Lee v. Ashers Baking Company, A Victory Against Compelled Speech

Asher Bakery Belfast gay marriage cake compelled speech

Today saw a victory against compelled speech and authoritarian government, but fewer and fewer voices on the Left are in the mood to celebrate

Today the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down a decision in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd, the UK’s equivalent of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in the United States (which the UK court actually cited in its ruling).

Both cases came about when plaintiffs claimed discrimination based on sexual orientation after trying to place an order for wedding cakes bearing messages supportive of gay marriage at bakeries owned and operated by traditional conservative Christians, who then refused the orders on the grounds that to produce the cakes bearing the specific messages would violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

From the BBC:

The UK’s highest court ruled that Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.

The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.

[…] The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

But the bakery has always insisted its objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer.

I have long taken the view put forward many years ago by Andrew Sullivan, that gay marriage should be accepted on the grounds that broadening an institution which promotes stability, permanence, mutual responsibility and (consequently) social capital can only be a good thing, especially at a time when social atomization and selfish, destructive cultural hedonism are doing so much to weaken vital bonds at the community and national level.

I would never advocate (nor tolerate) religious institutions being forced to conduct gay marriage ceremonies against their will, but rolling out the basic template of marriage and making it more widely accessible – especially to one of the only demographics which currently shows any enthusiasm for the institution! – seems perfectly sensible to me.

But even more abhorrent than the idea that the government might compel religious organizations to conduct ceremonies which violated their codes and moral systems is the  prospect of government compelling the speech of ordinary people, making anybody who wishes to participate in the public square affirm certain social dogmas on pain of civil or criminal liability. We have already seen Canada start to go down this road with Canadian Bill C-16, a statutory amendment which adds gender identity and gender expression to classes of individuals protected under Canadian human rights law, and moves perilously close to criminalizing the “misgendering” of people. Thus it is not inconceivable that someone could be held criminally liable in Canada were they to refuse to conform their speech to proclaim that trans women are women and trans men are men.

Compelled speech is the very last thing a healthy liberal democracy should be striving to enact. Thus it is great to see at least one human rights and civil liberties group – one which has not yet fully prostrated itself before the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – celebrate the Ashers Baking Company decision.

From the Peter Tatchell Foundation:

“This verdict is a victory for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers cannot be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also means that gay bakers cannot be compelled by law to decorate cakes with anti-gay marriage slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“Businesses can now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to emblazon a political message if they have a conscientious objection to it. This includes the right to refuse messages that are sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay, which is a good thing.

“Although I profoundly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be forced to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.

“The ruling does not permit anyone to discriminate against LGBT people. Such discrimination rightly remains unlawful.

“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: Support gay marriage.’

It is sad that statements like this now have to be cheered and encouraged rather than taken for granted by civil liberties defenders and free speech advocates, but such are the authoritarian times in which we live – trapped in a pincer movement between what Maajid Nawaz calls the “Control Left” on one side, and reactionary, protectionist nationalists on the other.

Proving that he is one of the few prominent voices on the British Left who remains capable of thinking through the consequences of implementing illiberal leftist identity politics dogma heedless of the ramifications, Tatchell continues:

If the original judgement against Ashers had been upheld it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could have also encouraged far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

Of course it wouldn’t be; we know that the administrators of this illiberal code – including establishment figures as powerful as the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service – would implement any such statutes or case law highly selectively, punishing only the disfavored “white, Christian male” group while refraining from holding other groups to the same draconian standard. But Tatchell is quite right that the argument for compelled speech, taken not even so far as to its logical conclusion but merely a few steps down the road, would swiftly end up censoring and controlling us all.

The real concern is that old-school campaigners like Peter Tatchell are a dying breed. In fact, they are being hunted to extinction by a new generation of social justice warrior activists whose petty accomplishments are nothing compared to someone like Tatchell (who, like him or not, has labored for years and put his body in harms way more than once in advance of his ideals) but who deludedly think they morally outrank him because they are willing to go further in their rhetorical, legal and constitutional attacks on dissenters.

