Sue Pascoe on freedom of speech

It feels like we can’t turn a newspaper, turn on the TV, read social media, (maybe that should be the other way round, I’m a little old fashioned,) without the issue of freedom of speech screaming at us from someone demanding to voice their opinion. At the same time the onward march of anti-semitism continues, rampant transphobia flourishes and anti Muslim sentiment is turned into a national day of hate. What happened to respect of our fellows?

Freedom of speech is so important to all of us. It is a core value of our democracy to respectfully debate, challenge and sometimes robustly defend or promote a point of view. It’s also important that we are free to call out bigotry and hate.

So what’s wrong with the demand for freedom of speech. In itself nothing until you look at who’s asking for it and why they are asking. Today many who ask for freedom of speech actually mean they want speech without consequences. There is no such thing and never has been. A demand to say whatever you like to whom ever you like in whatever manner you like is a place of anarchy that our society has never allowed.

You can’t go into Court and lie without being charged with perjury. You can’t incite violence against a person or group of people without committing a public order offence. And yet the demand for speech without consequences is heard in the press and by people who promote hatred and propaganda against minority groups all the time. Let’s be clear hate speech is just that it’s an attack on the very fabric of our society and the vulnerable. It needs to stop and be called out whenever it is seen or heard. Not just because it’s the right thing to do to protect vulnerable minorities but because if we wish to live in a fair, tolerant and just society where respect and dignity is shown to all people we have no choice.

History has shown us when we allow propaganda, false information or fake news to drive popularist movements against other people then evil flourishes, divisions grow and our society becomes unstable. In fact it is frightening that the seeds of this condition all exist today. Identity politics magnify this situation. As they give some people a voice they drive division against others and our society fragments.

The words of Martin Luther King Jnr and Margret Thatcher seem most relevant:-

“The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King Jnr

“You never compromise with violence. You never compromise with intimidation. You never compromise with those who want to use it to extinguish freedom and democracy, because if you do then the very things for which you stand for are extinguished.” Margaret Thatcher

We can protect our communities and our society. Let’s do it together. Let’s call out hate and bigotry. Let’s do it today.

Sue sits on the Conservative party’s working group for better engagement with minorities, is a Council member of LGBT+ Conservatives and has a listing on the party’s approved candidates list.