “The intention of the Home Secretary could not be clearer: she wants officers to stop policing our tweets and start policing our streets. But the College of Policing, which is an unelected quango, seems determined to thwart her and has given it a woke spin.”

Harry Miller, the founder of Fair Cop, agreed. “The Home Office’s examples were all very sensible and corrected the previous mistakes,” he said, “but they will once again be shelved for the approved ideology of the College of Policing”.

Sir John Hayes, chairman of the Common Sense Group of 60 Tory MPs is now calling for a “clear out” of “some of the bad apples that are [in the CoP] before they affect the whole of policing’s reputation”.

New FSU event on the return of blasphemy laws – book your tickets here!

The FSU is delighted to announce a new event, Blasphemy law by the back door? Speakers include the Director of Common Sense Society UK Emma Webb, researcher and author Dr Rakib Ehsan, Steven Evans of the National Secular Society, and Ben Jones, the FSU’s Deputy Case Director.

Join us in-person – or online if you’re an FSU member – on Wednesday 10th May from 7:30pm as our impressive panel address one of the most pressing threats to freedom of speech in western, liberal democracies.

Full details and a link to purchase in-person tickets can be found on our Events page. If you can’t get to London, then join us via Zoom – it’s free of charge for FSU members, and you can register for the link here.

Living Freedom Summer School 2023 – book your place here!

Applications are now open for Living Freedom Summer School 2023 which runs from 29th June to 1st July in central London. Applications close at 9am on Monday 15th May.

This year, the Summer School is supported by the FSU’s new funding stream, The Ian Mactaggart Programme, which is aimed at encouraging young people to discover the value of free speech.

The three-day residential school is open to anyone aged 18 to 30 and represents a fantastic opportunity for young, critical thinkers to meet one another and debate the key freedom issues of our times. You can find out more and book your tickets here.

Brecon Beacons to be renamed as ‘eco-conscious’ cancel culture claims its first scalp

The Brecon Beacons are to be renamed as a “direct response to the climate and biodiversity emergency”, the Welsh National Park’s Chief Executive Catherine Mealing-Jones has announced (GB News, Mail, Spiked, Telegraph, Telegraph). “We’re an environmental organisation, [and] we’re trying to cut carbon and push to net zero,” she explained. “So having a carbon burning beacon [in our name] just isn’t a good look.”

The National Park will now be officially be referred to as the “Bannau Brycheiniog”, the landmark’s Welsh name, and steering clear of any associations with signal fires.

Ms Mealing-Jones said the symbol of a flaming beacon emitting carbon “does not fit with the ethos” of the national park as an eco-friendly organisation. Besides, she added, “we’ve had awful wildfires over the last few years. So anything that kind of promotes that idea that fire in the landscape is a good thing made us feel that it probably wasn’t the look we’re going for.”

The National Park Authority’s Chief Executive was keen to emphasise that the name change was not a belated April Fools’ Day joke, but actually a “direct response to the climate and biodiversity emergency”. As such, it constitutes a key part of a broader new vision for the park that includes erecting electric machinery, building vast numbers of onshore wind turbines and killing off some of the indigenous sheep – all in the name of reaching Net Zero by 2035, 15 years ahead of the Westminster Government’s commitment.

The linguistic reasoning behind the name change – i.e., avoiding imagery likely to spark thoughts of carbon-emissions – has kindled fears that a precedent may have been set for changing names if they happen to ignite the sensitivities of environmentalists. Hitherto, it has only been the names of streets, buildings and schools associated with the slave trade that have been ‘woke-washed’ in this way.

“Next thing they’ll be renaming Burns’ Night,” Sir Robert Goodwill MP fumed. The fired-up Tory chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee went on to say that place names like ‘Coalville’ or ‘Blackburn’ could now be at risk under the logic of avoiding any triggering references to carbon-emissions in place names.

And that’s before one even considers what an eco-conscious cancel culture might do to novels like JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Dante’s Inferno, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Ivan Turgenev’s Smoke or even Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (notorious, of course, as a den of fossil-based iniquity). At least burning them would appear to be out of the question.

Edmund Burke Foundation Conference – book your tickets here!

The Edmund Burke Foundation invites FSU members to attend a conference on National Conservatism at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on 15th-17th May. Confirmed speakers so far include our Chairman Nigel Biggar, as well as FSU board member Douglas Murray, and FSU Advisory Council members David Goodhart, Juliet Samuel, Matthew Goodwin, Lord David Frost, Eric Kaufmann and James Orr, as well as former staff members Radomir Tylecote and Emma Webb and our very own General Secretary.

The conference brings together public figures, politicians, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that conservatism is tied to national loyalty and national belonging, to the principle of national independence, to Britain’s historic role in conserving our ancient liberties, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that transcend political differences and bind the majority together in pursuit of a flourishing society for all.

Tickets for admission to all three days are heavily subsidised and are selling fast (£25 for students; £50 for those aged 18-30; £115 for a standard ticket). Sign up to register here.