This is a time when conservatives – indeed, anyone not of an ultra-progressive persuasion – need to pick their battles very carefully. Social conservatives may disagree vehemently with the social views of someone like Peter Tatchell, but in this authoritarian age it is not he who seeks to impose his views on others. Indeed, given the opportunity, some social conservatives would be more likely to impose their own views on progressive dissenters than Tatchell would do to them – which should give serious pause for reflection.

At this time the threat to fundamental rights and civil liberties, when the identity politics Left is hell-bent on compelling the speech of private citizens, forcing them to say words or endorse ideas in which they do not believe, old political divisions must be put aside in order to withstand the creeping incursions of authoritarianism into society. There will be time enough to relitigate social issues once we have jointly confronted and dispensed with the band of zealots who would actually put us in prison for thinking the wrong things.

In these fractious times, the sane(r) Left urgently needs shoring up. Because if things continue on their current trajectory, Peter Tatchell’s ideological opponents on the right will miss him when he is gone.

 

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Oh, So Now You’re A Liberal? Part 2 – Maajid Nawaz Calls Out The Illiberal British Left

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Maajid Nawaz warns about the rise of the “Control Left”, an authoritarian tendency which has left liberalism and liberal values far behind

Recently, this blog took to task those on the authoritarian Left who have reacted to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump by falsely draping themselves in the clothes of liberalism and hysterically mourning an idealised liberal past which they did as much as anybody else to knife in the back.

In that piece, I made the point that people who only weeks ago could be found arguing for greater censorship, the expansion of “hate crime” legislation, trigger warnings, safe spaces, higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco, national ID cards, longer pre-trial detention periods and even more intrusive government surveillance have absolutely no business calling themselves “liberal”.

Though the authoritarian Right are by no means innocent in this regard, it must be acknowledged that most of the recent assaults on liberty and liberalism have come from the Left, in America as well as Britain.

Picking up on this thread, Maajid Nawaz hits the nail on the head on his LBC talk radio show yesterday:

I suspect that the most vocal elements of the Left – and I don’t mean every single person who sympathises with left-wing views, let me make that very clear, I’m talking about the organised left, the most vocal elements of our Left, and the Left in the form of Momentum who have taken over the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn – my view is that that Left, today’s Left, today’s active, organised Left is no longer liberal.

What do I mean by that? Well let’s look at a few things that I don’t consider to be liberal. Let’s look at censorship, let’s look at being “post-factual”, let’s look at violence being seen as an option, let’s look at prioritising group identity over individual rights. None of these four traits are liberal.

Censorship is not liberal, so when today’s organised Left begins organising in campuses and across colleges across the nation, across the world, and says things like “you cannot say that here, this is a safe space, we will exclude you from speaking because your views offend us”, when they choose to take offence, when they become more sensitive, and so sensitive in fact that they want to shut debate down simply because they don’t like what somebody is saying, that’s not a liberal approach. A liberal will always prioritise free speech over offence.

What about being post-factual? Well I remember – and I hope many of you remember – at the beginning of this year, the way in which mass sex attacks were reported in the German city of Cologne. And what was known then as the liberal press actively conspired to cover up that news. Facts were known and they were not reported because they didn’t want to be accused of being racist. The German state television station had to come out and openly apologise, days later, when they realised that this story was not one that they could cover up. So being post-factual is also not being liberal.

What about considering violence as an option? When you have the Shadow Chancellor of the UK Labour Party, John McDonnell, being caught on video saying that it’s okay to riot, it’s okay to destroy property and to ruin people’s lives and their private property, that’s not liberal. That may be anarchist, it may be revolutionary hard-left socialist, as John McTernan suggested, but it isn’t liberal.

When people are prioritising group identity over individual rights, saying things like “kill all white men”, saying things like “black people can’t be racist because racism is about power and only white men have power” – Diane Abbott says that. Well I’m sorry Diane Abbott MP, go and walk into any council estate and speak to a white working class lad and try and have a rational, reasonable conversation with that young white working class lad and tell him that he has more power than you, and that’s why you can’t be racist towards him. Complete and utter rubbish. But when group identity is prioritised over individual rights in that way, when leftist activists think it’s okay to say “kill all white men” and that that’s somehow an empowering statement, when they think it’s okay to be racist to all white people as a group, and think somehow that’s what it means to be progressive, erasing the individual, stereotyping entire groups, that is not liberal.

