The British Right to Liberty is Under Attack – Conservative Article
The fact that Britain – the home of John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, George Orwell, Isaiah Berlin, the Magna Carta and the mother of all parliaments – is betraying its proud tradition of liberty and attacking the rights of its citizens is a sad state of affairs.
Much has been said of the cultural crackdown on the liberty of the individual that is taking place in the anglosphere. As such, one may turn onto the other side of the coin, imposition by state.
In this article, I shall speak on the latter of these two issues. First of all, one may preface this argument by admitting that, yes, the UK does, in a strictly legal sense, have provisions to protect freedom of expression and other inalienable rights in the form of the 1997 Human Rights Act.
However, the problem is if we don’t apply this protection of rights rigorously. Without consideration, it is then a farce which individuals, enemies of liberty, may use to obfuscate against the facts of the situation.
The law is, then, counterintuitive to its stated purpose.
On freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly is essential to the airing of grievances and general expression of opinion within the public sphere. It is a ‘safety valve’ through which individuals can express their non-consent with the state without resorting to violence. From this, it is obvious that such an assembly of individuals is, by nature, going to be disruptive, loud, and ‘annoying’.
It would not be particularly effective in gaining the attention of the government if it was not.
This, then, is why the ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ is so insidious in its language; it directly targets the inherent nature of protests, giving the State power to attack the right to protest. In particular, vague wording such as ‘distress’ and ‘alarm’ is said to constitute a reason for police to act. This is then made worse by the use of ‘may cause’. It means police don’t even need to observe ‘distress’ or ‘alarm’ from the public. They can merely assert that the protest could cause them harm and curtail it on those grounds.
It does not stop there either. These provisions extend to one person protests. It is lucky that the ‘stop Brexit’ man gave up when he did, lest he feel the wrath of the state for his ‘distressing’ protest!
On freedom of expression
It is not only on protests that the state is attempting to police the free expression of its citizens. The police have thought it their place to decide that individuals who express an opinion that they do not find palatable, but who have not technically violated any law, should be recorded as having committed a non-criminal ‘hate incident’.
The police think it is their place to establish a registry of individuals who have committed ‘wrong think’. This is so illiberal that one would expect it in Communist East Germany under the Stasi, not ‘liberal’ Britain.
The inevitable consequence of such police thinking has already occurred. For example, when a police officer came to the workplace of a man named Harry Miller in order to ‘check his thinking’ after he retweeted what they perceived as a transphobic tweet on Twitter. A judge ruled in favour of Miller when he challenged Humberside Police actions in court. However, that is not the point. Police thinking it was their place to police the expression of individuals in the first place is what is disturbing.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Specific legislation is in place that the state uses to arrest citizens for expressing an opinion that they find particularly offensive or palatable. Two laws are particularly pernicious. Firstly, the Scotland Hate Crime bill 2020, which makes sharing an opinion that is seen to be ‘stirring up hatred’ a crime. Secondly, the Communications act 2003, which makes it illegal to send a message that is ‘grossly offensive’ over social media.
Of course, what constitutes ‘stirring up hatred’ and ‘grossly offensive’ opinions are entirely subjective and completely open to interpretation. We may consider a particularly ‘out-there joke as “offensive”, making it punishable by law. People, even those in the state, are flawed and riddled with biases. As such, these provisions are so liable to be used by the state in order to impose a set of beliefs upon the public; that they are downright dangerous to freedom in this country.
The state should not think its place is to decide what is and what is not an ‘offensive’ opinion.
It should not side with one ideological group and defame another in the name of ‘tolerance’. The state should arbitrate disputes between individuals and protect their fundamental rights. That is it, nothing else. There is no freedom to not be offended nor is there freedom not to have one’s day disrupted. Therefore, the state should damn well butt out!
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Joe London
Point of Information
Freedom of Speech Is Not Freedom to Discriminate – A Labour Response
My colleague is correct, the vague language of the new crime bill is alarming. As I wrote in an earlier article the Conservative party is actively putting on two faces when it comes to free speech; cracking down on student protests under the guise of a “free speech czar” while simultaneously trying to push through a bill that would have serious repercussions to everyone’s freedom of assembly. It is good to see a Conservative writer taking a stand against the party.
However, the second half of my colleague’s article crashes spectacularly and misses the point. While the case of Harry Miller on the surface would raise alarm, there are several complexities to the case that do not make this so cut and dried.
Not mentioned is Harry Miller’s organisation Fair Cop. A pressure group supposedly fighting for freedom of speech and opposed to police attempts to criminalise people for unfavourable opinions. However, through five minutes of digging it’s very obvious that Harry Miller’s organisation is in fact a one-issue organisation. A dogmatic anti-trans agenda dominates the thought of everyone involved.
How many posts on the website are about the Crime Bill? Zero. How many posts are about the crackdown on statue vandals? Zero. Any posts at all about the violent silencing of the Sarah Everad vigil? None whatsoever. In fact, the only posts on the site are dedicated to exonerating those who have been “cancelled” for transphobia online.
The organisation and those involved are so deeply rooted in bigotry that through their Twitter they have actively called on people to remain hateful in response to a West Yorkshire Police post in remembrance of trans people who have been murdered for simply being who they are.
Harry Miller and his organisation are disgusting and truly despicable. In a decent society where people respect one another, if you are a community leader with connections to the police and you spend all your time calling for the exclusion of a marginalised group, you should expect the consequences. The protocol the police used to investigate Harry Miller came about in 1993, after the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Long before any notion of “cancel culture” drove free speech discourse.
The purpose of dealing with hate incidents prematurely is so that they don’t develop into hate crimes; so there will be no more people like Stephen Lawrence. The Scottish bill mentioned only seeks to extend these police protocols of crime prevention that we have had now for over two decades. Everyone in this country has a right to feel safe from bigotry and hatred.
So, no, I don’t believe being investigated by police for running a transphobic policing organisation is the end of human rights in the UK. It is the same as not being allowed to run a racist policing organisation or a homophobic one or a sexist one.
Harry Miller is not a freedom fighter. He is an agitator, who seeks to rile up hatred against a marginalised group for his own benefit at a time where transphobic hate crimes are at an all-time high.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Joseph McLaughlin
How Do You Balance Freedom and Protection? – A Liberal Response
I think all three of us agree on the horrifying implications of the Bill for freedom of assembly and the right to protest. But, like my Labour colleague, I also differ when it comes to freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequence. If you are ready to publicly voice a view, you should be ready for the consequences. However, I do agree with my Conservative colleague that the subjectivity of such comments is a concern. Yes, a review by the government’s new free speech Czar could probably help this.
Joe makes the point that the state should not side with one ideological group over another in the name of tolerance. Surely his argument is for the State to swap sides and participate in a classical liberal or conservative ideology instead. Neutrality is choosing the side of the oppressor. By invoking your god-given freedom to discriminate, you are permitting violence towards vulnerable members of society.
Just once, when someone is spouting off on free speech, I would like a solution to the discrimination faced by minority communities who are targeted by people inciting hatred.
If you can remove at least the most severe of the harm, for example, preventing minorities from attacks, then, by all means, have your freedom of expression to the furthest extremes. But there is a balance of the state’s role to protect its citizens alongside their freedoms. We must consider this.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Emma Hall