Theresa May’s recent acquisition of Prime Minister, for some, a moment of joy – despite technically not winning any democratic mandate whatsoever to get there (she gained the position by “winning” the Tory party candidacy after her only opponent dropped out) – apparently because she’s got a stern face, was almost meritocratic about choosing her next cabinet and said “freedom” a few times that means everything is absolutely fine.
I mean, it’s not like she has a history of attempting/succeeding to increase the state’s involvement in our lives right? It’s not like, as Home Secretary she drafted and succeeded in passing a bill through the commons giving security services the freedom to hack ‘an entire town’ as long as it was ‘overseas’, and allow spies to peer into conversations and internet history (now handily stored by companies, as per the bill) without the need for a judge to issue a warrant as long as it’s ‘urgent’; Edward Snowden obviously backed these reforms wholeheartedly:
So, where to next?
Who knows; Leadsom backed out of the race before you could mutter “I have excessive civil liberties, and they must be curbed”, meaning that many of May’s policies are yet unknown, besides the obvious clichés (read: lies) about making Britain work for everyone etc., meaning that no one really knows whether she will pursue a course of state curbing of freedom of expression or whether she really will allow people to have more control over her- I mean, their lives.
Surely, I hear you cry: there is an effective opposition and a bright future of more liberal-minded, freedom-loving politicians just waiting in the wings!
If anything, it can only get worse. The leader of the “opposition,” Jeremy Corbyn, has as much control over his parliamentary party as, erm… someone with absolutely no control over anything ever that’s happened to them ever in their lives. Even worse, plenty of Labour MPs voted for May’s bill. This is a quote from Labour’s shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham:
“In a world where the threats we face internationally and domestically are growing, parliament cannot sit on its hands and leave blind spots where the authorities can’t see”.
So, we’re choosing between the people who draft bills that restrict our privacy, and people that vote for them.
And those liberal-minded freedom-loving people you spoke of? If anything, the next generation will be even worse than the last. In a recent poll, 76% of those polled said that, to some extent, they support the NEC’s no-platforming policy (a way of booting people you disagree with off campus), and 27% thought that the UK Independence Party should be banned from their campus. In another poll, 76% of 18-24 year olds agreed that `the right to free speech, even when we sometimes disagree with what is being said, is a valuable liberty which is important to defend’, which is a drastic fall from 96% of those in the 65+ bracket.
These polls, whilst not statistically flabbergasting or aesthetically horrifying, perhaps emphasise how real the problem is. Whilst still a minority (although a steadily increasing one), those willing to shout down those that they disagree with are able to succeed in their endeavours, however mind-bogglingly indecipherable.
One example of this is the prominent campaigner Peter Tatchell. Tatchell has virulently campaigned for gay rights for several decades, and has been an extremely vocal supporter of those who have been genuinely oppressed. And yet, after agreeing with a Christian bakery who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple, on ground of freedom of expression and freedom of religion, he came face to face with people you would naturally assume to be on his side, people you would assume to admire his many achievements; and yet, when he was invited to speak at a university, the NUS’ LGBTQ+ Officer (unofficially) no-platformed him, accusing him of “racism and transphobia”.
This is a man who has received beatings from thugs, been arrested around 300 times, helped track down a Nazi war criminal, had around 50 objects hurled through his windows, has dared to stand up to dictators, and is generally a pretty good bloke; and yet he stands accused of “transphobia” by a student with no serious history of campaigning or effort, and no real evidence of having experienced any opposition at all.
Whilst this is just one example, there are plenty out there; and not just of no-platforming, but of abuse, and of systematic removal of freedom of expression.
But, by far the worst indicator of the future of our country comes in the form of Spiked’s free speech university rankings. From 2015-16, there was an increase in 14% of universities actively censoring, from 41% to 55% respectfully, and a halving of universities that have not yet restricted or regulated speech or expressions from 20% to an abhorrent 10% of a sample of UK universities.
Reading back on that, I think I may have used the wrong word; mainly because, student unions are four times more likely to actively censor than universities themselves, with 62% of unions actively censoring, compared to a measly 13% having unregulated free speech.
So; people in power support greater government infringements on civil liberties? Check. Opposition in tumultuous chaos and are probably, but not wholly, but nearly there, but not really, in favour of greater government infringements on civil liberties? Check. A large body of the next generation ready and positively rearing to go when it comes to the reduction of our freedoms? Check.
If we don’t pay attention, our freedom to express our beliefs will slowly be eroded, line by line, section by section, rolled back and scribbled out in felt-tip pen from our legislation like it was never there at all.
dicere fortasse quae sentias non licet, tacere plane licet
* Finn Middleton is an aspiring NEET, but unfortunately has too much of an interest in politics, and a fervent belief that he is always right. He studies law, history and economics.