So I have taken the view that this behaviour – censorship on the organised Left, post-factual behaviour, violence being seen as an option and prioritising group identity over individual rights, that isn’t liberal. And like the alt-right has emerged, we’ve now got this new group – it’s called the Control Left. They want to control our lives, control what we think, control how we behave, control how we even feel. And control what we think. That is not liberal. That is the Control Left.

So my message to you, Control Left, is stop telling us you are liberal. My message to the press: stop describing them as the liberal Left, they are no longer liberal. Call them for what they are – Control Left.

A devastating excoriation of the modern Left. And while I’m not sure that Nawaz’s preferred phrase “the Control Left” will catch on, it does describe quite plainly their new strategy of bringing about change not through persuasion but by coercion and force.

Maajid Nawaz has cause to be particularly aware of the new illiberalism gripping the Left, having recently been singled out by the fabled Southern Poverty Law Center in America for supposedly promoting anti-Islamic extremism, a ludicrous accusation given that Nawaz is himself a Muslim. (Nawaz’s real sin was to call for moderate Islam to take more responsibility for its violent, fundamentalist offshoots at a time when much of the Left is furiously pretending that “there is nothing Islamic about ISIS”).

We now need many more people to summon the courage and willingness to tell truth to power exhibited by Maajid Nawaz. It’s all very well having dyed-in-the-wool conservative, libertarian or conservatarian journalists and bloggers such as myself ranting on about the many ways that the modern Left has left liberalism behind. But we can only carry the message so far – since it is we who are most often the targets of this censorship and identity politics, it is too easy for the Control Left to accuse us of acting in our own self-interest rather than the national interest.

Therefore it is vital that more left-wing liberals like Maajid Nawaz stand up and call out these authoritarian tendencies, declaring “not in my name” to the censorship, bullying and control freakery of the modern Left. This is in their interest as much as anyone else’s – with the election of Donald Trump in America, we have seen that peddling a constant diet of authoritarian identity politics eventually provokes a similar identity politics backlash among those groups not marked out for special favour by the Left.

So for the country’s sake as much as their own, those on the Left must learn to renounce authoritarianism and seek to achieve their political agenda through persuasion rather than coercion. To continue on their present course is to plant the seeds of their own destruction, as well as ours.

 

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The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Enabling Islamist Extremism By Smearing Its Most Stalwart Opponents

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By labelling dedicated anti-extremism campaigners like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Majid Nawaz as anti-Muslim extremists themselves, the deluded and morally compromised Southern Poverty Law Centre is doing the Islamists’ work for them

There have been few sadder debasements of once-fine and noble institutions this year than the Southern Poverty Law Center’s decision to stop serving as a fearless searchlight highlighting violent extremism and instead become a trendy-lefty Islamism-denying propaganda outlet.

That might sound harsh, but there really is no other way to describe the SPLC’s fawning, slavish deference to leftist SJW dogma – a philosophy which furiously denies that there is any problem within the Islamic community or with a certain branch of the Muslim faith, and that anybody who disagrees and dares to draw attention to problems within Islam is effectively Hitler.

Last week, in a blaze of publicity, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a list of fifteen individuals singled out by that organisation as holding and disseminating false and extremist information and opinions about Islam.

In the preface to their report, the SPLC declares:

The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.

This misinformation and hateful rhetoric have consequences. When huge numbers of Americans believe that a majority of Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, it can hardly be a surprise that some percentage of them engage in hate crime attacks. After all, they learned of the threat they believe Muslims pose from sources who were presented by the media as authoritative experts.

This country faces an array of complex and daunting problems, the threat of terrorism indisputably among them. Let’s not make them worse by allowing self-described “experts” to propagandize our fellow Americans with defamatory and frightening falsehoods. Our media, in particular, has the opportunity to present an objective picture that illuminates, rather than distorts, reality.

So far, so noble, you might think. There is certainty a lot of hyperbolic and often baseless scaremongering about Muslims and Islam in the media, and flagging particularly odious or disreputable sources for media attention is not in and of itself a bad thing. Until you realise who is on the list.

Some of the names are old suspects that one would expect to see. But in news which has provoked widespread outrage, the list also includes the names of entirely innocent and worthy activists fighting against Islamist extremism, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz.

