Advanced search

Tories promise to protect freedom of speech

(33 Posts)
BovaryX Fri 07-Feb-20 05:02:39

It is long overdue, but in the light of an Oxford feminist historian requiring bodyguards because of threats, the Conservatives have finally promised to protect academic freedom. It is quite incredible that a group of aggressive bullies think they can impose their authoritarian views on everyone else and silence dissent. It is time for a robust defence of freedom of speech.

In an article for The Times, Gavin Williamson says that universities must make clear that intimidation of academics by student or other protesters is unacceptable, issue strong sanctions and work with police to prosecute those who try to disrupt events. He is considering greater regulation, possibly through law, if universities do not promote “unambiguous guidance” on academic freedom and free speech. One measure under consideration is to “clarify the duties” of students’ unions.“Universities themselves could be doing much more in this area,” Mr Williamson writes. “The right to civil and non-violent protest is sacrosanct. However, intimidation, violence or threats of violence are crimes

OP’s posts: |
BovaryX Fri 07-Feb-20 05:04:10

OP’s posts: |
BovaryX Fri 07-Feb-20 05:14:55

There is also an opinion piece by Gavin Williamson in The Times which opens with a robust defence of freedom of speech and cites the deteriorating situation in American universities as a warning of where this is heading

Academic freedom and free speech on university campuses are rightly matters of high public interest. Universities have a central role in our society — not only as educators of our young people but as generators of ideas and challengers of conventional wisdom. If Britain as a nation is to prosper, it needs a vibrant, academically curious and intellectually diverse university sector

OP’s posts: |
SunkissesBringBackLangCleg Fri 07-Feb-20 05:53:00

Commitments to freedom of speech were also in the Conservative manifesto (pages 23 and 48): "We will champion freedom of expression and tolerance, both in the UK and overseas" and (page 37): "We will also strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities and continue to focus on raising standards"

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 07-Feb-20 06:38:31

And yet they tried to pick and choose tenor reporters hmm

I'm glad this is being done. I watched some of the Benjamin Boyce evergreen stuff last night and now realise why he's become so entrenched in all this stuff.

He was a mature student at a college that collapsed under students trying to eliminate freedom of speech a few years ago. Still not sure of all the ins and outs but it seemed very viscous.

I also didn't realise he 'works with kids' but I'm not sure in what capacity?

NeurotrashWarrior Fri 07-Feb-20 06:39:04


Though I'm sure some can sing well.

ThinEndoftheWedge Fri 07-Feb-20 07:24:02

A start - but delayed and woeful. What about for the rest of us not in universities? Stating sex is immutable - fact - on line in a private capacity - currently a sacking offence from work - on their watch.

Tories need to do MUCH more

jadefinch Fri 07-Feb-20 07:24:56

Has anyone got either his article or the Times write up one with a share token? The one pasted above doesn't work for me

Cwenthryth Fri 07-Feb-20 08:09:02

If universities can’t defend free speech, the government will - Gavin Williamson

Gavin Williamson gives universities final warning on free speech - Rosemary Bennett, education editor

ChattyLion Fri 07-Feb-20 08:44:18

Happy to see this, and a government saying they recognise both the importance of protecting freedom of speech and democratic values WITHIN academia, but also a government saying that they value the contribution academia can make to upholding of fundamental democratic values that protect all of us, by teaching critical thinking, supporting new ideas generation and therefore offering ideas of how we can create new social protections and mapping out new routes to everyone’s life enhancement that academia should (if not fettered by authoritarians) be able to contribute for EVERYONE IN SOCIETY’s benefit. There has been a long nasty anti intellectual streak in the Tories (Gove saying the public have had enough of experts)

Universities have been just seen as a public liability to be funded by increasing self funding by students, while at the same time widening access to less advantaged kids (..hows that supposed to work financially?) while marketing to so as to hopefully raking in vast sums to support themselves from overseas students, along with constantly dwindling public investment in the sector, which doesn’t seem sustainable.

I know this position is not consistent with government behaviour to protect democracy in general (we’re still waiting for that government report into potential Russian interference in UK elections aren’t we but i so very agree with the overall direction of travel of what’s being said.

I particularly welcome the idea that in day to day research, publication and teaching, the bread and butter work of university life that freedom of speech needs protection as this is also the bread and butter of generating new ideas, new research and new researchers to provide evidence.

However the devil will be in the detail as always: genuine government support for free speech would ALSO need to include thoughts on tackling no-platforming, on tackling regulatory capture at university administration and departments level (the short bit I read about what Gavin Williamson said seemed to view the problem primarily as authoritarian student voice fettering an otherwise free institution scenario, yet the chilling effect is WAY more widespread than that), also tackling orthodoxy-led right think at major funders of academic work like research councils and the other big charitable funders of academic work, also tackling where there is not regulatory capture the simple fear of TRA pile on and unjustified reputation loss. (Like that ethics committee at bath spa uni who turned down research into detransitioned people, citing fear of loss of reputation IIRC). The government should establish a fighting fund for universities to use when they get lawsuits from students and academics about this which they will. That is another major deterrent to genuinely committing to freedom of speech, the fear of litigation, financial cost and reputation. Making that all that feasible would require the regulatory capture deprogramming of organisations like the EHRC too.

