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 (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Sharron Davies MBE Book Launch – book your tickets here!

Of all the issues thrown up by the rise of gender ideology, safety and fairness in women’s sport is probably the one that has attracted the most attention. And yet, too often, debate has been shut down and those who raise questions accused of ‘transphobia’. One of the most stalwart campaigners on the side of keeping women’s sports for women is British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE.

We are therefore delighted to be hosting the official launch of Sharron’s new book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, on Wednesday 5th July. Join us online or in-person in central London to hear from Sharron about why she wrote the book and the struggles she’s faced to get her arguments heard.

We have brought together a superb panel to discuss the issues with Sharron, including Dr Emma Hilton, the award-winning biologist who has advised various governing bodies on transgender policy in sport, and Cathy Devine, an independent researcher who has published widely in the areas of sport policy, equality and human rights.

In the chair will be the FSU’s Education and Events Director, Dr Jan Macvarish.

There will be an audience Q&A and plenty of time to socialise afterwards over a complimentary glass of wine, courtesy of Swift Press. The book will also be on sale on the night and Sharron will be signing copies.

In-person tickets with a discount price for FSU members can be purchased here. Members who prefer to watch the event online can register to join free of charge here. And non-FSU members who would prefer to watch online can pay £5 to register here.

Latest episode of the FSU’s podcast is out now!

The latest episode of the FSU’s podcast, That’s Debatable!, is out now. This week Tom and Ben are joined by Dr Thomas Prosser from Cardiff University to discuss his concept of “low liberalism”. Dr Prosser first coined the term in a March 2023 piece for his Substack (available here).

Tom and Ben start by clarifying definitions, before trying to fit the idea of ‘low liberalism’ into the mosaic of other contemporary cultural concepts, such as woke, social justice, authoritarianism, and the limits of politics, and then reflect on some of the potentially catastrophic consequences of ‘low liberalism’ and what all of this means for free speech.

You can download the episode in full by clicking 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.

Kathleen Stock’s Oxford University talk goes ahead despite protests

Police were forced to remove protesters from a talk at the Oxford Union by Kathleen Stock, as the ex-philosophy professor told students some universities were becoming “propaganda machines for a particular point of view” (Mail, Spectator, Telegraph, Times).

Student activists infiltrated the debating chamber on Tuesday night and burst out of the audience around ten minutes in, chanting “no more dead trans kids”.

Five police officers had to remove Riz Possnett, a transgender activist who had glued her hand to the floor.

In addition, hundreds of protesters screamed and chanted during the event as weeks of tension between trans activists and free speech defenders at the university came to a head.

Prof Stock, who resigned from her post at Sussex University in 2021 after a campaign of intimidation by trans rights activists, said she did not find it “traumatic” to have protesters outside the event and said that students in her generation staged similar protests.

“Generally, what I find more worrying,” she added, “is when institutions listen to protesters and take that voice through into the institution and basically become propaganda machines for a particular point of view and then everyone else in that institution feels that they can’t say what they want to say.” She also told the Union that it would “take courage” for people to realise that “the world does not end” when you have disagreements. (Dr Stock has written about her experiences for Unherd here.)

Our General Secretary attended the event – you can read his account in the Spectator here. He reports that there were at least twice as many students inside the debating chamber as there were protestors outside and Prof Stock got several rounds of prolonged applause.

Kathleen Stock and Rosie Kay in conversation at the FSU’s London Arts Forum – full video now available!

Since the summer of 2022, the FSU has been hosting Arts Forums for individuals who work in the arts, the purpose of which is to provide a space for open discussion about freedom of expression issues affecting the sector.

On 23rd May, the London Arts Forum met to consider the importance of the freedom to imagine. Kathleen Stock joined award-winning choreographer Rosie Key on-stage to discuss the contemporary threats to free speech in the arts. You can watch the discussion in full on our YouTube channel here.

Split in left-wing literary circles emerges as author Hanif Kureishi attacks cancel culture

Acclaimed British author Hanif Kureishi has criticised the role played by ‘sensitivity readers’ in today’s publishing industry, saying that they get “turned on and excited” by controlling others’ freedom of expression (Mail).

The left-wing author of award-winning 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia has ascribed the growing trend towards literary censorship to an “element of the Left” which he says is now “bursting with aggressive self-righteousness and is puritanical and self-defeating”.