And what is the SPLC’s charge sheet against Maajid Nawaz? What actions classify him as an “extremist”?

In the list sent to a top British security official in 2010, headlined “Preventing Terrorism: Where Next for Britain?” Quilliam [Nawaz’s anti-extremism think tank]  wrote, “The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics.” An official with Scotland Yard’s Muslim Contact Unit told The Guardian that “[t]he list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism.”

Well, what’s so shocking about that? It as an entirely logical statement on Nawaz’s part. Unless the people at the SPLC are truly dim and do not recognise a difference between Muslims and Islamists then there is no excuse for trying to turn a perfectly obvious point – that some people who support a fundamentalist ideology will choose violence while others do not – into some kind of “gotcha” smoking gun evidence of Nawaz’s secret Islamophobia.

And worse:

According to a Jan. 24, 2014, report in The Guardian, Nawaz tweeted out a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad — despite the fact that many Muslims see it as blasphemous to draw Muhammad. He said that he wanted “to carve out a space to be heard without constantly fearing the blasphemy charge.”

Was this provocative? Perhaps. But again, Nawaz is himself a Muslim. Who better to judge what is or is not offensive to one’s religious moral code than the person tweeting the image? And even if doing so is “offensive”, are there not times when the offence is a price worth paying to make a broader argument in support of universal free speech? And if the Southern Poverty Law Center is so concerned about the emotional harm that may be inflicted by “blasphemous” acts like this, how do they explain their deafening silence when it comes to Christian beliefs and symbols being mocked in the popular culture?

The SPLC is not taking the side of ordinary Muslims here, some of whom may indeed be quietly offended by depicting Muhammad. They are taking the side of violent Islamists who seek to enforce blasphemy laws in the 21st century.

And then the SLPC really descends into the gutter:

Nawaz, who had described himself as a “feminist,” was “filmed repeatedly trying to touch a naked lap dancer,” according to an April 10, 2015, report in the Daily Mail. The paper apparently got the security film from the owner of a strip club who was incensed by Nawaz’s claims to be a religious Muslim.

And how we have the inevitable SJW identity politics hit job, seeking to ruin Nawaz’s reputation in the court of public opinion by repeating the shocking news that Nawaz has not at all times lived according to the letter of his faith. Well, so what? Sometimes, without thinking, I accidentally eat meat on a Friday during Lent. Does that make me virulently anti-Catholic and unable to fittingly discuss my faith in the media? Of course not. People’s actions diverge from their faith in a myriad of ways, small and large, and this applies just as much to those who got upset about Nawaz’s strip club visit (like the Muslim strip club owner) as to Nawaz himself. None are in a position to judge. Yet the SPLC feels that any divergence from Islamic teaching is sufficient to declare people that they don’t like to be somehow anti-Muslim.

This National Review editorial laments the SPLC’s corruption and decline:

The SPLC is an example of the way in which the Left corrupts and perverts the institutions it controls, from the IRS to the universities. While decrying “conspiracy theorists,” the SPLC itself is obsessed with “Terror from the Right” that is, pardon us for noticing, so rare as to be nearly insignificant. For all of the SPLC’s hysteria about neo-Confederates, skinheads, secret Nazi cabals, and the like, there is very little evidence that these organizations, to the extent that they exist as more than shared social-media fantasies, are actually up to much of anything. Even if we accept the tendentious characterization of SPLC favorite Timothy McVeigh as some kind of right-wing extremist (as with many such figures, his actual beliefs were confused, contradictory, and eccentric), the main organ of white-supremacist nuttery in the United States is prison gangs, which constitute a fairly constrained and peculiar phenomenon with relatively little effect on the outside world.

Not so violent Islamic radicalism, which is a factor in the United States and in practically every country in Europe, Africa, South Asia, and beyond. That is the great irony here: People like Ayaan Hirsi Ali are doing the work the SPLC is supposed to be doing — understanding and countering violent extremists — and the SPLC denounces them for it.

Very strange.

Some of those on the SPLC list are Muslims, former Muslims, and lifelong students of Islam. What they mostly have in common is that they are, broadly speaking, conservatives, people who are influential among conservatives, or writers and activists admired by conservatives. The SPLC is so drunk on its own poisonous ideological brew that it has simply come to conflate conservatism with violent or potentially violent extremism. One of these things is not like the others: A category of social tendencies that includes both Aryan Brotherhood felons in San Quentin and Somali-Dutch atheist women with celebrated literary careers is not an especially useful category.

