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.

Listen on:

  • Apple Podcasts
  • Podbean App
  • Spotify
  • Amazon Music
  • iHeartRadio
  • PlayerFM
  • Samsung
  • Podchaser
  • BoomPlay

Episodes

2 days ago

Since its establishment in March 2023, the Ian Mactaggart Programme has provided generous financial support to a range of free speech initiatives among young people. One particularly exciting project is the inaugural ‘Modern Dissent’ lecture. This will be given by Professor Eric Kaufmann, FSU Advisory Council member and Head of the Centre for Heterodox Social Science at the University of Buckingham and will take place on Wednesday 28th February (tickets available here). Moving to the arts world, Arts Council England (ACE) funded Soho Theatre had to apologise last week for the behaviour of one of its performers who subjected several Jewish members of the audience to verbal abuse. As the apology makes clear, this was an appalling incident, but The Telegraph also reported that it may have been the catalyst for a broader debate around ACE’s new Relationship Framework, released in January of this year. According to the new framework, political or activist statements made by individuals linked to ACE-funded projects – even if they were in a personal capacity and not directly related to the work they were making – could cause reputational risk and ultimately breach funding agreements. Given the ongoing threat to freedom in the arts that we see across the UK, it is encouraging to hear that ACE has since released a statement that the new framework is back under review following concerns raised. There is also the news that Simon Fanshawe OBE has been elected rector of the university of Edinburgh. As Freddie Attenborough reports on our website, this has led to a predictable backlash from transgender rights activists. We end by drawing listeners’ attention to an excellent article in The Critic this week by Professor Alan Sokal. He surveys the state of free speech in the West and his piece serves as a useful pointer to much of the great thinking that has come before us, including John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.
 

Standing with Salman

Tuesday Feb 13, 2024

Tuesday Feb 13, 2024

There is a lot going on behind the scenes at the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), as reported this week in The Times and written up in detail on the FSU website. Several current fellows of the RSL, including three former presidents, say that the organisation’s refusal to take public stands on authors Kate Clanchy and Sir Salman Rushdie has called into question its support for a writer’s right to freedom of expression. Kate Clanchy won the Orwell Prize in 2020 but suffered the ire of an online mob when activists discovered a handful of sentences that deployed what they described as ‘racial stereotypes’. Ahead of a speech in August 2022, Sir Salman was attacked on stage by an Islamist sympathiser and stabbed multiple times, in the chest, liver, hand, face and neck. The response from the RSL was best summed up by Sir Salman himself in a post on X, “Just wondering if the Royal Society of Literature is ‘impartial’ about attempted murder? (Asking for a friend.)” For our other main segment, we discuss Army Guidance that encourages soldiers to avoid Christian elements in Acts of Remembrance and says that Acts of Remembrance should be separated from Remembrance Services. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given the 93 diversity networks now active across the Ministry of Defence.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

The Stadium Stasi

Tuesday Feb 06, 2024

Tuesday Feb 06, 2024

Our first story, which was reported in The Telegraph over the weekend, has hit a nerve with the nation. Millions have now watched the short video put together by Toby Young with Newcastle United fan – and FSU member – Linzi Smith. During an investigation into Linzi’s perfectly lawful gender critical tweets, NUFC asked the Premier League to scrutinise her further. The League’s investigation unit, based in London and embedded in its legal department, did exactly that and came back with a detailed dossier. The cache of documents refers to Linzi as the “target”, contains photos in which she can be seen walking her dog and includes a note that she has "ties" to nearby Whitley Bay. In East Germany, at least, everyone tended to assume that the Stasi was watching them. We certainly don’t expect covert investigations to be directed at British citizens by private companies. As well as incredibly chilling, we believe that it could be a breach of Linzi’s GDPR rights and she has raised a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’). We end today with a discussion on the resignation of justice minister Mike Freer who will step down at the next election following a string of Islamist threats and incidents. What does it mean for free expression when elected representatives who do their job by speaking out for their constituents ultimately decide that the risk to their personal safety is just too great?  
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

The Past is a Free Country

Tuesday Jan 30, 2024

Tuesday Jan 30, 2024

‘Britain isn’t a free country’. That’s the title of a recent Spectator article by Ed West and we fear he could be onto something. At the very least, it seems that we are no longer as sure of our freedoms as we used to be. All is not lost, though! The FSU’s success rate on cases now stands at nearly 75%, proving that it is possible to resist cancel culture and win. Also good to see is that we Brits still bristle when our personal freedoms are overtly threatened, as evidenced by a recent incident involving musician Brendan Kavanagh. At London’s St Pancras station, ‘Dr K’, as he’s called on YouTube, had a run-in with a group of Chinese tourists who claimed their privacy was being infringed by the livestream of his piano playing. But, as listeners may already know, this attempt at suppression led only to a far more viral response. The story was even written up in USA Today and Dr K was invited to discuss it live on TalkTV. At the end of today’s episode, we come back to the conversion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to Christianity and some interesting insight from Professor Richard Dawkins.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Jan 23, 2024

We welcome Bryn Harris, the FSU’s chief legal counsel, to‘That's Debatable!’ this week. He discusses his own personal journey to the FSU together with the broader work of our legal team. Bryn also offers up his general thoughts on what kind of fundamental legal change(s) might be most effective in pushing the UK’s speech pendulum back in favour of freedom. For the final segment of the episode, we discuss the case of Signature Clinic, a cosmetic surgery company. As many listeners may know, the ‘Signature Four’ are being sued for defamation and malicious falsehood after posting honest but critical reviews following a bad experience with the clinic. They wished merely to record their personal experiences on a site designed to allow them to do so and feel they have done nothing wrong but now face potential financial ruin. You can donate to help the Signature Four continue their fight and stand against the use of legal force to silence honest voices – the link to the crowd justice site is here.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Compelled Thought

