Speaking from the depths of a society which has succeeded in reducing its vox populi to a rodent squeak it is hard to be positive about freedom. We are constantly told we have it: when we dare to suggest we don’t banners of fascist dictatorships from around the world are waved in our faces;
“So, would you rather live here, eh? Be grateful, you don’t realise how lucky you are!”
As a loyal subject of course I have no right to question the superior knowledge of those who rule me, and I happily anticipate standing upon Portsmouth dockside in 2020 to salute our new aircraft carrier as it sails by. And if I am blessed I will there again in 2026 when it returns, this time with aeroplanes on it. Or drones. Or missiles……? I will wait dutifully before the Accident and Emergency desk while the secretary persuades our multi-million pound computer system that it knows me, and I will wave my finger (damaged trying to lift a draincover – worth a tenner at the scrapyard) in triage as dramatically as I can to get on the shortlist for treatment. I am a British subject, and my voice is very, very small.
I am, I think, tolerant. I am not a fascist, racist, Homophobe, anti-Semitist, sexist, militant, creationist, socialist, communist, or any other ist you might wish to bring up. I believe that all forms of bigotry are ugly, all varieties of cant are unpleasant. I dislike arguments devoid of reason but – and it is a very big but – I would absolutely endorse their right to existence, and utterly support their right to be heard. If human life has any richness it is in its variety, and if life itself is not to be colourless they must have their share of the palette. Which is why I am genuinely fearful today.
I am fearful because thought crime is becoming part of our culture: because we may no longer voice opinion in an ever-growing number of issues without being guilty of an offence – punishable by a prison sentence if we offend English law or a bomb if we outrage the Mus-uits. What’s more these offences seem to require a very slender thread of proof; they rely upon a lot of hearsay and circumstantial evidence. Freedom to insult is of doubtful value but we employ it rather more frequently than we should. If I call someone ‘a thick club-footed peasant’ (and that’s mild by football crowd standards) it may be unpleasant, but it is not an offence. However, if I call someone ‘a thick, club-footed ***** peasant’ I can end up in gaol.
Why am I so concerned by this? Because every new petty offence added to the ‘Statute Book’ is another opportunity to suppress. The suppression of freedom of speech, whether we agree with the views expressed or not, whether we find them offensive or not, must be opposed with all possible effort. Without that we have finally succumbed to the police state – if we haven’t already – and my small voice, and your small voice and the tiny squeak of the people is lost.