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.

Liberty and Tyranny lecture recording now available!

The FSU’s Events team will be emailing members later today with the link to Tuesday night’s lecture by Prof Jeremy Jennings, ‘On Liberty and Tyranny – Lessons from Alexis de Tocqueville and J.S. Mill’. Prof Jennings led us through a fascinating exploration of these two 19th Century thinkers, drawing out their insights into the new forms of despotism which preoccupied them in their own times, while encouraging us to revisit their work as a tool for understanding contemporary developments.

FSU re-arranges education conference panel for no-platformed academic!

On Saturday 23rd September, Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert was due to speak on a panel at the Rethinking Education conference in London, debating how we should distinguish education from indoctrination. However, two days before the event Dr Sehgal Cuthbert was notified by the organisers that a handful of delegates had expressed concerns that their ‘psychological safety’ would be undermined by being in her presence, due to the campaigning work of her organisation Don’t Divide Us (DDU). DDU researches and challenges the divisive effect of identity politics in education and other policy fields.

Rather than explaining to the complainants that the purpose of the event was to debate challenging educational questions and that no ‘safety’ issues would be posed by Dr Cuthbert, the organisers decided to no-platform her. Commendably, her fellow panellists withdrew from the event in solidarity and the debate was cancelled.

When news of this incident broke, the FSU wrote to the CEO of Rethinking Education, urging him to respect free speech and reconsider his decision. (You can read our letter to him here, in which we asked him to apologise).

The CEO did then issue an apology to Dr Sehgal Cuthbert, but alas this was after the conference had ended, which meant that delegates lost the opportunity to hear an open debate on this contested topic.

However, Dr Sehgal Cuthbert and all three of her psychologically resilient fellow panellists have agreed to speak at an alternative event organised by the FSU in partnership with DDU.

The debate, ‘What is indoctrination within education and how might it be avoided?’ will go ahead on Monday 16th October at 7pm and FSU members can join the live audience by booking tickets here or join online here.

The latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now!

This week, hosts Tom and Ben kick things off with some reflections on the fact that it’s almost exactly a year since PayPal cancelled the FSU’s account, and we launched what is arguably our most successful campaign to date – highlighting the threat posed to free speech by the rise of politically motivated financial censorship and convincing the government to toughen up the UK’s Payment Services Regulations so that banks and payment processors can no longer close people’s accounts just because they happen not to like their perfectly lawful views.

Tom and Ben also discuss FSU member Sean Corby’s terrific legal victory against workplace cancel culture, the double-edged sword that is the Equality Act 2010 when it comes to advancing the cause of free speech, and the recent, frankly unhinged demands by media commentators and politicians alike that GB News should be closed down because it disrupts the ‘delicate ecology’ of our country’s broadcast media. Isn’t that the point of it?

The link to download the episode is available here.

Department for Education monitoring educationalists critical of government

Officials at the Department for Education (DfE) have reportedly been conducting social media surveillance on some of the UK’s foremost education specialists that have previously criticised government policy (Guardian, Reclaim the Net).

News that the social media activities of at least 10 educationalists have been monitored emerged after the DfE attempted to cancel a government-sponsored conference for childminders and nursery workers back in March.

Ruth Swailes and Aaron Bradbury, co-authors of a bestselling book on early childhood, were told by the organisers of the event that the department planned to cancel the conference just days before it opened because they were deemed to be “unsuitable” headline speakers.

Speaking to the Guardian following the DfE’s intervention. Dr Bradbury was non-plussed. He was, he said, an expert in childhood theories and child development with a particular research interest in play and pedagogy, not a Russian secret agent – but then they all say that, don’t they?

The event was eventually allowed to go ahead after independent consultant Ms Swailes, and Dr Bradbury, a principal lecturer in early childhood studies at Nottingham Trent University, threatened the department with legal action – although on the day a government official was still in attendance, monitoring what was said and presumably listening out for any references to Soviet-era theorists other than the developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky.

Curious as to why she had been labelled “unsuitable”, Ms Swailes, who advises schools and nurseries on education policy, subsequently adopted one of the FSU’s tried and tested techniques for dealing with opaque institutions and filed a subject access request (or SAR) that required the DfE to disclose any information it held on her.

The results revealed that the Department had been keeping a file on her, including details of critical posts on X (formerly Twitter) about Ofsted and commentary on the fact that she had liked posts promoting guidance on teaching young children that was written by practitioners rather than the government.

In solidarity with Ms Swailes, many other educationalists then requested similar information about themselves. At least nine individuals have so far received what the Guardian describes as “very lengthy files on their views and social media activity”.

Modern language expert Carmel O’Hagan uncovered a 37-page file, including what she describes as “puerile” correspondence between DfE officials, with one email accusing her of having “an axe to grind”, along with details of who she’d been interacting with online, all neatly packaged up in every Orwellian bureaucrat’s favourite piece of software, the Excel spreadsheet.

