A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for free speech
BY TOBY YOUNG
I’m in the process of setting up a new organization to defend, promote and secure free speech so I’m interested in what the two main political parties have to say about it. No prizes for guessing which one comes out best.
Let’s start with the Conservative manifesto. In the section entitled ‘World-leading universities’ it says, “We will strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities…” That’s extremely welcome, given the parlous state of intellectual freedom in Britain’s higher education sector. I’m not just thinking of the incidents we’ve all heard about, such as the decision by Cambridge to rescind its invitation to Jordan Peterson to become a visiting fellow after he was photographed next to a man wearing a ‘proud to be an Islamophobe’ t-shirt. There’s also hard data on this. According to a report commissioned by the University and College Union in 2017, 23.1% of British academics said they’d been bullied on account of their views, compared to an EU average of 14.1%, and 35.5% admitted to self-censorship for fear of negative repercussions (EU = 19.1%).
Too often, right-of-centre views are suppressed in our universities on the grounds that they’re so noxious to women and minorities that allowing them to be expressed would constitute a form of ‘harassment’. On the basis of this manifesto commitment, we can expect a Boris-led government to put an end to this nonsense.
There’s another reference to free speech in the Tory manifesto that’s equally, if not more, important. Towards the end of the document, there’s a section called ‘Protecting our democracy’ that includes a commitment to repealing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014 and not proceeding with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.
Section 40 was a stick inserted into the Crime and Courts Act by the enemies of press freedom in the House of Lords to force newspapers and magazines to submit to draconian regulation. If activated, it would mean that any publication not a member of Impress, the press regulator set up by Hugh Grant’s pressure group and funded by Max Mosley, would have to pay all the costs in a libel case even if it successfully defended a claim. As things stand, the loser in a libel case has to pay all their own costs and the lion’s share of the winner’s. But if section 40 is activated, newspapers and magazines that refuse to submit themselves to Hugh Grant and Max Mosley’s dominion would have to pay their costs and their opponents’ costs even if they won. Publishers would face a stark choice: Bow to the will of your enemies or be saddled with ruinous costs. Now, thankfully, the Conservatives have pledged to repeal this threat to free speech.
What about stage two of Leveson? This promised to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the press and, if it was anything like stage one, would have been a show trial designed to humiliate journalists. In fact, nearly all the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry have been implemented, including the creation of a new, independent press regulator in the form of IPSO.
The Labour manifesto, by contrast, is a horse of a different colour. On the issue or press regulation it says, “We will address misconduct and the unresolved failures of corporate governance raised by the second stage of the abandoned Leveson Inquiry.” Hang on a minute. Phase two of the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t taken place so how can the Labour Party pronounce on its findings? With typical sleight of hand – or perhaps just plain ignorance – Labour takes it for granted that stage two of the Inquiry has been concluded and it uncovered “misconduct” and “unresolved failures” which a Corbyn-led government would “address”. How, exactly, it doesn’t say, but some hints were given by the Magic Grandpa when he spoke to the Edinburgh television festival in 2018.
Among his madcap proposals – which included various measures to make the BBC more “accountable”, i.e. more left-wing – was the suggestion that newspaper editors should be elected by their employees. According to Corbyn, this would “reduce the power of media bosses and owners in the private sector”. Yes, and it would increase the influence of millennials and members of Generation Z on staff who would insist that each candidate include their preferred gender pronoun on the ballot and explain how they would promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
Needless to say, the words “free speech” don’t appear in the Labour manifesto, but there are plenty of other reasons to think it would be eroded under Corbyn. For instance, in the section on the arts it says that “everyone deserves the opportunity to see themselves represented on-screen and on-stage” and pledges to “work with trade unions” to “improve diversity” in “creative workplaces”. In other words, any employee who dissents from progressive orthodoxy at the BBC or the National Theatre – admittedly, a rarity – will be charged with creating a “hostile work environment” for women and minorities and put through a disciplinary process.
Then there’s the promise to launch an “inquiry” into the “fake news” that’s “undermining trust in media, democracy and public debate”. Something tells me that won’t include things like the fake quote attributed to Jennie Lee on the front of the art section of Labour’s manifesto: “There is such a thing as society, and the provision of open access to our arts and culture makes for a better society.” Not only did Lee not say that, but it’s bleedin’ obvious she didn’t since it’s a reply to something Margaret Thatcher said in 1987 (“There is no such thing as society”) which was long after Jennie Lee had retired from public life and a year before she died. Some half-witted apparatchik has literally made that up out of whole cloth.
No, Labour’s definition of “fake news” is anything that’s critical of Jeremy Corbyn, such as newspaper reports of his failure to investigate anti-Semitism. According to Corbyn’s deranged cheerleaders on Twitter, such reports are not only “fake” but originate in the Israeli Embassy. To demonstrate that they have absolutely no self-awareness, they often accompany these fervent denials of anti-Semitism with cartoons of hook-nosed Jews pulling the strings of their puppets in the press.
So if you care about free speech, I think you know what to do on December 12th. However, if the worst comes to the worst and Corbyn gets in, I’d like to put my name forward for the editorship of Free Market Conservatives. My preferred gender pronoun is ‘M’lud’.
If you’re interested in joining Toby Young’s Free Speech Union, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Toby Young is a broadcaster, writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @toadmeister