I think there will also be a whole host of unintended consequences to be guarded against with all this, it is a very nuanced area to get right, so it will have to be carefully thought through independently, not by politicians but with expert advisors, and not as the end point to leave universities to sort this out on their own because the situation is already too fucked for that and they have already shown themselves incapable to resist creeping incursions on to free thought.

LizzieSiddal Fri 07-Feb-20 08:52:39

It’s a start and hopefully his warning will filter out to other organisations, who will have to take on board that ‘No debate’ is not an option.

Mockersisrightasusual Fri 07-Feb-20 09:04:24

Well hoo-bleeding-ray.

Now why is this even a thing? Why has it ever come to this?

ScrimshawTheSecond Fri 07-Feb-20 09:43:16

Hm. That looks like a good start in one area.

Meanwhile Downing Street are apparently trying to restrict which journalists attend briefings, and we have a couple of cases in court over 'hate incidents'.

Is more regulation/legislation the answer? Or would it be better to have a hard look at existing laws on 'hate incidents' and 'hate crime' and rework or remove these laws? While we're at it, we could look at lobbying and regulatory capture. Get to the root cause of where all this anti-democratic tendency is coming from, no?

Needmoresleep Fri 07-Feb-20 09:50:51

Now why is this even a thing? Why has it ever come to this?

I don't know. However the fact that a very influential lobbying organisation led by the now enabled Ruth Hunt and with at the table in Government policy making could conceive and maintain an #nodebate policy when pushing major societal change, despite glaring safeguarding risks, might have contributed.

BovaryX Fri 07-Feb-20 10:40:22

While we're at it, we could look at lobbying and regulatory capture. Get to the root cause of where all this anti-democratic tendency is coming from, no?

Absolutely agree Scrimshaw I am pleased to see this public statement, but will reserve judgement until the government actually do something to challenge the next example of no platforming.

OP’s posts: |
ArranUpsideDown Fri 07-Feb-20 11:25:01

Unsurprisingly, I see that Toby Young is attempting to use this as another vehicle of self-promotion and aggrandisement.

In a few weeks time I'm going to be launching the Free Speech Union. To find out more, follow
or email me at jsmillsociety[at]

We need to challenge the Maoist climate of intolerance.

2020 is the year we fight back.

How to alienate people from the concept in 3-2-1...

Needmoresleep Fri 07-Feb-20 11:25:21


Hunt was always too enabled.

GCAcademic Fri 07-Feb-20 12:11:10

I wish Toby Young would fuck off. He is far too fond of using strawman arguments and is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is; consequently his claims are usually pretty easy to dismiss. I am also not at all convinced that he actually believes in free speech, as opposed to simply wanting to have his own voice granted more airtime. We need someone credible to lead this fight.

Mockersisrightasusual Fri 07-Feb-20 12:15:20

I wish Toby Young would fuck off.

Now that Kirk Douglas has passed on, let this be the new "I Am Spartacus."

I wish Toby Young would fuck off.

ChattyLion Fri 07-Feb-20 13:09:33

I wish Toby Young would fuck off.

ArranUpsideDown Fri 07-Feb-20 16:35:30

If anyone would be a good front-runner for a freedom of speech organisation it would be Pragna Patel of SBSisters who gave a very moving speech at #WomensLib2020

What a hopeful time we have reached in feminism...Let’s own free speech.

It will be so good when the speeches are posted.

BovaryX Fri 07-Feb-20 17:09:11

What a hopeful time we have reached in feminism...Let’s own free speech

I have not heard Pragna Patel's speech but that is a great quote and a really positive development as a direction for feminism. Challenging the status quo when the status quo has become #no debate? Hell yes.

OP’s posts: |
Gailhugger Fri 07-Feb-20 17:22:06

Justin Webb was quizzing Bradley Fox (Nottingham Trent SU President) about this issue on R4 Today this morning (about 1hr 26 if anyone wants to listen).

He seemed to confirm that they would rent rooms to women wishing to discuss issues surrounding anatomically male TW entering spaces reserved for women.

Goosefoot Fri 07-Feb-20 17:26:22

Gove saying the public have had enough of experts

These sentiments dovetail together though. There has been a lot of shit coming out of universities for some years now. Then no one is listening and the useful stuff is also ignored.

Imnobody4 Fri 07-Feb-20 17:36:26

There's a law commission review on hate crime which will be doing a public consultation soon.
to ensure that any recommendations comply with, and are conceptually informed by, human rights obligations, including under articles 10 (freedom of expression) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights;
This aim looks hopeful perhaps?

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in