Welcome to the Free Speech Union’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. Like all of 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 us turn the tide against cancel culture.
A reminder that if you’re a working academic and haven’t yet joined the Free Speech Union, or if you know somebody who should, we’ve put a special offer in place whereby if you join you can claim a £10 rebate. To be eligible, you have to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select ‘Academic’ in the drop-down menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20th December.
Forthcoming comedy night
Free Speech Union members are welcome to join us in London on Wednesday 10th November, when the line-up will include Nick Dixon, Tania Edwards, Tony Law, Phileo Huff and Darius Davies. You can purchase tickets here. Standard tickets cost £15, but those of you who wish to support the FSU’s work can purchase tickets for £25, which includes a £10 donation to the FSU. There will be a large contingent of FSU employees there, so come and say hello. If you’re interested in coming, buy a ticket now because they’ll sell out quickly.
Parliament debates “Non-Crime Hate Incidents”
This week, the House of Lords debated an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would challenge the practice of police recording “Non-Crime Hate Incidents” (NCHIs) against individuals who have not committed a criminal offence, leaving them with a police record that shows up when an employer does an enhanced DBS check. Lord Macdonald QC, the former Director of Public Prosecutions and a sponsor of the amendment, wrote in the Times ahead of the debate about the consequences of having one of these records held against you: “NCHIs have consequences. They are not anonymised. They sit forever against the names of the alleged perpetrators without any real investigation or right of appeal.”
120,000 NCHIs were recorded by police between 2014 and 2019.
Baroness Claire Fox of our Advisory Council paid tribute to our efforts in campaigning against NCHIs in her speech during the debate. Lord Moylan argued powerfully for political oversight of NCHIs, which have been instituted without political debate by police forces, and applied unevenly throughout the country.
The amendment received cross-party support and the hope is it will push the Government to act.
Plans to outlaw online speech that causes “psychological harm” will turbo-charge cancel culture
The Times reported that the Government has accepted the Law Commission’s recommendations that speech that is “likely” to cause “psychological harm” should be punishable by two years’ imprisonment. The new offences will reportedly include Twitter “pile-ones” and trolling, and will be included in the Online Safety Bill. Sending a “knowingly false communications” will also be criminalised. You can read our response to the Law Commission’s proposals here.
Matthew Lesh of the Adam Smith Institute – who co-authored a report for us on the dangers of the Online Safety Bill – wrote in the Telegraph that seeking to protect individuals or groups from “emotionally distressing speech comes straight from ‘cancel culture’ at universities”. He argued that the legislation will create a “heckler’s veto” and encourage “people to claim distress to censor their critics”. The legislation is a “recipe for disaster”, said Noah Carl in UnHerd. Sam Ashworth-Hayes wrote in the Spectator that the law would be a disaster for conservatives:
Consider, briefly, the ecosystem of activists, charities, politicians, and lawyers that form the cultural left, and the role within this space played by narratives of ‘harm’. Drawing an equivalence between words and violence – legitimising the use of the latter in the suppression of the former – is at this point so common as to be almost unremarked upon. Describing disagreement on the genuinely contentious issues of gender, race, sexuality, or economics as ‘harm’ is a standard tactic for short-circuiting arguments. Scarcely a day goes by without some institution apologising for the harm caused by a perfectly polite email that failed to pick up on the latest trend in activism.
Into this world, one where conservatives’ political opponents are culturally ascendant, where the judiciary is deeply sympathetic to their opponents’ ideals, and has shown itself to be quite willing to build out interesting interpretations of the law in promoting them – into this world, the Conservative party intend to put a law threatening people with jail for causing ‘psychological harm’ or ‘serious distress’.
Mark Dolan of GB News said the Online Safety Bill will dramatically worsen the free speech crisis. He wrote: “The censorship of the population has been a growing cancer for years now, with woke institutions and corporations clamping down on free speech. But now control of what you think and say will be at the discretion of her Majesty’s government, and a meat headed cop in a control room deciding whether your tweet is a joke, fair comment or hate.”
Ofcom chief Dame Melanie Dawes said the legislation broadly gave the regulator the power “to act and act quickly when we need to” but called for yet more powers, to mirror EU proposals.
White privilege taught in schools as fact
Our founder Toby Young spoke to talkRADIO about the failure of schools to uphold political impartiality, and the spread of partisan teaching. Our warning to the Department for Education about the widespread teaching of white privilege as fact in UK schools, as reported in the Telegraph, was reported by talkRADIO in a segment with our Advisory Council member Julia Hartley-Brewer. Our expose was also reported in France and in the MailOnline here.
