A free speech champion will only impose Tory values

Figcaption A Free Speech Champion Will Only Impose Tory Values
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

T he Tories’ “war on woke” is a hypocritical attack on an exaggerated enemy, and riddled with contradictions – or hypocrisy (The Tories want a war on the woke – as if there’s nothing better to do, 15 February).

For example, the professed concern about “no-platforming” on university campuses is raised yet again, with the pledge of a free speech champion to prevent the banning of controversial speakers. So how would the Tories react if a student union or university department invited a former member of the IRA or al-Qaida to give a talk titled “Why terrorism is justified in order to achieve our goals”? The Tories and their allies in the press would probably demand that the university be closed down entirely. Besides, the government recently warned schools against teaching anti-capitalist views. So much for promoting free speech and encouraging an exchange of ideas.

The fact is that the Tories are doing what they always do when they can’t provide an intelligent response to the actual issues raised, or want to divert attention from their (many) other policy failings: apply purportedly pejorative labels to their critics and opponents – woke, do-gooders, militants, loony lefties, etc. In so doing, the Conservative aim is always to discredit critics, deny the legitimacy of their concerns or views, and thereby close down debate. In other words, the Tories pursue their very own “cancel culture” to ensure the dominance of rightwing views and values.
Pete Dorey
Bath, Somerset

• There seems to be some confusion between freedom of speech and the right to be heard. The former is widely accepted as a fundamental right; the latter is subject to many caveats.

We do not have a fundamental right to be heard wherever and whenever we wish. I doubt that “the academics, students and visiting speakers” your article refers to (Proposed free speech law will make English universities liable for breaches, 16 February) have had any serious problems getting their views expressed freely in any number of ways. Their problem is that they are not being heard in a particular place, at a particular venue, and a particular time. This is an issue not directly related to free speech.

There is a profound irony hovering at the edge of this debate. The growth of the internet means that no one in this country need go voiceless. Indeed, most political and social groups look first and foremost to the web to express their ideas to a wide audience. The issue we face with the web is how to control its excesses.

Against this background, all British universities must have the right to oversee and determine the activities that take place on their campuses – according to their circumstances – and have a duty to do so.
Peter Martindale
Castle Bytham, Lincolnshire

• Plans by the government to appoint a free speech champion for universities and tell cultural institutions that they must not airbrush British history is part of a Tory culture war. It has little to do with history and a lot to do with the Tories striking stances on things they think will win them votes.

At the same time, the ignorance that ministers like Oliver Dowden have about history and what historians do cannot go unchallenged. British history is not some static, unchanging thing. How each generation understands events and which bits of British history are discussed and remembered is subject to change. At least some of that relates to work that historians do to better understand British history.

I would suggest that Dowden reads Sheila Rowbotham’s Hidden from History and Peter Fryer’s Staying Power. Without those foundation texts, the history of women and ethnic minorities would have stayed airbrushed out of the historical record.
Dr Keith Flett
London Socialist Historians Group

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