Wednesday, April 17, 2024
HomeCulture WarFree speech has its limits for the timid right

Free speech has its limits for the timid right


ONE feature that has cropped up amongst the responses to the death of the Queen is the resurgence of some elements of the noisy republican minority, who have used this opportunity to serve their own ends, notably by waving explicit signs and confronting some of the Royal Family.

Some have been arrested for their actions, leading much of the British left and the Twitterati alike to claim that freedom of speech is under attack. For their part, much of the British mainstream right has walked rank and file to this notion, with many claiming that such people shouldn’t be arrested for exercising their free speech rights.

However, there are many problems with this, not least of which the fact that many of these cases aren’t as clear-cut as the outrage clickbait provided by the 280 characters of a tweet may allege.

The other major problem is this: it shows how limited the fightback against freedom of speech is for the mainstream right. Sure, they will defend to the death your right to say it, provided the ‘it’ in question is acceptable within mainstream left-wing framework and discourse. Anything that goes beyond such boundaries is off limits for them, leaving only a few principled columnists, writers and YouTube personalities to fill the void the mainstream right have vacated.

Defending the free speech views of republicans isn’t risky or challenging the left-wing thought paradigm currently in place, just the opposite. The same is true for many of the targets much of the mainstream right have come out to defend in recent years, whether it be Novara Media, Dave Chappelle and (in some cases) Extinction Rebellion. Heck, some went as far as to defend those who advocated violence (surely something which most agree isn’t free speech at all) under this same principle, like Claira Janover or Bahar Mustafa.

Meanwhile, the mainstream right are not so generous to save those deemed too edgy or extreme by their left-wing opponents, especially when they hold supposedly outdated views. How many of the same commentators and politicians making a stink about those being arrested for waving obscene signs at a mourning ceremony did so for the likes of Maureen Martin, Maajid Nawaz or Mark Meechan among so many others? In some cases, they happily join the left in throwing them under the bus to virtue signal, such in the recent cases of Roger Scruton and David Starkey.

This in turn undermines much of the conservative (especially within the Tory Party itself) response to woke culture. It may be easy for Liz Truss, a Tory Minister or someone from the right-wing commentariat to be against woke and sloganeer on it, but it means nothing if they don’t at the very least support its victims or work to change the culture or law that allows such a totalitarian mindset to permeate. As noted trade unionist Paul Embery stated, ‘it’s very easy to make generalised statements about being opposed to woke, we can all do that. The real hard thing is to stand with the victims of that woke culture.’ Indeed, and it shouldn’t be left to Toby Young and his Free Speech Union to keep picking up the slack on that front.

After all, the current Conservative Party establishment doesn’t particularly care much for ending woke culture or defending free speech for that matter. After all, despite what they may say, much of the Parliamentary Party is happy to pass Bills that undermine this right in the name of quelling temporary public anger or crushing opposition. Therefore, this lack of true principle on this front of attacking woke can also work in reverse too.

When the admittedly odious Steve Bray had his sound equipment seized earlier this year under the recently passed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, some MPs expressed shock at its intended effects coming to pass, despite many campaigners warning about such matters previously. Others online seemed to find Bray’s handling by the police amusing. Not only will much of the mainstream right refuse to defend free speech when those in the crossfire are too controversial, but will say little or show support when moves are made to further undermine it come into effect, no doubt showing where their true loyalties lie.

In short, if the mainstream right wants to be taken seriously on free speech, it should either defend all legitimate cases when such a matter crops up (not when it’s simply politically safe to do so) or not stand for it at all. Either direction will at least be much more principled and honest than the current status quo where it’s used to get votes or YouTube views, with little substance in tow leaving the matter to simply get worse. It may be easy to defend a republican’s right to free speech when they wave explicit signs at a memorial – it is totally another to extend that principle to their ordinary supporters and the controversial cases as well.  

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Edward Howard
Edward Howard
Edward Howard is a freelance writer and journalist, who has written for various outlets, including WhatCulture, BackBench, Trident Media and is currently the Editor-At-Large for Politicalite.

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