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The Free Speech Union

Free Speech

The Free Speech UnionIn 2018 the journalist, columnist and social commentator Toby Young was appointed as Non-Executive Member of the Board of the Office for Students. Young could be described as politically centre-right and outspoken. As such, he was anathema to the Left, who’re used to having persons of their persuasion appointed to such positions. Within a matter of days Young was forced to resign his post after Social Media Archaeologists dug up the corpses of articles he’d written some years before claiming these to be homophobic and misogynistic. Whether or not his articles were as described he was, effectively, “cancelled” for exercising his legal right of free speech.

Rather than meekly accept this manufactured fit of left-wing pique and self-righteous indignation Young decided to tackle “cancel culture” head on and to do so by establishing the Free Speech Union (“FSU”) in February 2020. I’m an early member of the FSU and quote below verbatim from their website:

“Free speech is a fundamental human right, not just one among many, to be weighed in the balance, but the most important one of all because without it we wouldn’t be able to defend the others. It’s a way of reconciling our differences without coming to blows, it’s how we distinguish truth from error and add to the sum of human knowledge, it’s the lifeblood of democracy and a bulwark against tyranny.”

Further : “Free speech isn’t just some luxury we can do without. It’s the foundational freedom on which all the others depend. Human beings can’t flourish outside a free society, which means they can’t flourish without free speech. Free speech is how knowledge is developed and shared, with theories about the nature of reality constantly being developed and refined in open discussion and inquiry. Robust debate, appealing to reason and evidence, not kowtowing to prevailing orthodoxies, is the best way to resolve disagreements about questions big and small without descending into violence or intimidation. And free speech is the most effective bulwark against the abuse of power by our would-be masters, with history demonstrating again and again that an assault on this right is an ominous precursor to the removal of all our other freedoms. Many good men and women died fighting for our right to speak our minds and exchange ideas without being persecuted by the enforcers of moral dogma or ideological orthodoxy. This is our precious inheritance and we owe it to them as well as our children to come to its defence.”

One of the many controversial subjects where people are being threatened, intimidated and cancelled is if they engage in the debate of transgenderism and have the temerity to maintain that biological sex is immutable. There have been high profile cases where, for example, Germain Greer, perhaps the world’s most famous feminist, was “no platformed” because of her outspoken criticism of this new ideology, and, similarly, the novelist JK Rowling has been subject to extensive abuse on social media and, unbelievably, cancelled from some Harry Potter productions for committing the same sin.

Whilst the FSU has not been involved in representing these two internationally respected women (they’re well able to fight their own corner) they have successfully helped many others who’ve lost their jobs and been ostracised for expressing entirely legal and legitimate opinions that, until recently, were in no way regarded as controversial. A current and ongoing example involves an ordinary young woman named Linzi Smith, a lifelong supporter of Newcastle United. Again, I quote the FSU :

“In the four years since the FSU was formed we’ve come across some pretty appalling examples of private companies punishing their employees and their customers simply for exercising their right to lawful free speech. But this is the most egregious example we’ve come across.
On 31st October last year, Linzi was banned from NUFC’s stadium, St. James’s Park, for the remainder of this season and the next two. Why? Not for getting into a fight in the stadium or abusing a steward. Linzi’s ‘crime’ was criticising the view that men who identify as women should be treated as indistinguishable from biological women, including being able to access women’s changing rooms and compete against women in sports like football and rugby. That part of the story is, in itself, bad enough, but what the FSU has also uncovered is an investigation unit embedded in the Premier League. The way it operates is secretive, and its remit is unclear, but one of its jobs appears to be combing through the social media accounts of fans – in Linzi’s case at the behest of Newcastle United – and then determining if they’ve engaged in wrongthink”.

Further: “We can understand a football club wanting to exclude a fan who’d engaged in online abuse of players or officials, particularly racist abuse, but that’s not what happened here. At no stage was Linzi charged by the police with committing an offence, and Northumbria Police, having interviewed her after her supposedly ‘transphobic’ remarks were reported to them, decided that no action needed to be taken. With the FSU’s help, Linzi appealed the ban, pointing out that the club appears to have ignored its obligations as a service provider not to discriminate against her based on her gender critical beliefs, which constitute protected philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. Alas, it was to no avail.”

In the Premier League report Linzi is referred to as the “target” and “attempts were made to find out where she lived. Google images were used to access photos on her X timeline, and identify her precise location. Photos were downloaded in which she can be seen walking her dog in a park near to where she lives. The fact that she has “ties” to nearby Whitley Bay was also noted. We think that the fact that the Premier League complied and passed on this detailed personal information about Linzi to NUFC is a flagrant breach of GDPR.”

The FSU is helping Linzi and she’s now submitted a complaint to the Information Regulator (ICO) and is also taking legal advice,

Linzi’s story has been widely reported in the national press, and on first reading it my outrage immediately turned to thoughts of George Orwell’s novel “1984” in which he portrays a dystopian future Britain where “Big Brother” keeps a malign watch and controlling grip over all citizens and where concepts of “doublethink”, “thought police”, “thoughtcrime” and “newspeak” are everyday realities.

There are many instances in the everyday life of the Nation where free speech is being targetted, attacked and penalised. In business, if your lawful opinions don’t “align” with those of your bank you may be debanked (Nigel Farage). In academia, if your scholarly work stimulates not the intended intellectual thought, rigour and discussion, but virtue signalling complaints you’re sacked (Prof Kathleen Stock, Sussex University). In teaching, if your best efforts to educate your pupils fall foul of religious zealotry you’re hounded into hiding (Unnamed Yorkshire teacher). In current affairs, if your forthright comments offend the eager-to-be-offended you’re rendered persona non grata (Professor David Starkey). These are a few high profile examples, but there are a many, many more Linzies out there who’ve been targetted and had their lives turned upside down.

Thank goodness for Toby Young and the FSU for making a stand against the unfolding horrors so presciently foretold in Orwell’s satire of 75 years ago. Unless we defend free speech and, indeed, free thought, at every opportunity, whenever challenged, we’re in grave danger of losing these most precious freedoms. What next? Big Brother is watching you?