Dr Pam Jarvis, a former teacher and education psychologist at Leeds Trinity University said that her request had returned more than 40 pages of records in which officials had monitored her tweets. “Discovering they have been monitoring me makes me f***ing furious… [and] they should know I will speak up like this until I am dead,” she said, as somewhere down in Whitehall a DfE official set about adding another page to her burgeoning record.

Or did they?

Earlier this year, chemical weapons expert Dan Kaszeta described as an “outrage against free speech” the decision to disinvite him from giving a keynote speech at a Ministry of Defence conference, after the organisers vetted his social media channels and identified several social media posts containing “material that criticises government officials and policy”.

Several pre-action letters and a formal apology from the conference organisers later, Mr Kaszeta, who spent 12 years advising the White House, had unearthed two interesting details: first, that according to a policy that has never been released publicly (despite a promise to deposit it in the Commons Library), Cabinet Office officials have the right to look at five years’ worth of social media postings as part of its vetting policy for external speakers at government-run events; and second, that a further 15 Whitehall departments and ministries have, or had, similar “due diligence policies”.

In a written statement, Cabinet Office Minister Jeremy Quin explained that the guidance had originally been developed to help civil servants avoid issuing speaking invitations to individuals with “extremist views”, but conceded that it was no longer being used in the way it was originally intended, and could now be having “adverse unintended consequences”.

Faced with some potentially rather awkward questions about possible breaches of the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits belief discrimination, the government has now withdrawn all 16 policies for review.

Health Secretary pledges to end gender-neutral language in the NHS

Women’s rights campaigners and health experts have welcomed Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s pledge to end the use of gender-neutral language on NHS advice pages for female-only conditions (Mail, Telegraph).

Mr Barclay detailed the move in a speech at the Tory Party conference as he confirmed that sex-specific language has now been “fully restored” across the NHS.

It was “vital”, he said, “that women’s voices are heard” and the “privacy, dignity and safety of all patients are protected”.

Health experts have repeatedly warned that such de-sexing in the NHS is dangerous because it can overcomplicate vital health messaging for women.

Women’s rights campaigners have long argued that trans-inclusive terms like ‘chest-feeding’ and ‘birthing person’ that have crept into usage within hospitals and medical settings over the past few years erase the very language that women need to defend the concept of biological womanhood, and the hard-won sex-based rights attached to it.

As part of his speech in Manchester, Mr Barclay also criticised an NHS training manual that told staff to declare their pronouns to each other at NHS staff meetings.

Issued by Health Education England, the manual also advised doctors, nurses and other staff to act in the same way in the presence of patients. “The easiest thing to do,” it explains, “is to start by introducing yourself with your own pronoun. In doing so you are creating a safe space for trans, non-binary, intersex and gender non-conforming people who may not feel comfortable to go first in introducing themselves with pronouns.”

However, the Health Secretary went on to reveal that he has ordered the training material to be withdrawn as part of efforts to restore what he described as “simple common sense” to the service.

Live in conversation: Nigel Farage and Toby Young!

Please do join us for what looks set to be a fascinating late-night event in London on Monday 9th October at the Hippodrome where our General Secretary, Toby Young, will be in conversation with broadcaster and former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. They will discuss the latest threats to freedom of speech, on- and offline, including their direct experiences of politically motivated financial censorship.

There will, of course, be an audience Q and A. Tickets are £25 and include a free bar (wine and beer only) between 8 and 9pm. Tickets are available here. The bar will also be open afterwards.

If you can’t join us in-person, then please do register here to join online.

New Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor urges students to “disagree well”

“Disagreeing well” is as important as agreeing, Cambridge University’s new Vice-Chancellor has said. Prof Deborah Prentice also urged students at her university to “lead challenging conversations” and stressed that freedom of speech is “fundamental” across the higher education sector as a whole.

Writing for the Telegraph, Cambridge’s 347th Vice-Chancellor said: “I want to hear the views of teachers and young people on what they are facing, and what they think about the role of our universities. We must recruit the very best students from every corner of the country and from every background, maintaining the highest standards and being a focus for aspiration.”

“Conversations on the campuses of this country have always been central to this. That must continue even if it is not always easy,” she added.

During her first ever interview as Vice-Chancellor back in July, Prof Prentice made the point that in order for Cambridge’s 31 Colleges to play host to more such “challenging conversations”, it would first be necessary to overcome the problem of self-censorship. This was, she felt, a more appropriate measure of the free speech crisis in academia than crude data on the total number of cancellations of visiting speakers.

“People are reluctant to express views if they don’t know how they’re going to be received and that can lead to spirals of silence,” she told the Times. “There are people holding back their views because the forum out there for expressing them is too scary.”

That view is certainly supported by the data.

