That’s Debatable!

Welcome to ‘That’s Debatable!’, the weekly podcast of the Free Speech Union. Hosts Tom Harris and Ben Jones – both staffers at the FSU – talk about the free speech controversies that have erupted in the past week and interview some of the main protagonists in those dramas. Edited by Jason Clift. Please like, subscribe and share. Thank you.

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Episodes

7 days ago

As reported in the Mail, Durham university last week postponed a debate on whether “Palestinian Leadership is the Biggest Barrier to Peace”. According to the article, a 'mob' of pro-Palestine protesters locked students inside a chamber for more than two hours and created a human chain around the building. Mohab Ramadan, a speaker for the opposition and founder of the university’s Israeli-Palestinian Resolution Society also received a hostile reception when he visited the protesters’ encampment. In response, he told them, “Granting yourself what you’re denying to others is shameful. To deny others the freedom to speak and debate when you yourself have encamped on Palace Green and been tolerated, allowed to speak and be heard by the entire University is unforgivable. I supported you and believed in your cause, arguing passionately for Palestine, but your actions have alienated the very people you seek to persuade”. Interestingly, Durham is at the top of the FSU’s league table of universities with the worst record of defending free speech - we’ve had to defend more students and staff from there than any other university in the UK. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that university staff in Exeter feel coerced to sign an anti-transphobia pledge. These calls to allyship are reminiscent of the ‘struggle sessions’ that were prevalent during China’s cultural revolution. We end with a tweet about King Alfred that causes us to revisit our discussion on the Anglo Saxons, this time in the context of so-called Queer Theory.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

The Great Youth Experiment

Tuesday Jun 04, 2024

Tuesday Jun 04, 2024

The Free Speech Union has responded to the Office for Students’ (OfS) consultation on its proposed new guidance for English universities on how best to uphold academic freedom and free speech on campus. Realistically, the OfS’s approach to freedom of speech is likely to be unpopular with universities and, as a result, could face legal challenge. Our response sets out why we think the OfS’s position is legally defensible and how it could be improved. We also discuss the University of Cambridge’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, which we believe to be very positive - although the student magazine Varsity appeared less enthused. Sticking with the university world, an article in the Telegraph by an anonymous student caught our eye this week. When it comes to social media use, the writer observes that, “We aren’t posting online because we think we will have a clear impact. We’re doing it because of a huge moral impetus to speak out on issues - whether or not they concern us and whether or not we are familiar with them - and to be ‘right about them’”. The student continues, “The reward? A feedback loop of heart “reacts” and supportive comments, and endless approval in the form of retweets and likes”. In the follow-up discussion, Ben highlights three damaging experiments that have been carried out on our young people in recent years: trans ideology, lockdowns and smartphones. We finish with the new Appendix that we have added to our EDI Tax briefing paper. It runs through two egregious examples of EDI training, both highlighted to us by concerned FSU members. The first is a mandatory training course for any Amazon employees with supervisory responsibilities. It is produced by ‘Glamazon’, the company’s internal LGBT+ affinity group. The second is a guide produced by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, a professional association, that’s intended for all speech and language therapists, as well as support workers and students.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Global Censorship

Tuesday May 28, 2024

Tuesday May 28, 2024

The first quarter of 2024 was the FSU’s busiest yet for free speech case work and we begin by reflecting on what insight this gives us into the state of cancel culture in the UK. Moving to the global scale, The Guardian last week revealed the headlines from Article 19’s Global Expression Report 2024. According to the analysis, more than half of the world’s population cannot speak freely. We dig into the statistics for the UK and focus on the troubling longer-term trends revealed by the analysis. Over the last ten years or so, the UK has fallen from the mid-range of the ‘open’ category to the bottom with a score of 81. But we are not alone. Article 19’s report reveals how over the last decade, 6.2 billion people across 78 countries experienced a deterioration of their freedom of expression while only 303 million people across 18 countries saw improvement. We end with an article published in Spiked by one of the FSU’s founding directors and Advisory Council member, Inaya Folarin Iman. She argues that instead of claiming that hate-speech laws are being weaponised against ethnic-minority Britons, outlets such as Channel 4 News ought to do more questioning of the need for hate-speech laws in the first place. As Inaya says in the article, “If you call for censorship of so-called hate speech, it will eventually be used against you”, before concluding that “the moral of the story is that we should do away with all hate-speech laws”.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Not Angles, but Angels