While Nick Cohen provocatively (but accurately) declares in The Spectator that “the white left has issued its first fatwa” against Nawaz:

It is an organisation that ought to share Nawaz’s values, but because of the crisis in left-wing values does the dirty work of the misogynists, the racists, the homophobes, the censors, and the murderers it was founded to oppose. It does it with a straight face because, as I am sure you will have guessed, the fascism in question is not white but Islamic. And once that subject is raised all notions of universal human rights, and indeed basic moral and intellectual decency, are drowned in a sea of bad faith.

Nawaz is from Essex. He has fought and been beaten up by white British neo-Nazis. He fell in with Hizb ut-Tahrir while he was young. When he ended up in a torture chamber in an Egyptian jail, he abandoned Islamism for liberalism. Since then, he and his Quilliam Foundation have struggled against both the white far right and the Islamist far right. They have defended liberal Muslims and, indeed, all of us from lethal blasphemy taboos and the threat of terrorism. They respect freedom of speech, including the freedom of their enemies to speak.

A significant faction on the left hates them for upholding the values they have forgotten,  and will use any smear to denigrate them. As my secularist friend Faisal Saeed Al Mutar observed, when he, Nawaz and hundreds of others step forward and try to liberalise Muslim communities from within, they are attacked, ‘for being not Muslim enough, not Arab enough, not Pakistani enough, not filled with enough revenge and enough hatred’.

In the liberal orientalist world view the only ‘authentic’ Muslim is a barbarian. A battery of insults fires on any Muslim who says otherwise. They are ‘neo-conservatives,’ ‘native informants,’ and ‘Zionists’: they are as extreme as jihadists they oppose, or, let’s face it, worse.

This searing criticism could not be more accurate. For there is nothing so racist as the tyranny of low expectations in which the fashionable leftist intelligentsia holds the Muslim world, viewing them not as people with moral agency of their own but as little pets to be protected (or overgrown pets to be cowered from), people whose sometime decision to commit violence and murder cannot be condemned because it is supposedly “provoked” by forced beyond their control.

I have personally interviewed Maajid Nawaz, back when he was running as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the London constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn in the 2015 UK general election, and whatever one may think of his domestic political views, this is clearly not somebody who belongs on a list of violent, hateful extremists.

What is concerning is that the Southern Poverty Law Center would actually now prefer the old incarnation of Maajid Nawaz, back in the days when he was a member of a legitimate extremist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir. As such, he would be protected under the umbrella of leftist denial and fawning appeasement, so central to the SPLC’s new dogma, and they would bend over backwards to excuse his fundamentalist beliefs and violent actions.

By contrast, having long since rejected violence and an extremist fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the SPLC would have us believe that Nawaz is somehow full of hatred and antipathy to normal Muslims, the equivalent of a knight of the Ku Klux Klan. It is absolute nonsense – pure, amoral leftist bilge.

This is also how Western civilisation destroys itself – by furiously denying the existence of opposing forces or in some cases openly bending the knee to them, while attacking those who actually recognise the danger and seek to confront it. In a world where precious few people have a remotely coherent strategy for tackling fundamentalist Islamism, Maajid Nawaz stands out as one of those with genuine understanding of the problem, and a plan for addressing it – and so the debased SPLC must now attack and undermine him at all costs, by pretending that he is an anti-Muslim extremist.

And one can only concur with Nick Cohen’s assessment that it is “heartbreaking” to witness an organisation so integral to the American Civil Rights movement, which bravely shone an unforgiving light on genuine violent extremism where it once existed, now creating McCarthyite lists of people who offend leftist/Islamist dogma and labelling them with the same term of “extremist”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali makes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list too. Why? Because she actively and gleefully foments prejudice and violence against ordinary innocent Muslims? Of course not. The SPLC include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in their leftist collaborationist fatwa because she had the temerity to renounce her faith and speak out passionately for the cause of secularism, thus gravely offending the real extremists to the point where she has to hire bodyguards to ward off assassination attempts.