The largest recent survey (by the University and Colleges Union) reports 35.5% of academics self-censoring. As the authors of that study wrote: “Self-censorship at this level appears to make a mockery of any pretence by universities of being paragons of free speech.”

A report from the think tank Policy Exchange also shows that self-censorship in British academia is over twice as high among conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities (50%) as those on the left (23%).

Only this month, a survey conducted at King’s College London’s Policy Institute found that between a quarter and a third of students have held back their views on individual topics such as politics (36%), gender identity ideology (34%) or the British empire (25%), because they feared what others might think of them.

Prof Eric Kaufmann to establish counter-cultural research centre at Buckingham University!

Following a five-year campaign to oust him from Birkbeck for his right-leaning views, FSU Advisory Council member Prof Eric Kaufmann is creating a new Centre for Heterodox Social Science at Buckingham University – or what the Mail, getting down to brass tacks as ever, describes as a “faculty for common sense”. He hopes it will become a beacon of academic free speech that fosters research on topics that are difficult or hazardous in the contemporary academy (Express, LBC).

In a left-leaning and increasingly intolerant sector, Prof Kaufmann’s profile as a public intellectual with conservative views placed him in the crosshairs of a priggish, intellectually inert yet surprisingly well-organised network of radical students and academics inside and outside academia whose modus operandi is not to debate views they find distasteful, but to police the boundaries of acceptable speech on campus.

The former Head of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London, quit Birkbeck at the end of August following various attempts to oust him over his views on academic freedom, national identity, immigration and the censorious excesses of the woke identitarian Left. During his last few years at Birkbeck, Prof Kaufmann faced social media pile-ons from hostile students, an open letter to the Master of Birkbeck calling for him to be fired and ostracism by some academic colleagues.

One Pooterish young academic in Prof Kaufmann’s department even wrote a verbose resignation essay, claiming he had created a hostile environment for her while suggesting that his psychologically triggering writings forced her out of academia. (In fact, she had taken a job next door at the School of Oriental and African Studies.)

Perhaps most damagingly, there were weaponised course evaluations from student activists. Due to the nature of the UK higher education sector’s policies and procedures, this entirely scurrilous feedback set in motion a process that resulted in three damaging internal investigations.

It was at that stage that the FSU intervened, instructing specialist higher education lawyer James Murray to write to the university. Funnily enough, the investigations stopped soon thereafter.

But the experience nevertheless took its toll.

“Until you’ve been informed you’re under investigation and must attend a tribunal, you cannot understand the psychological impact of this tactic,” Prof Kaufmann said, writing for The Critic. “The spectre of unspecified penalties sets the mind racing toward the possibility of termination.”

In an interview with the Mail, Prof Kaufmann also explained that the climate at British universities has worsened in recent years, because morally absolutist, often younger, illiberal progressives are using pressure, public reputational attacks and social media to limit academic freedom.

“It’s a target rich environment,” he said. “The woke left can make your life hell and they know it. You worry about saying the wrong thing in class, so you make it vanilla. You worry about getting your research grant so you self-censor. You’ve got to be in line with the orthodoxy, you can’t deviate from dogma. It’s an Orwellian threat to the enlightenment – free speech, equal treatment, due process, objective scientific truth.

Having now joined the University of Buckingham, a free speech university like the University of Austin, Prof Kaufmann believes it can become a beachhead for academic freedom and viewpoint diversity – “the only point of light”, as he puts it, “in an increasingly monocultural higher education ecosystem”. The institution is currently the UK’s top ranked university for freedom of expression, according to this year’s National Student Survey.

Prof Kaufmann’s first course, ‘Woke: The Origins, Dynamics and Implications of an Elite Ideology’, will be launched in January, with a Masters degree to follow in September 2024. Both are the first of their kind in the world.

You can find out more about the centre, and enrol on Prof Kaufmann’s new course here.

Can words really hurt? Tickets for our Edinburgh Speakeasy now available!

Join us on Wednesday October 25th in Edinburgh for the FSU’s next Speakeasy, where we’ll be discussing the threat posed to free speech by growing attempts to police ‘hate’. Our expert panel includes Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne Prof Holly Lawford-Smith, the editor of Scottish Legal News Kapil Summan and Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow Dr Michael Foran.

The panel will hardly be short of things to talk about.

Almost three years after receiving royal assent, Scotland’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – which FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes as an “authoritarian mess” – is due to be activated in 2024.

It was reported recently that Police Scotland are setting up a special unit to deal with the new hate crimes that are now codified in law, and training is underway – this, by the way, in a country where less than half of all crimes are solved, the number of reported rapes has soared to its highest level in six years, and the so-called ‘clear-up rate’ specifically for housebreakings stands at just 21.4%

Widespread concern about the chilling effect on free speech of this legislation was one of the reasons the FSU set up a dedicated Scottish office in 2021.

Tickets are £5 for FSU members and £10 for non-members. The link to purchase tickets is here.

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

Communications Officer