Weekly News Round-Up

Welcome to the Free Speech Union’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 us turn the tide against cancel culture.

Free Speech Union’s legal challenge to Essex over no-platforming of gender-critical academics

We have sent a pre-action letter to the University of Essex ahead of a legal challenge we are mounting over the university’s treatment of Professors Jo Phoenix and Rosa Freedman because of their gender-critical views. Both academics were no-platformed by Essex, and a subsequent review acknowledged that “serious mistakes” had been made. But the university has failed to act on the review’s recommendations. Our letter was reported by Camilla Turner in the Telegraph.

Our founder Toby Young was quoted in the article, saying:

The university wrongly believes any speech which trans rights activists perceive as harassment is ipso facto harassment and therefore unlawful. In fact, for the speech in question to be unlawful, it needs to actually be harassment, not just perceived as such. In the absence of it meeting that test, it is not unlawful and prohibiting it – by no-platforming feminist professors, for instance – is a breach of its duty to uphold lawful free speech.

MPs could be obligated to promote “anti-racism” and “diversity” – or be kicked out of Parliament

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has recommended that MPs be obligated to promote “anti-racism, inclusion and diversity” under a new “respect” principle, which is to be added to the seven existing principles that all public appointees are expected to uphold. The Times reported that the recommendation was backed unanimously by the cross-party committee, but opposed by a group of other MPs. One MP said: “I think it’s a load of rubbish. If you start trying to police that, you’ll get away from your core. This organisation is just trying to be woke.”

The move would be a “flagrant rejection of political liberalism”, wrote Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph.

Free Speech Bill could have saved me, said Kathleen Stock

Professor Kathleen Stock told THE that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill could have saved her career at Sussex, and could have made a “real difference” were it law already. She said that universities are suffering from “a real lack of understanding of the value of free speech and academic freedom”, and that they have simply “failed to grasp this problem”.

We need to be vigilant against “undead” woke policies rising up again, said Charles Moore, after Downing College, Cambridge resurrected doctrines on “microaggressions” and racism, the latter of which has already been long defeated at university level. We wrote to Downing a couple of weeks ago threatening legal action and it subsequently removed the most egregious aspects of their “report racism guidance”.

We need non-woke universities in Britain to create competition and restore free speech on campus, argued Andrew Lilico in the Telegraph.

Higher Education Quarterly has published a hoax article arguing that “right-wing money” is successfully inducing university administrators and academics to promote right-wing ideas.

Genuine papers, however, are being sought for an academic conference on “non-crime hate incidents”. Details can be found here.

Alumni of prestigious American universities are withholding donations until institutions uphold freedom of speech. Should we start a similar initiative in the UK?

Twitter CEO resigns, but his successor is even less keen on free speech

Jack Dorsey’s resignation as Twitter CEO could be bad news for free speech, wrote Ben Sixsmith in UnHerd, as his successor is likely to take an even less liberal approach to the matter. Mike Solana warned that Twitter is about to get worse, claiming that, relatively speaking, Jack Dorsey tried to defend free speech, even though he was perceived as a “villain”.

In one of the new CEO’s first moves, Twitter has banned the sharing of photos of private individuals without their permission. Would the George Floyd video have been prohibited under the new policy, asked Wesley Yang?

Meanwhile, human rights groups have warned against a Greek law that criminalises “fake news”.

Wars rage in UK schools over critical race theory

The dossier on the politicisation of schools we handed to the Department for Education last month was noted by the Daily Mail in an article discussing the head of the American School in London, who was forced out of her £400,000-a-year post following a revolt by parents over the teaching of critical race theory. Such notions of “privilege” are farcical and simplistic, argued Dr Rakib Ehsan. No wonder our children are losing the ability to argue a point calmly in this climate, said India Knight in the Times.

A primary school has been accused of indoctrinating pupils with a lesson on Meghan Markle in which children were asked whether she would have had fewer “haters” if she was white. The school defended the lesson, describing it as “balanced”.

Ban lifted on Islamist party that stirred Mohammed cartoon demonstrations

Pakistan has lifted a ban on the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist political party, which led demonstrations against France over the printing of Mohammed cartoons in Charlie Hebdo, the BBC reported. A TLP mob recently abducted, tortured and murdered a police officer, and have injured at least 1,300 people this year.