It takes some twisted morality to come down on the side of those who seek to carry out an execution for the crime of apostasy over their intended victim, but somehow the SPLC has found a way.

Cohen concludes:

Do these jerks not think about the consequences of their rote-learned, pseudo-leftist bombast? Have they not heard that, across the world, lists circulate of ‘apostates’ along with invitations to the faithful to kill them when they can?

Maybe they have but do not care, and it will take drastic action to shake them out of their spiteful stupor.  A court action could do it. If Nawaz sues, SPLC’s work in fighting the white far right will suffer grievously. But, as it is so eager to be on the wrong side in the fight against the religious far right, I think we could call it evens.

It is hard to disagree. Gone, it seems, are the days when the Southern Poverty Law Center could be found seeking justice for the victims of real prejudice, oppression and extremist violence.

Where once the SPLC battled segregation and fought civil cases to ensure that racist lynchings and arson attacks were acknowledged at a time when the criminal justice system did not want to prosecute them, now they can be found patrolling the borders of our language, seeking to excommunicate decent and honest people from polite society for the high crime of having caused “offence” to certain protected groups.

And when an organisation has drifted so far from its founding ethos to the extent that a one-time civil liberties group is now in the business of making McCarthyite-style lists of people whose blasphemy offends Islamist extremists, then the time has probably come to wash our hands of that organisation, sad though it may be.

 

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General Election 2015: Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn

General Election 2015 Hampstead and Kilburn Candidate Hustings - Maajid Nawaz - Magnus Nielsen - Tulip Siddiq - Simon Marcus - Rebecca Johnson

 

The northwest London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn was the tightest three-way marginal seat in the 2010 general election. Given the fact that the 2015 campaign is so closely-fought with none of the parties enjoying a clear path to outright victory, this should – on paper – be a fascinating local campaign to watch as general election 2015 approaches and Labour (minus current incumbent Glenda Jackson MP) attempts to hold and increase their wafer-thin majority of 44 votes.

But by and large, both the sense of anticipation and the bad tempered name calling or “low skulduggery” of the national campaign are entirely absent here. Local journalist Richard Osley attributes this to a form of “Stockholm syndrome” among the candidates, who have now appeared on stage together so many times that to begin tearing chunks out of each other a la Cameron and Miliband would somehow feel unseemly, and acutely embarrassing.

Says Osley, in a report from a previous hustings in the constituency:

The fact each candidate knows they have another set of evening dates ahead of them in the next month, events at which they will have to share tables together and say hello and goodbye nicely, means they have become all very pleasant to each other. It’s as if they don’t want to bring the big weapons out, because they know the person they are bazookering will be sat next to them again 24 hours later.

Last Wednesday saw the candidates participate in hustings organised by the local West Hampstead Life blog. I attended to watch and conduct interviews, and was struck by the quality of the local candidates (ideology aside, all have the potential to be good constituency MPs) but also the differing degrees to which the candidates were willing to deviate from their approved national party talking points.

The overall effect is one of a constituency expecting a Labour hold, but with all candidates willing to criticise the compromises and trade-offs of the current coalition government, and in some cases (particularly Simon Marcus, the Conservative challenger) quite happy to jettison fairly central policies and beliefs in pursuit of a more liberal but less overtly tribal local vote.

My interviews with the candidates, and thoughts on their respective campaigns, are shown below.

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Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Maajid Nawaz (LibDem)

 

Maajid Nawaz is by far the most high profile of the candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, perhaps befitting the seat currently held by Labour’s Glenda Jackson. But Nawaz was adamant that his high profile and personal causes (such as the Quilliam anti-extremism think tank, which he founded) would dovetail closely with his work as a constituency MP, not distract from it.

On the LibDem’s performance in coalition, Maajid Nawaz emphasised the “stabilising effect” that the Liberal Democrats have had, softening the “harder edges” of an outright Conservative government. The LibDems have been “a moderating influence on some of the more ideological elements of the Conservative party”, says Nawaz.

Maajid Nawaz spoke most passionately on the subject of mental health, claiming that the LibDems have introduced measures to ensure that “people who go to a hospital complaining of anxiety or depression are treated exactly as somebody who complains of a physical ailment”.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Maajid Nawaz - Liberal Democrats - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015