The Right’s commitment to free speech is selective and self-serving, and their double standards is most transparent when it comes to Palestine.
It’s been a precarious week for our historic right to protest. Whether the pro-Palestine march in London today would go ahead, was the subject of much uncertainty, and frenzied newspaper headlines.
‘Police: Call off protests on Armistice Weekend to avoid violence,’ effused the Express’ front page on November 6, in reference to the Met, which, under immense pressure from the government, appeared to be on the brink of cancelling the rally.
Suella Braverman, who since being appointed Home Secretary has carried on the draconian work of her predecessor Priti Patel and pushed forward the government’s anti-protest agenda, welcomed the Met’s plea to the protest’s organisers to call it off. “The hate marchers need to understand that decent British people have had enough of these displays of thuggish intimidation and extremism,” she said, in spite of the almost entirely peaceful nature of the marches so far.
Faced with an hysterical campaign from senior Tory ministers and right-wing media outlets and commentators, who claimed that holding the protest on Remembrance Day would be inappropriate and risked violence, the event’s organisers repeatedly stressed that the march will not go near the Cenotaph, with the route being about a mile away from it. The Met police confirmed it did not have grounds to support a ban. He had “no absolute power” to do so, said Met chief, Sir Mark Rowley.
But the whole sorry story goes much deeper than mere humiliation for Braverman and her allies. It confirms the alarming and growing movement among right-wing circles to talk about threats to free speech and cancel culture, but then try to supress it when it’s the type of free speech they disagree with. In this case, the Right was deliberately creating a fevered atmosphere of incitement, using Armistice Day as a prop in their spiteful campaign to try and ban a mass protest through presenting supporters of peace, who have been calling for a ceasefire since the war broke out last month, as extremists. The strangest paradox of all is that a day which marks the moment in 1918 when the guns at last fell silent on the Western Front, the label extremist is applied to those seeking for the same in Gaza.
Akiko Hart, interim director of Liberty, the membership organisation which defends freedom, said that shutting down protests would be a “shocking breach of our right to freedom of expression, and would only serve to create even greater division.”
A new definition of ‘extremism’
Concurrent with the right-wing hysteria towards today’s march, was news that the Tories are working towards a new definition of ‘extremism,’ which includes anyone who ‘undermines British institutions or values.’
Documents seen by the Observer show that civil servants working for cabinet minister Michael Gove are preparing the new definition. Marked “official – sensitive,” the documents say the proposed definition could “frame a new, unified response to extremism.”
“Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values,” the documents state.
They list a number of organisations which they consider would be ‘captured’ by the new definition, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Palestine Action, and Mend (Muslim Engagement and Development).
Gove’s Levelling Up, Housing and Communities department’s review of non-violent extremism began in the spring. It is expected that a national cohesion and counter-extremism plan with a new definition will be launched shortly.
The rush to push through the definition, without any public announcement or discussion, provoked fury. It is feared that under the rules, legitimate individuals and groups will be branded extremists and the definition could be used against genuine organisations fiercely opposed to certain government institutions or calling for their abolition. Civil rights groups warn that the introduction of a wider definition of extremism would threaten freedom of speech.
The fact that the sensitive documents were leaked to a national newspaper, shows the level of opposition to the proposal among civil servants. And Whitehall officials have not been afraid to voice their resistance to the ‘criminalisation of dissent.’
“The concern is that this is a crackdown on freedom of speech. The definition is too broad and will capture legitimate organisations and individuals,” an anonymous source told the Observer.
This is not the first time the Conservatives have tried to broaden the scope of ‘extremism.’ In 2011, the coalition government explicitly changed Prevent Strategy, the UK’s flagship counter-extremism policy, to deal with all forms of terrorism and with non-violent extremism. The definition of extremism was changed to the “active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
But as Liberty argues, the definition under Prevent is so wide that thousands of people are being swept up by it, including children engaged in innocuous conduct, people protesting climate change, and a nurse who began wearing a hijab. Studies have shown that in this climate, Muslim students are changing their behaviour for fear of being stigmatised, labelled as extremists, or subjected to discrimination.
In 2017/18, more than nine out of ten Prevent referrals did not require any deradicalisation action.
“Prevent is fundamentally misconceived, and the government hasn’t published any evidence that holding extreme views is a reliable predictor of future participation in violence,” warns Liberty.
Over the past decade, additional attempts to implement a new definition have proved futile.
In the 2016 Queen’s Speech, a bill was proposed to “tackle the menace of extremism,” with a new civil order regime to restrict activity. Faced with widespread opposition, the bill was shelved after the government failed to provide a legally acceptable definition of extremism.
Like a dog with a bone though, the Tories keep trying.
Trump’s plan to quell civil protests
As so often with the action of the Tory right in Britain, the government’s move to ‘tackle the menace of extremism,’ imitates the activity of Republicans in the United States.