Charlotte Gill bemoaned the spread of woke PSHE-speak across society, citing the decision of Girlguiding to promote Aceweek, “a time to raise awareness and understanding of the asexual community”. She says the charity’s twitter feed is “littered with posts about ‘microaggressions’ and diversity and inclusion”.
The teaching of critical race theory in schools was a central issue in the Virginia gubernatorial election this week, which ended in an unexpected victory for Republican Glenn Youngkin who promised to ban CRT in schools. Defeated Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe said in a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach”, turning the election on its head. Fraser Myers said the victory showed that parents “have had enough of woke education”.
Terry Gilliam cancellation is the return of blacklisting
The Old Vic has cancelled a forthcoming production of Sondheim’s Into The Woods directed aby Terry Gilliam after “staff unease” about his views on trans issues and the Me Too movement. Tom Slater said the episode showed that cultural institutions were being run by “massive whinging babies”. Ben Lawrence argued in the Telegraph that it was yet another example of managers capitulating to woke young employees. Brendan O’Neill compared the cancellation to the return of blacklisting in the McCarthy era. Alexander Larman said the decision to axe the show was the theatre’s loss.
We approached a theatre producer to see if we could help get the production staged at a different venue, but were told that Sondheim musicals always lose money and that, in all likelihood, the reason the Old Vic had pulled the plug was because it feared a huge financial loss. Gilliam’s history of un-PC comments was just a convenient excuse.
Kathleen Stock speaks out after resignation from Sussex
“Instead of endlessly pandering to the students, universities need to make it very, very clear in the inductions, in Freshers’ Week, that the institution exists to uphold academic freedom. And if they are unhappy about that, they need to leave,” said Professor Michael Biggs to the Telegraph.
Melanie McDonagh wrote in the Telegraph: “Cancel culture is a new inquisition, except that the actual Inquisition had a proper legal process. Now, academics can be driven from their jobs because someone, some identity group somewhere, has asserted they’ve been disrespected.”
Trevor Phillips called for people to buy Kathleen Stock’s book (which you can do here). Jane O’Grady said there had been no reasoned argument against Stock and people should see what she actually believes.
Equality Minister Kemi Badenoch said she was “appalled” by the campaign against Stock.
Professor Eric Kaufmann of our Advisory Council wrote in UnHerd: “Censorship in the West now stems from the kind of bottom-up forces that keep birds from straying from a flock, or fish from their school.” In a separate article he wrote:
New free speech universities will be important in creating space for the conservative and classical liberal ideas that have been driven off campus by the tenured radicals who increasingly shape the climate of higher education. But the only lasting solution is for governments to regulate universities with proactive free speech offices like the UK’s new Director of Academic Freedom that can protect staff and students from cancel culture, political discrimination and activist administrators.
Sarah Ditum said that, despite Professor Stock being forced out, trans activists were in retreat and their power was waning. Students at Leeds University overreached by demanding that senior university managers state their gender pronouns when introducing themselves by email or in meetings.
Lord Wharton of the Office for Students said Vice-Chancellors must defend freedom of speech and academic freedom in a welcome intervention.
Donors are deserting Edinburgh University over various “woke” controversies. Allison Pearson said if you want to fight back against the woke takeover of institutions you should cancel your direct debit. If you know of anyone who’s cancelled their direct debit to an institution like the National Trust and is looking for a new home, please steer them our way.
BBC rejects claim that article on lesbians pressured into sex was “transphobic”
The BBC has rejected complaints from trans rights activists that an article on lesbians who have been pressured into have sex with biologically male trans women was “transphobic”. A senior BBC manager said there was a culture of fear in the BBC about reporting on trans issues. The corporation is to analyse all of its TV output to ensure it is impartial.
Justin Welby apologises for COP26 Holocaust comment
The Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised for comparing climate change to the Holocaust. He said world leaders would be “cursed” if they failed to act. Odd, given that climate change activists have been accusing their opponents of being “deniers” – a reference to Holocaust deniers – for decades without ever having to apologise.
Will woke last?
Sean Thomas wonders if woke is here to stay, perhaps for thousands of years.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been accused of trying to pressure Scottish civil servants into dropping questions on biological sex from official data surveys. Susan Dalgety has said debate on trans issues in Scotland must be free.
The Department of Health has withdrawn from Stonewall’s “Champions” scheme.
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