Tuesday May 21, 2024

Tuesday May 21, 2024

Ben spoke at the launch of SEEN (Sex Equality and Equity Network) in Parliament last week and made the point that the FSU has handled over 700 cases relating to gender critical beliefs. It’s perhaps not surprising, therefore, that sex and gender feature in our first main item. The Telegraph reports how civil servant and FSU member Eleanor Frances is crowdfunding to pay for an employment tribunal against two government departments on several grounds, including indirect discrimination based on her philosophical beliefs. Jill Levene, FSU legal counsel, is quoted in the article, “Eleanor’s treatment is a clear example of a civil service that has been captured by radical progressive ideology”. This week, the FSU also helped out in the academic world. Senior administrators at Cardiff University decided a panel discussion on ‘Academic Freedom in the UK’ wasn’t an ‘internal’ event, leaving organisers scrambling to find £1,500 to pay for security and venue hire. We were able to step in via our Mactaggart Programme and stump up the cash so the event can go ahead. Next up, an article by Ed West in The Spectator caught our eye. It exposes the ongoing attempts to erase the Anglo-Saxons, which includes, for example, the renaming of the “International Society of Anglo-Saxonists” to the rather less evocative, “International Society for the Study of Early Medieval England”. Such tactics will be familiar to anyone au fait with the ambition of the ideologues to interpret our history through the dismal prism of “whiteness”, “privilege” and “decolonisation”. We end with the case of Professor Nana Sato-Rossberg and the refreshing news that we are allowed to make enthusiastic comments about a person’s country of origin. In reaching its conclusion, the Employment Tribunal panel said that it had “reminded itself” of the following passage from Justice Underhill’s ruling in Richmond Pharmacology Ltd v Dhaliwal [2009] IRLR 336: “Dignity is not necessarily violated by things said or done which are trivial or transitory, particularly if it should have been clear that any offence was unintended. Whilst it is very important that employers and tribunals are sensitive to the hurt that can be caused by offensive comments or conduct (which are related to protected characteristics)… it is also important not to encourage a culture of hypersensitivity or the imposition of legal liability in respect of every unfortunate phrase.”
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

The Matrix

Tuesday May 14, 2024

Tuesday May 14, 2024

Today we take a slightly different tack and explore the 1999 film ‘The Matrix’, which imparts a deep well-spring of metaphors for describing cancel culture. In addition to being an action-packed blockbuster, the movie touches on philosophical ideas from such luminaries as Lewis Carroll, René Descartes, Plato and Immanuel Kant. Moving on to looming free speech battles, we were concerned to see Ali Milani, national chair of Labour Muslim Network, quoted in The Telegraph saying, “We have to show we are taking Islamophobia seriously, in legislation and in our own party structures”. This will ring alarm bells for all listeners familiar with the recent essay on Islamophobia penned by Tim Dieppe. We agree with Tim that if the proposed APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) definition were to find further purchase in government, it could rapidly lead to blasphemy law by the backdoor.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Powwows and Pepperoni

Tuesday May 07, 2024

Tuesday May 07, 2024

FSU General Secretary, Toby Young, was nearly abducted last week by the infamous Hate Monster during a visit to Scotland. Video footage shows Toby finally triumphing over the beast, which he describes as “a cartoon creature that looks like a hairy pepperoni”. The Pepperoni of Hate would doubtless approve of VisitBritain’s latest language guide. As reported in the Mail and by the FSU’s Communications Officer, Freddie Attenborough, the flagship tourism agency has told workers that in order to foster a “culture of belonging”, they must not use words such as ‘blindspot’, ‘blackspot’, ‘man hours’ – even ‘powwow’. Such language is not sufficiently inclusive, apparently, alongside lots of other words and phrases that have been “used for generations”. Eagle-eyed readers will spot that Freddie has peppered his article with VisitBritain’s banned words, something of which we heartily approve. There’s good news and bad news in our final section as we discuss the new pronoun mandate issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in America and detailed in Unherd. More positively, the Telegraph reports that UK bosses are getting nervous about the corporate diversity drive and rowing back on some of its more extreme manifestations.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Cultural Tribalism

Tuesday Apr 30, 2024

Tuesday Apr 30, 2024

We whizz through a couple of this week’s free speech headlines today before providing listeners with an update on Linzi Smith’s case against Newcastle United and the Premier League, a story which has now been picked up by the BBC. Linzi is crowdfunding to assist with her next legal stage under the relevant pre-action protocol. This is a David and Goliath situation as both organisations are well-funded and will have strong legal representation. Any listeners interested in contributing can find all the detail here. An interview of Billy Bragg in The Guardian caught our eye this week, particularly a couple of his comments towards the end of the piece, “My problem with people like Rowling, like Julie Bindel, is really who they are lined up with” and “[..] that’s what I see with Rowling and the others: they are on the wrong side of the table". We discuss how and why people in the culture war seem so keen to identify with their ‘tribe’ rather than the merits of the issue in hand – especially when that issue relates to free expression. We end with an update on the case of Finnish politician Päivi Räsänen. She has already been tried and acquitted by two courts for publicly expressing her Christian beliefs but has now had her acquittal appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, with the prosecution continuing to call for a punitive fine. Executive Director of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Paul Coleman said: “This is a watershed case in the story of Europe’s creeping censorship. The state’s insistence on continuing this prosecution after almost five long years, despite such clear and unanimous rulings from the lower courts is alarming. The process is the punishment in such instances, resulting in a chill on free speech for all citizens observing.”
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Speech Precrime