A report by the Washington Post on November 6, reveals that Trump and his allies are secretly planning to deploy military force against demonstrations and prosecute an ‘enemies list’ composed of critics, if he returns to power in 2024. As a means of cracking down on dissent, punish critics, and shield himself from accountability, Trump is making plans to seize control of the military, DOJ, and intelligence agencies, the report indicates.
The former president intends to deploy the military on Inauguration Day to quell any civil protests against his return to office, the report continues. Within his ‘enemies list’ are former officials who have been critical of him, including his former chief of staff, John Kelly, and former attorney general, William Barr.
To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.
Where have we seen similar attacks on a country’s legal system? Oh yes, it was in Poland, where the far-right Law and Justice Party (hopefully now ousted although complex constitutional discussions are still in progress) instituted unprecedented changes to the country’s legal system, which undermined rule of law and the separation of powers.
But back to Trump. Critics have labelled such ideas as dangerous and unconstitutional.
“It would resemble a banana republic if people came into office and started going after their opponents willy-nilly,” said Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law professor at the University of Virginia.
You can almost predict what is coming in reports like this one, such is the consistency of the action of right-wingers like Trump. Lo and behold, the Washington Post informs us of how much of the planning for Trump’s second term has been ‘unofficially outsourced to a partnership of right-wing think tanks in Washington.’ Such groups have been working on what is known as ‘Project 2025,’ designed to, in its own words, ‘rescue the country from the grip of the radical Left,’ by helping Trump capture the federal justice system and military.
And guess which right-wing think tank is organising Trump’s mad plans to impose dictatorship? The Heritage Foundation.
As we know, the Heritage Foundation is adored among right-wing Tory circles in Britain. In February 2022, the then Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden gave a weird culture war speech at the tobacco and oil company-funded think-tank’s HQ in Washington. Liz Truss’s close connections to the think-tank have been widely reported. In April, she too gave a ‘woke’ condemning speech at the think-tank’s HQ, where she targeted leftwingers in control of various institutions and ‘woke’ culture for her downfall, neither of which have even the slightest thing to do with the epic failures of her government.
As Byline Times reported, a key relationship between the Heritage Foundation and the UK right is Tory MP Liam Fox. His own think-tank, Atlantic Bridge, held events that were sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. The think-tank was dissolved in 2011 after complaints made to the Charity Commission. However, old records on the organisation’s website revealed prominent Tory MPs, including Michael Gove, were on the Atlantic Bridge’s advisory panel.
Given that Gove, the architect behind the UK government’s disturbing plans to broaden the definition of extremism to include anyone who ‘undermines’ the country’s institutions and its values, has links to the US think-tank, the prospect that the inspiration for the proposed broadened ‘extremism’ definition came from the powerful Washington-based group is plausible.
It should also be remembered, that in aftermath of the London bombings, in 2006 Michael Gove published a book entitled Celsius 7/7. A key chapter in the then education secretary’s polemic book was on the threat of Islamism to Britain. “Nowhere has moral clarity been more lacking in British state policy over the last ten to fifteen years than in our approach to the Islamist threat,” begins the chapter, before detailing the author’s belief that “a sizeable minority” of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims hold “rejectionist Islamist views” which he compares to the threat posed by Nazism and Communism. The content of the book was said to offer clues into Gove’s views on Islamism.
But the gutting of the right to protest in Britain, Republican-inspired or otherwise, is not surprising, given that the ruling party, has relentlessly prioritised suppressing freedom of expression.
Just look at what they have been doing to universities. After pledging to end ‘woke nonsense,’ Rishi Sunak announced he was appointing a free speech tsar to investigate universities who “restrict debate” and advise regulators on imposing fines where breaches occur. In other words, enables government-approved speakers to force their way onto campuses.
At the ‘National Conservatism’ conference in May, Tory MP Miriam Cates went as far as to blame the UK’s low birth rate on young people learning about racism, gender and the climate crisis. There is “a cultural Marxism that is systematically destroying our children’s souls,” the fertility trailblazer told her audience.
In reality, consecutive Tory government have actively deployed mechanisms to suppress freedom of expression. Take the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. One of its most controversial sections of this huge piece of legislation is its impact on the right to protest. Effectively handing powers to the police – and Home Secretary – to shut down protests in England and Wales at will, the bill has been labelled ‘draconian.’
The right’s commitment to free speech is selective and self-serving, and their double standards is most transparent when it comes to Palestine, as proven through the fevered but futile incitement campaign to ban today’s pro-Palestine rally in London. But rather than being a credible and confident assertion of power, these attacks on free speech feel like a desperate last gasp from a ruling party that knows it is on the scrapheap. It is vital though that the right to protest, which as a cornerstone of our civil liberties, is older than democracy itself, does not end up on the same scrapheap.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Michael Crick ‘cancelled’ by GB News
The anti ‘cancel culture’ reactionaries at GB News have cancelled one of their guests. Why? Because they didn’t like what he was saying. AND they didn’t like what he was saying on a show about free speech. Oh, the beautiful irony.