Michael Vaughan deserved due process

Cricketer Monty Panesar spoke to Spiked about the Yorkshire racism scandal and the treatment of Michael Vaughan. He said:

If you go to a normal court, you are innocent until proven guilty. So if you are going to make an accusation against someone, you have to back it up with really strong evidence. Otherwise, we could have a situation where people lose their jobs unfairly. If it turns out that the evidence is not strong enough, why can’t Michael Vaughan just continue his commentary career?

In the Telegraph, Simon Heffer expressed the same sentiment: “Why a man who gave distinguished service to his county and his country as a batsman and captain and, lately, as a commentator should find himself undergoing a secular crucifixion before anything has been proved against him will leave most rational people astonished.”

Stonewall to face tribunal over attempt to get lesbian barrister sacked

Stonewall has failed to get a claim by barrister Allison Bailey thrown out of court. Bailey is arguing that Stonewall tried to get her sacked over gender-critical social media posts. Simon Edge said the campaign group’s “no-debate” stance has left them poorly equipped for public discussion.

The artist Jess de Wahls from East Berlin compared the botched attempt to cancel her by trans activists to Cold War-era tactics.

There is still a deafening silence on the hounding of JK Rowling, wrote Alex Massie, including from Scotland’s First Minister.

A GP has been suspended for sending offensive, bullying tweets to women who opposed his pro-trans views. Dr Adrian Harrop called one woman a “venomous transphobic bigot”, the Times reported.

Jo Bartosch argued that the tide is finally turning in the trans war, pointing to the steady stream of public figures willing to “come out” as gender-critical. (This week it was Richard Dawkins.)

But in Canada, gender-critical feminists now risk prosecution for “hate speech”, warned Meghan Murphy.

Free speech is being stifled at the BBC

Moral Maze presenter Michael Buerk has said freedom of speech is under threat at the BBC:

In the wider world – and, it has to be said, in some parts of the BBC – more and more is being put off limits, things that cannot possibly be said, new orthodoxies that are beyond challenge. I do think freedom of speech is seriously under threat.

Meanwhile, the British Board of Film Classification is to award more restrictive certificates to films that include racist language.

The war on everyday language

The woke are the new Victorians, argued Ed West, as the “age of the dandy is giving way to that of the prig” in a culture of censoriousness and strong new taboos.

Linlithgow locals are fighting back against plans to rename “The Black Bitch” pub for being insufficiently “inclusive”. The Sun noted that the pub is “originally named after a black, female greyhound which features on the town’s heraldic crest and symbolises a well-known local legend of a hunting dog that saved its master’s life”.

The RAF has been branded “woke” for dropping “airmen” and “airwomen” in favour of “aviators”.

“Now we’re in danger of being deemed bad people for using the word ‘policeman’ or ‘postman’,” wrote Christopher Howse in the Telegraph, following an attempt by the European Commission to replace the terms “ladies and gentlemen” with “dear colleagues”, and “manmade” with “human-induced”.

Disney self-censorship in China

Disney has removed an episode of The Simpsons from its streaming service in Hong Kong because it mocks China’s refusal to acknowledge the Tiananmen Square massacre. Brendan O’Neill wrote in Spiked: “Disney+ is playing China’s game of censoring regime-critical content by keeping this allegedly scandalous episode away from the eyes and ears of Hongkongers.”

The Free Speech Union’s Christmas Review

Join us for our online Christmas Review on Wednesday 8 December at 7pm. The whole Free Speech Union team will be there, discussing the free speech highs and lows of the past year. Come along and join in. Register now.

Forthcoming comedy night

Following the success of our first comedy night of 2021, we are offering members priority booking for our second, taking place on Wednesday 15 December – perfect timing for a pre-Christmas celebration of free-thinking comedy.

Our MC for the evening will be FSU favourite Dominic Frisby, and he’ll be joined by comedians Leo Kearse, Mark Dolan and Joe Jacobs. Bringing some additional seasonal glamour, we have a special performance by global icon Vanity von Glow.

The Free Speech Union team will also be there, so do come and say hello. Round up your friends and family and buy your tickets now!

If you’re feeling especially full of Christmas cheer, please consider selecting the option of a ticket plus a £10 donation to the FSU.

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A reminder: 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 need to join for the full annual amount of £49.95 and select Academic in the dropdown menu asking what profession you’re in. Offer ends on 20 December.

Best wishes,

Benjamin Jones


Case Officer