Tuesday Apr 23, 2024

Tuesday Apr 23, 2024

Toby Young has written a sobering piece in this week’s Spectator, surveying speech-restricting laws in the works across the world, from Poland to Canada – the latter threatening to establish a form of speech precrime. While it is troubling to see how far free expression has dropped down the priority list of governments, Toby ends with a call to practical action, “I think the time has come to set up a Canadian Free Speech Union. If you’d like to help, email me on tobyyoung@freespeechunion.org”. Meanwhile back at FSU(UK) HQ, we’ve just had our busiest three months ever in terms of new free speech cases – more than 250. Our success rate remains steady at 74%, while the gender/transgender issue continues to dominate all that we do, accounting for 44% of the free speech cases reported to us so far in 2024. Moving on from facts and figures, an article by Ben Cobley in The Critic caught our eye this week, entitled “On conservative despair”. It presents quite a bleak picture of our cultural moment, but also equips us to understand the times and, as Ben says, sends us back to moments in history when there has been successful fight-back against unwelcome change. We end with a quick signpost to an article by Rachel Rosario Sánchez. She references our briefing note on the EDI Tax and underlines the point that “The Stasi-wannabees running EDI meetings demonstrate that acceptance cannot be compelled, least of all by the authoritarian bullies at the top”.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Apr 16, 2024

One of our recurring bugbears is the imperious messaging that has seeped into all corners of British society, lecturing us on what to think and say as we go about our business. A current TV advertising campaign against ageism is a case in point. No-one wants people of different ages to be excluded from society, but it is rather galling to be slapped on the wrist for using harmless phrases like, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. It turns out that local authorities have also latched onto the re-education trend. As reported in The Telegraph, the FSU has been pushing back on councils that have started using PSPOs (Public Spaces Protection Orders) to police every aspect of our behaviour in public – including our speech. As Ben makes clear, we suspect this battle may prove to be a frustrating game of ‘whack-a-mole’ for a while yet. We briefly mention a recent exposé of the FSU's numerous successes in Byline Times before moving on to examine the Cass Review Final Report, which was published last week. Dr Hilary Cass explicitly addresses the toxicity of the ongoing gender debate in her Foreword, “There are few other areas of healthcare where professionals are so afraid to openly discuss their views, where people are vilified on social media, and where name-calling echoes the worst bullying behaviour. This must stop”. The mainstream media has taken proper notice of the Cass review and we ponder how much hope we can reasonably now pin on a change in the direction and tone of the discussion. We end today’s episode with a quick review of the findings from a poll commissioned by the Henry Jackson Society. Among a list of rather depressing statistics is the finding that 52% of the British Muslims polled want to make it illegal to show a picture of the Prophet Muhammed.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

The EDI Tax

Tuesday Apr 09, 2024

Tuesday Apr 09, 2024

As Scotland’s Hate Crime and Public Order Act comes to the end of its first week, the number of ‘hate crimes’ reported to Police Scotland has ticked over the 8,000 mark. This was entirely predictable and no doubt reflects a combination of reporting by those keen to make use of the act’s censorious powers and mischievous attempts at exposing its almost comically authoritarian intent. What's also clear is how the new Act has quickly become a major distraction for Police Scotland, which needs to pay its officers overtime, handle the public relations fall out and continue to address ordinary crime. Having now welcomed nearly 1,000 new members to the Free Speech Union, we’ve set up a Hate Speech Hotline in case any of them get into trouble with the police about something they've said. We’ve also put an arrangement in place with Levy & McRea, a top firm of criminal lawyers in Scotland, so that if any of our members are arrested or interviewed under caution for something speech-related we can come to their aid. You can find the Hotline number, as well as detailed instructions about what to do if you’re arrested in Scotland for a speech-related offence in this set of FAQs, here. We move on to discuss a piece of research the FSU released in March entitled, “The EDI Tax: How Equity, Diversion and Inclusion is Hobbling British Businesses”. It was great to see our survey results reported in The Telegraph in an article that highlighted how nearly a quarter of employees going through EDI and/or climate training have been compelled to say things they don’t believe. The release of our report coincided with the publishing of the Inclusion at Work Panel’s recommendations, several of which alluded to problems akin to those uncovered in our survey. We end today with a discussion on Open Data, or rather the lack thereof. Writing in The Times, conservative MP for Harborough, Neil O’Brien, raises concerns that the failure of multiple government departments to publish granular migration data in the way that they used to is potentially frustrating an important debate.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

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