On November 4, veteran broadcaster Michael Crick delivered some home truths about the right-wing channel, so true in fact, that the programme had to hastily cut to a break, leaving the producer telling him to ‘get out.’
Crick, who was a founding member of the Channel 4 News team in 1982, was invited on Neil Oliver’s show to address the subject of media censorship, among other things. During the discussion, Oliver, who is well-known for airing views that some might consider conspiracist rather than controversial, alluded to an earlier comment Crick had made that GB News “should be shut down.” Crick explained his comments, saying:
“I’ve been fighting bias in television for a very long time, and it’s one of the reasons I left Channel 4 News cause I thought it was left-wing biased, and I think Ofcom, which is one of the weakest institutions on the planet, should get a grip on you lot.
“It’s absurd that you have Tory MP, after Tory MP, after Tory MP, two leaders of the Brexit Party, and hardly any Labour MPs – you are a right-wing channel and the rules in this country are very clear.”
Oliver desperately tried to interrupt Crick, saying: “I don’t think you can deny that the channel has made space for all kinds of voices, left and right.”
But the journalist just kept talking, noting how when Nigel Farage was off for a week, the leader of Reform UK stepped in.
At this point, the camera moved from Crick to Oliver, and the host quickly introduced a break. Crick could still be heard listing the names of Tory MPs who feature on the channel, with Oliver shouting, “Bear with us.”
Labelled ‘compulsory viewing,’ the clip went viral, with viewers reacting with glee. “The beautiful irony, the discussion was about freedom of speech,” someone wrote.
Crick took to X to explain what had happened during the break. He informed that the programme’s angry producer had stormed up to him and said, ‘You out.’
“He said I’d refused to ‘move on’, in terms of topic. Gosh he was furious. So anyway, I left.”
GB News’ supporters have long championed the channel as a ‘welcome addition’ to the diversity of Britain’s media, as culture secretary Oliver Dowden said in 2021. In response to the advertisers boycott of the channel, Dowden had told the Daily Mail, that “One of the cornerstones of our liberties is our robust, free and diverse media and GB News is a welcome addition to that diversity.”
But the Crick/Oliver showdown is proof of the pudding that right-wingers really are only interested in free speech, when it’s their free speech.
Woke-bashing of the week – M&S accused of being ‘woke’ for withdrawing ad featuring burning paper hats resembling Palestinian flag
It might not have been the PR it was after, but Marks & Spencer has certainly had a slice of pre-Christmas publicity after posting an image from its Christmas advert that depicted red, silver and green paper hats tossed into a burning fire.
The post ignited criticism, with people accusing the retailer of burning Christmas party hats in the colours of the Palestinian flag. M&S immediately apologised, and said the ad was not meant to share political opinion, while informing that it was filmed in August, before the latest Israel-Hamas conflict began. The hats were “traditional, festive coloured red, green and silver Christmas paper hats,” the retailer explained.
Bad timing, coupled with some ill-judgement by the company’s marketing team, maybe? Story over, surely.
But no, not for the right-wing, anti-woke mob, who went on a right old rampage about M&S’s decision to remove the advert.
Cheerleading the moral panic was Mark Hoath, Reform UK candidate for Sutton Coldfield and GB News contributor. Sharing his outrage on the right-wing channel, Hoath said he thinks it is “ridiculous” that M&S had to apologise.
“Those colours represent Christmas red. You know, Father Christmas green for tree and holly and silver bells.
“It’s just another example where we see our traditions being watered down on the back of woke and multiculturalism.”
Attempting to give his rage-filled opinion some balance no doubt, Hoath informed that he contacted a friend who is Muslim and is “pretty pro-Palestine” and asked for his opinion.
“He said it makes us look ridiculous. The fact that people have complained about an advert for Marks and Spencer’s, the fact that those flags are the same colour as Wales, Italy and Mexico, it’s nothing to do with it.
“This is just another example of the minority dictating to the majority.”
Hmm, well coming at a time when Palestinians are being pounded by airstrikes and the Gaza death toll has surpassed 10,000, something that depicts something that could be misconstrued as a denunciation of
Palestine was surely right to be removed, however unintentional it may have been.
The same report cites GB News journalist, Patrick Christys. (A news outlet resorting to quoting its own journalists in its reports has to be a first!) Christys claims that M&S’s advert is itself a woke production with its “erasure” of the word Christmas, as a result of their decision to brand it “Thismas.”
I wouldn’t pay too much attention to what Patrick Christys says though, as this is man who, as a presenter on TalkTV, launched a scathing tirade, bizarrely insisting that those who encourage cancel culture will not accept an apology for social media posts they disagree with.
In another strange assault on woke culture, Christys – writing for GB News – spoke of truck drivers’ in Canada ‘revolution’ against ‘draconian Covid laws’ against Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who, according to the GB presenter, ‘claims to be woken than woke.’
From M&S adverts via the tragedy of Palestine to the Canadian prime minster – it only happens in the fevered world of the anti-woke brigades. I feel the pantomime season is just around the corner!
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch