The Conservative Party would deserve more sympathy when their MPs are shouted down by leftist thugs if the prime minister herself were not such an enthusiastic suppressor of free speech
By now I assume everybody has seen footage of the impressively unflappable Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg attempting to break up a physical altercation after an event in which he was speaking was stormed by leftist, Momentum-aligned protesters.
This is the kind of scene we have come to expect from American university campuses, where roving bands of masked Antifa-style goons, wearing their intolerance for diversity of thought like a perverse badge of honour, now routinely storm the meetings and public events of student organisations or external speakers they consider to be haram.
University campuses in Britain, by contrast, tend to be far more sedate places with much less visible security. Since we are fortunate enough in this country not to have to pause every couple of months to mourn another deadly mass shooting incident in an educational establishment, our university campuses do not have their own dedicated police forces as is sadly necessary in America. Neither is there some kind of private security guard for every three or four students.
This, however, may need to change if Members of Parliament and other speakers, people routinely invited onto university campuses to give talks or participate in student debates, find themselves pitched into the middle of violent confrontations with balaclava-clad goons whose devotion to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics leads them to shut down the expression of any opposing thought.
On this occasion, the situation was defused before any real violence could take place, but Jacob Rees-Mogg has experience of standing up to aggressive leftist protesters and bravely stood his ground. Other MPs or public figures might understandably be less keen to put themselves in harm’s way while security guards or police are called to quell a developing problem.
And be assured, this will happen again – not because the speakers invited onto campus are becoming any more controversial or provocative, but because those opposed to their presence are becoming ever more sensitive to what they see as heresy – and too often are being indulged in their precious sensitivity by leftist academics, university administrators and politicians. The protesters cannot be reasoned with, and will not engage respectful debate when offered the chance, so the only way to preserve and protect freedom of expression on university campuses is to have a heavy security presence ready to haul out disruptive people who would censor events with their incessant yammering.
Unfortunately, what we saw from the Conservative Party in response to these events at the University of West England was not a muscular defence of free speech and a commitment to ensuring that universities which take public money also take seriously their responsibility to crack down hard on would-be student censors; rather, we saw a whinnying display of self-pitying victimhood:
In wheedling tones, the new Conservative Party chairman writes:
Last night, Momentum-supporting thugs broke into a university event and tried to silence Conservatives. Wearing balaclavas, they tried through violence and intimidation to stop the ideas that they disagreed with from being heard. Help us back free speech by signing our petition today.
Momentum, the left-wing campaign group, was set up after Mr Corbyn’s initial victory as Labour leader to keep the spirit and politics of his campaign alive.
Young people have a right to hear all sides of the political debate. So we’ll protect free speech by stepping up our speaker programme – making sure Conservative voices are heard in universities across the country.
Together, we can send a message to Labour and Momentum. Sign our petition today and back free speech.
To whom is this petition addressed? The Conservatives are in power, for pity’s sake. Are we to waste our time signing a petition at the request of the party of government, encouraging the party of government to do something which it could and should have been doing all along? A government which has to pass around tear-stained petitions encouraging their own ministers to do their jobs does not deserve to hold office.
The title of the email is “It’s not ok”, which is exactly the same scolding, infantilising kindergarten phrase used by the Social Justice Left in America to describe behaviours which they deem to be “harmful” or “oppressive”. And so rather than taking the fight to those who would shut down free speech in this country, the Tories instead prefer to flaunt their scars in an appeal for public pity and then ask us to sign a petition calling on them to do something about the very problem over which they have so ineptly presided.
This is untenable stupidity. As Home Secretary, Theresa May did as much as anyone else to suppress freedom of expression in numerous forms, using exactly the same arguments as the Social Justice Warriors – to protect the supposedly weak-minded citizenry from corruption or offence from undesirable sources.
As Brendan O’Neill noted in 2016, soon after Theresa May ascended to the office of prime minister:
May and the student Safe Spacers she’s railing against are one and the same in their belief that bad or eccentric ideas are best dealt with by censorship. May bans a pastor who has a problem with the Koran; students ban secularist critic of Islam Maryam Namazie. May bans Tyler, the Creator for being sexist; 30 students’ unions ban Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ for being sexist.
And both use the Stalinist language of ‘safety’ or ‘the public good’ to justify their speech-strangling antics. Students’ unions claim, with spectacular paternalism, to be protecting the ‘mental safety’ of their student charges; May says she bans people who say weird things because they aren’t ‘conducive to the public good’. It’s almost funny: student leaders fancy themselves as anti-Tory, yet ape Tory intolerance of difficult ideas; May positions herself as a critic of Safe Space nonsense, yet she’s Britain’s Safe-Spacer-in-chief, treating not only students but all of us as infants to be guarded from controversy.
You cannot busily construct a Safe Space at the national level – a dystopian society where people are woken up in the middle of the night and dragged off to jail for placards they create, songs they sing or words they publish on social media – and then be overly surprised or outraged when a gang of young college thugs, raised in a society where it is constantly preached that people have the divine right not to be offended, decides to take matters into their own hands.
As this blog has repeatedly pointed out, the battle for free speech is won or lost at the margins – it is only by defending the vile and unconscionable speech of extremists that a firewall is created to protect mainstream political discourse. Sadly for Britain, the battle for free speech was never even fought at the margins – the government instead chose to unilaterally surrender on all of our behalfs, and restrict speech considered offensive by nearly every designated victim group or professional offence-taker in the land.
Now the barbarians are at the gate, and it is not just “extreme” language or opinion under threat, or even loud-mouthed and controversial provocateurs like Katie Hopkins, but mild-mannered right-of-centre politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg. And now that the Faith Militant of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics threatens the physical safety of Conservative MPs as they address perfectly respectable student organisations, finally the government is stirring lazily to action, unjustifiably offended that anyone other than the police might seek to enforce the very cultural and linguistic taboos that in their incompetence they allowed to spread unchecked across the land.
Well sorry, but this is too little and too late. The idea that a government led by the same authoritarian zealot who waged war on civil liberties in this country for six years as Home Secretary is suddenly going to bravely fight for freedom of thought and expression on university campuses or elsewhere is utterly risible. Even if she were to totally flip-flop on the issue, devoid of any other ideological backbone as she is, the prime minister no longer has the political authority to take a serious stand on a domestic political issue.
The litany of political failures which can be chalked up to the Conservative Party since 2010 – failures of ambition, vision, intellect, principle and courage – is growing too long to recount in any one blog post or article. But ending up in the same ideological hemisphere as masked thugs who threaten the physical safety of their own MPs surely has to rank near the very top of the list.
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