We believe in free speech

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth:  if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
– JS Mill, On Liberty

I am concerned with the policy announcements made in Theresa May’s conference speech, which can be watched in full here:

The Spectator has eloquently expressed my view on this issue:

“The clear inference of her words is that people will soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they promulgate ideas which, though expressed in a peaceful fashion, are deemed to be extreme or inspire others to violence. This raises the clear risk that the right of free speech will apply only insofar as it is not deemed by an official to be appealing to some lurking hothead. It is not hard to see who could be caught up by such a law: not just Islamists playing recruiting sergeant for terror groups, but those advocating all manner of views which lie beyond mainstream public opinion. Labour’s ‘hate crime’ laws have already been used to pursue Christian street preachers criticising homosexuality and Englishmen being rude about Scots.”

On Tuesday evening we rallied for freedom & liberty, those most Conservative of values. As the Speccie says:

“Mrs May has succeeded in bringing crime down to the lowest levels since surveys began 30 years ago, on a budget which keeps shrinking. Her admirers say she is set to become the greatest Tory home secretary in modern times — but only if she sets about repealing, rather than augmenting, Labour’s laws abridging freedom of speech. We do live in dangerous times, but the job of the home secretary is to reject as false the choice between our liberty and our security. This, after all, is the Conservative way.”

And over on the Telegraph, Dominic Raab has made a similar point:

“This week, the Metropolitan police launched a new cybercrime unit, as part of Operation Falcon, to provide stronger national leadership in the fight against online fraud, working with businesses and internet service providers. It comes as Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announces proposals to ban “extremists” from using the internet or social media. The case for stronger law enforcement is overwhelming – but legislation that erodes basic principles of freedom won’t make us safer.”

And went on to say:

“As well as being contrary to our tradition of free speech, it’s difficult to see how this could be enforced in practice, given the scale of online debate and the security of social media sites. Large numbers of officers should not be dragged into policing what should be the realm of democratic debate. Not only is this scatter-gun approach likely to distract precious law enforcement resources from the focused pursuit of dangerous targets, it would also fuel resentment – among both Muslim and Christian communities.”

Sometimes, the world and the people in it are scary. We fear for our lives and our way of living. But going against our fundamental values and principles are not, and never will be, the way to meet this kind of challenge.