THE Reclaim Party’s new free speech charter, launched today, demands that freedom of expression be written into law to break the rising tide of cancel culture. Party leader Laurence Fox explains here why he commissioned the report and the targeted conclusions it reached.
Never in my lifetime have I witnessed language so weaponised. Never have I seen such suppression of free speech, such censoring of perfectly moderate opinion, and perhaps most perniciously the censorship of the self. New speech codes – vocabulary, semantics, syntax, pronouns, banned words – are forced into everyday parlance.
I commissioned this report to understand the relationship between this aspect of contemporary culture and the law as it relates to freedom of speech in Britain and, crucially, I wanted to consider the effect this has on our democratic process.
Why make the link between freedom of speech and democracy? Because freedom of speech exists to protect equality before the law by allowing every person to get his point across through peaceful means. Furthermore, stable government can exist and evolve only through the broadest possible debate. When certain views or statements are suppressed or outlawed, segments of the population begin to feel disenfranchised, excluded and unprotected by the system. Disquiet and division ensue, leading to disgruntlement, resentment and ultimately instability.
Which views, then, are currently notbeing heard? I ask you to consider the definitions of gender, race, multiculturalism, immigration, religion, climate change, Covid decisions, vaccinations, vaccination passports, decisions taken by the NHS, national identity and British history. None of these can be discussed openly today. Why aren’t they?
Look at the style of public discourse that has taken root in this country. It’s one that summarily banishes anyone who dares challenge the ‘morally superior’ position on any of these issues. Offence is called at the slightest disagreement which is followed by histrionics from the self-appointed ‘offendee’ – or, indeed, any self-appointed moral guardian speaking on behalf of the offended class. ‘Burn the Witch!’ is shouted at anyone who says, writes, illustrates, performs or posts anything about these topics. The ‘offender’ is publicly denounced, suspended, dropped, sacked and ‘nonpersoned’; their career and livelihood are ended overnight.
We are talking here about the dynamics of ‘cancel culture’.
The list of high-profile victims of this censorship is long; the list of ordinary people whose livelihoods have been destroyed is much longer. J K Rowling, Jenni Murray and Martina Navratilova were vilified for publicly stating biological facts. David Bellamy, once beloved of the nation, was summarily cancelled for daring not to bow at the altar of climate change.
Who decided that these people were not allowed to hold their views? Who voted to bring in these punishments? Where has this licence for one group of citizens to punish another come from? The answer is legislation and its overinterpretation. But it is not for legislation to regulate what people may say, especially if those opinions are not popular (and it is difficult to know what is popular when half the UK population is too scared to speak their minds). If half the debate is missing, how can government represent the people?
How has this assault on free expression come about?
I had assumed that by virtue of living in a western liberal democracy, freedom of speech was somewhere enshrined as an inalienable right. This report dispels that misapprehension.
Freedom of speech in Britain has never been an inalienable right. America stated its inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined them in the First Amendment. England’s forerunner, the oft-trumpeted ‘equivalent’ – the 1689 Bill of Rights – does stipulate the right to freedom of speech in Britain but it is only granted to MPs, and then only limited to parliamentary privilege.
Before anyone thinks of countering with Article 10.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, I urge them to read the very next clause. Article 10.2 grants powers to the government that undermine any such freedom. To rewrite President John F Kennedy, freedom of speech in the UK does only come from the generosity of the state and not from the hand of God.
There is a further complication. Legislation goes through ‘interpretation’. Standard procedure is for institutions responsible for implementing the legislation to publish guidance on how it should be applied in practice. This includes, for example, the College of Policing’s Hate Crime Operational Guidance, now called the Authorised Professional Practice, amongst a plethora of others. These are written by unelected bodies and subject to no parliamentary scrutiny.
All of this raises the crucial question: What can and should be done? This report provides a serious and considered response.
First, it identifies two areas of existing and proposed legislation and guidance where freedom of speech is unnecessarily restricted: public order offences and hate crime allegations. The report shows how guidance issued to interpret legislation can embellish actual legal responsibilities and damage true freedom of speech. As a result, the Reclaim Party recommends that all guidance issued by public bodies should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before it is published or subsequently amended.
Second, the report identifies two areas in which freedom of speech must be pre-emptively reinforced before it is too late: social media and employment.
The proposals in this report are narrow, targeted and eminently achievable.
Footnote: The Conservative Woman will publish details of the report’s key recommendations over the next days.