Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter. This newsletter is a brief round-up of the free speech news of the week.

Cancel culture will never be finished – it has to be fought

New research by the pollster Frank Luntz and the Centre for Policy Studies found that more than half of British 18 to 29 year-olds have cut off contact with somebody because they disapprove of their political views. Unsurprisingly, this attitude was rarer among older people. Lucy Holden in the Times has written about her generation’s experience of cancel culture and the friendships that have been ended over political differences.

The Daily Mail ran a story about Luntz’s finding that a third of Labour voters approve of silencing people whose views they disagree with. He thinks this is a sign that America’s culture war is about the cross the Atlantic. Luntz said: “The problem with woke and with cancel culture is that it is never done. The conflict and divisions never end. This is not what the people of the UK want – but it’s coming anyway.”

A case in point: England cricketer Ollie Robinson has been suspended for eight matches for tweets he posted when he was a teenager.

In his Times column, Danny Finkelstein argues that headline-generating cultural battles are fuelled by economic self-interest, and author Conn Iggulden talks about cancel culture, his struggle to get published, and whether there really is a “snowflake” generation in an interview in the Express.

Help support the Batley teacher

A new crowd-funder has been set up to support the Batley Grammar School teacher who’s still in hiding. We’ve checked it out and it appears to be legit.

Stonewall’s pronoun police

Carrie Clark, co-author of our new report “Stonewall’s Censorships Champions”, writes in Spiked that the LGBT campaign group should “call off the pronoun police”. Stonewall’s edicts “have led some organisations to penalise their own employees for breaching Stonewall’s speech codes – including, we learned last week, the Scottish government, which bragged about silencing dissenting employees in internal forums”.

Maya Forstater, the gender critical feminist who recently won her appeal in the Employment Appeals Tribunal, writes in UnHerd that “government departments, public bodies, professional regulators and the judiciary are disregarding the law in favour of rapidly changing terminology controlled by [Stonewall]… It undermines democracy, justice, freedom of speech and the integrity of organisations.”

Harry Phibbs asks in ConservativeHome why the Conservative-led Surrey County Council is paying Stonewall £3,000 this year. He says Stonewall has mutated into an “extreme and pernicious outfit that threatens freedom of speech”.

Meanwhile, the Government has undertaken to exclude evidence-based therapy for children struggling with gender dysphoria from its proposed ban on “conversion therapy”.

University life today: trans, trigger warnings and sensitivity readers

In an unwelcome development, Essex University seems to be backtracking on its commitment to free speech after initially accepting the findings of an independent review that lambasted the University over its no-platforming of two gender critical feminists. The Vice-Chancellor has now pledged to go “beyond the minimum standards required by law” to “recognise, respect and protect the identities of trans and non-binary people” and apologised about the fact that “in meeting our obligations to respect academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, we have given the impression that we might not care about the lived reality of trans and non-binary people”.

The Department of Engineering at Cambridge has asked students: “Could white privilege play a part in your life?” while the University of Reading has told lecturers to give “trigger warnings” if course material mentions class, pregnancy, “heterosexism” or blood. Meanwhile, the term “trigger warning” has itself been deemed to be triggering by Glasgow and Newcastle universities, with staff told to use the words “content advice” or “content warnings” instead. (The word “trigger” might conjure up upsetting images of guns being fired, apparently.)

Schools abandon political impartiality in favour of trans dogma and Critical Race Theory

The National Education Union has decided to ignore the legal duty on schools to approach contentious political issues in a balanced way and launched a new report calling on schools to “decolonise” and “train teachers and schools on whiteness, anti-racism… and understanding the system”. One teacher said in the Daily Mail that her “job has never felt more fraught than it does today. Because, regardless of my intentions, a simple remark such as ‘Girls, could you stop talking please?’ could see me accused of misgendering a pupil, while carelessly picking a picture for a presentation could well be construed as racism.”

This climate of fear has left teachers powerless to resist trans activism, writes Stephanie Davies-Arai in the Telegraph. Ofsted has warned schools about the use of “overtly political materials” to teach children about gender issues, Camilla Turner reports in the Telegraph. Schools have been advised by Stonewall to drop the term boys and girls, mix the sexes in PE classes and ditch all “gendered” uniforms. Meanwhile, a primary school was forced to remove a video of its pupils expressing their support for the England football team.

The Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs is calling for the Government to extend the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to schools, so the legal duty to teach in a politically balanced way and avoid indoctrination is enforceable.

When was the last time an advert made you laugh?

The iconic adverts of the 80s and 90s have been replaced by dreary “mood films” about identity politics, writes the PR man Mark Borkowski. All companies speak in the same voice, and woke sameness dominates.

Frank Luntz’s survey, mentioned above, also found widespread opposition to companies lecturing consumers on social issues. Woke corporations are stifling unorthodox views, irritating their customers and, increasingly, punishing their staff for dissent.

From advertising to art, creative freedom is in mortal danger, writes Nina Power. Twitter mobs and social media outrage are producing an artless “frightened culture”. A raft of classic children’s films, including Star Wars, have been given stricter classifications by censors in response to “changing social standards” and a “heightened sense of anxiety” among younger audiences. (But don’t you dare call them “snowflakes”.) Celia Walden writes in the Telegraph that every morning the newspapers seem to bring news that a “splendid piece of language, history, art or architecture” has been labelled “problematic” or “offensive”.

To Kill A Mockingbird has been dropped by James Gillespie High School in Edinburgh because it is “problematical in terms of decolonising the curriculum”. (Something to do with a “white saviour” motif.) Once again, the legal duty to be politically impartial has been forgotten. Former headteacher Christopher McGovern made exactly that point in an interview with GB News and Brendan O’Neill in the Spectator says cancelling To Kill A Mockingbird, is a step too far.

No wonder there are hardly any conservative novelists anymore.

America: arms dealers and schools alike embrace woke

The war over Critical Race Theory continues to rage in America. This divisive ideology has been foisted on American public schools, and parents are fighting back. Meanwhile, America’s second largest defence firm, Raytheon, has told staff to “identify their privilege” and “give those with marginalised identities the floor during meetings”. This would be a good point to raise next time somebody says “woke” speech codes are only a problem in universities and that most people don’t need to worry about them.

Donald Trump has announced plans to sue social media companies for banning him at the end of his presidency.

Chinese censors’ global reach

China is turning the internet into a vast tool of global censorship, somehow persuading Twitter to silence a New Zealand academic after she mocked the Chinese Communist Party. In June, YouTube took down videos about the incarceration of Uighur Muslims on the grounds that the uploads violated a policy against personally identifiable information from appearing in content – in the videos people held up the ID cards of missing persons imprisoned in the Chinese internment camps.

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Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones

Case Officer