The playwright and filmmaker said The Buddha Of Suburbia would in all likelihood be butchered by censors if it was written today “in this… North Korea of the mind”.

Kureishi was referring to the ‘sensitivity readers’ that are increasingly being hired by publishers to review texts and then identify for deletion anything that someone, somewhere, might find objectionable. Earlier this year, books by Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie and Roald Dahl were rewritten by sensitivity readers to bring them into line with progressive sensibilities. P.G. Wodehouse, arguably the greatest English stylist of the 20th Century, also received the same treatment at the hands of similarly unknown and presumably unpublished writers.

Kureishi, who was appointed a professor in the creative writing department at Kingston University in 2013, doubts whether he would have a career if he was starting out today.

“One of the things I’ve noticed about my students is that they are already inhibited,” he said. “This is a trend I’ve noticed with other students and also with editors at publishing houses: whether their work will be condemned for sexism, racism, cultural appropriation etc.

“This is the contemporary anxiety for young writers today,” he added, before going on to suggest that “some people are turned on and excited by the power of controlling others’ speech and freedoms”.

In a series of tweets, Kureishi issued a fierce defence of freedom of expression, saying it is the business of writers to bravely “push the boundaries of what can be said and thought”.

He added: “I don’t want to live in an atmosphere of fear and inhibition where writers are afraid of expressing their true selves for fear of offending someone or other. It is the work of great writers to turn the world upside down, to present opinions which go against the prevailing trends. It is not our job to please but to challenge, to make us think differently about our bodies our sexuality, politics and normativity.”

Equalities watchdog suspends probe into Baroness Falkner

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has suspended an investigation into its chief after a growing backlash over an attempted coup by trans-activist civil servants. Baroness Falkner was the target of a dossier of complaints from officials alleging “bullying”, “discrimination” and “harassment” after the equalities watchdog backed reforming the Equality Act so it better protects women’s sex-based rights (Mail, Times).

This backing plunged the watchdog into a crisis, according to the Telegraph, “opening a schism between its leaders and the officials tasked with implementing their decisions to uphold equality law, and sparked outcry across the political spectrum” (Telegraph).

The EHRC had appointed Gavin Mansfield KC, an employment barrister, to conduct the probe at a cost to taxpayers of £100,000, while Baroness Falkner, who has been in charge since 2020, was having to pay tens of thousands of pounds out of her own pocket for her own lawyers.

Now, the investigation into the complaints has been suspended, hours after 54 cross-party peers including Lord Frost and Baroness Jenkin backed the EHRC Chair, saying she had been “irresponsibly attacked”.

Announcing the news late last week, the EHRC said: “This investigation has been paused. This is while we seek legal advice on the impact of leaked confidential information. We must ensure its integrity and that it is fair to all parties concerned.” This was a reference to information leaked by activist civil servants to Channel 4 News in an effort to discredit Baroness Falkner.

The complaints made by the civil servants were dismissed as “ideological”, “vexatious” and a “political chess game” by the equality chief’s allies, who said she was “determined to fight this”.

The dossier, which was said to contain 40 allegations, bemoaned “a lack of psychological safety” in the office and said staff were “worried that the commission is becoming an unsafe place to work”. One of the complaints took issue with someone rolling their eyes, while another is about Baroness Falkner referring to a trans activist as a “bloke in lipstick”.

Live event with Prof Matthew Goodwin – book your tickets here!

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.

We’ve brought together a great panel to discuss the book with Matt: Geoffrey Evans, Professor of the Sociology of Politics at Oxford University, Baroness Claire Fox and Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs. Toby will be chairing the discussion.

There will also 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’s staff and other members. Tickets can be purchased here.

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 – and we’ve just secured Anna Thomas, an FSU member fired from the Civil Service after raising concerns about the politicisation of her department, a settlement of £100,000 (Telegraph).

Over the past three years, our in-house legal team, working with our casework team, has helped more than 2,000 people in a huge range of different situations – and according to our Director of Data, Tom Harris, in 70% of those cases we’ve been able to achieve a successful outcome.

But we’d now 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. Which is why we’re asking our members to complete this anonymous survey.

The results of this survey will inform our in-house case work. 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 – all completely anonymised – in a future newsletter.