Monday Jan 22, 2024

Monday Jan 22, 2024

Using freedom of information requests, the Free Speech Union has been investigating the transgender policies of various public sector bodies, but the document released by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s privacy watchdog, is one of the most egregious we have found. The story was carried by the Daily Mail and it's where we begin our episode today. Included among a series of bulleted suggestions, the guidance states that “ICO staff can support trans colleagues or individuals who are transitioning by… thinking of the person as the being the gender that they want you to think of them as.” Toby Young, our general secretary, is quoted in the article, “The ICO is supposed to be responsible for protecting people’s privacy. How can it be taken seriously in that role if it’s dictating to its employees what they can and can’t think?” For the second half of our discussion, we come back to the issue of misinformation via Andreas Krieg’s new book, “Subversion: the strategic weaponization of narratives” and an interesting review of the book entitled, “When does the truth become disinformation?” can be found here. We link the way that powerful actors like to control the narrative with the recent ITV drama on the Post Office scandal. The success of this piece of television, which for once fully deserves the moniker ‘landmark’, and its effect in arousing the indignation of a nation serves to emphasise – in a positive way – several of the points made in Krieg’s book.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Jan 09, 2024


It’s been a very exciting start to 2024 at the Free Speech Union where we have been celebrating one of our biggest ever wins, the case of FSU member Carl Borg-Neal. At least £500,000 in damages is now expected to be paid out to Carl by his former employer, Lloyds Bank. As reported in The Telegraph, an employment tribunal has unanimously ruled Carl’s dismissal unfair after he inadvertently used (and immediately apologised for using) the ‘n-word’ during the bank’s race education training. FSU general secretary, Toby Young, said over the weekend that “the financial compensation Carl has secured is ground-breaking. But in addition, the Tribunal made various recommendations that Lloyds will have to follow. Senior members of the bank, including members of the Board, have been ordered to read and digest the judgment, learning, if they did not appreciate it already, that context is everything when deciding whether to dismiss someone for breaching a workplace speech code. The bank also has to inform the Financial Conduct Authority that it got this one wrong – they have to tell the regulator that their dismissal of Carl was substantially and procedurally unfair and an act of disability discrimination. Finally, they must correct their internal records and provide a reference for Carl to future employers”. While most of today’s episode is spent discussing this fantastic win, we also touch on the rather more sobering news that Camden Council is now putting potential suppliers through McCarthy-esque interrogation of their stance on LGBT dogma. Our Communications Officer, Freddie Attenborough, has written a great piece covering the issue in The Critic. Finally, we want to let all listeners know that “That’s Debatable!” is now being published directly onto the Apple podcast app, in addition to all the other popular podcast platforms.
"That's Debatable!" is edited by Jason Clift.

A New Hope

Wednesday Jan 03, 2024

Wednesday Jan 03, 2024

Happy New Year to all our listeners!
We begin with some good news from the Spectator. An article penned by Fraser Nelson, the magazine’s editor, reveals the pressure he came under to cancel Professor Karol Sikora’s appearance at a panel discussion on Britain’s cancer crisis. As Fraser explains, the event sponsor, which had been teed up to contribute £25,000, was concerned that the professor did not align with its “values”. It is heartening that there are still media outlets standing for free expression, even when that means losing money (in this instance, sufficient money to keep a staffer employed for a year). We move on to discuss the FSU’s submissions to two consultations on diversity and inclusion. They closed in December and were initiated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) respectively. Listeners will not be surprised to hear that we expressed our firm opposition to the proposals. We are concerned that they would further suppress free speech in the workplace, a real effect that we have seen repeatedly in our case work. We round off this first episode of 2024 with a look back at the final two FSU events of 2023, our Christmas comedy night, and the FSU annual Christmas review.     
“That’s Debatable!” is edited by Jason Clift.

Free Speech with Teeth

Tuesday Dec 19, 2023

Tuesday Dec 19, 2023

For our final episode of 2023 we zoom in on the higher education sector, where the Office for Students has just published proposals on its complaints process under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act. As reported in The Independent, universities, colleges and student unions in England which fail to uphold free speech duties are set to be named publicly and may also find themselves having to pay compensation to successful complainants. Professor Arif Ahmed’s inaugural speech as the first ever Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom is well worth reading in full and sets the tone for how we might expect the new legislation to be applied. We take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the FSU’s own higher education statistics, cases which have emerged out of some of Britain’s most esteemed institutions. Finally, we review a selection of the individual free speech cases in the higher education sector, many of which owe their success to the launch earlier this year of the Mactaggart programme.
We wish our listeners a very Happy Christmas and a 2024 full of free expression.  
"That's Debatable!" is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Dec 12, 2023

In the world of free speech, it often feels like we take two half-steps forward followed by a troubling leap backwards, and today’s line-up fits that mould. Last week’s infamous US Congress hearings in which the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn were seen prevaricating over whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” went against their institutions’ respective codes of conducts has opened the eyes of many. That all three presidents said it depended on the context brutally reveals the extent to which educational authorities have, as Matthew Syed put it in the Sunday Times, “serially genuflected before wokeism”. The unsurprising news from the publishing industry that woke books are flopping is positive news and reminds us of the old mantra, “go woke, go broke”. We discuss whether the publishing industry might now come to its senses and write the books that the few remaining readers want to read. But for this week’s great leap backwards we head to Denmark, which has just introduced a law banning the desecration of sacred texts, a mere six years after the repeal of the nation’s 334-old blasphemy law. Is this our measure of the speed at which the new cultural revolution has taken hold? We end on a note of optimism, however, that so many in the Danish Parliament remain appalled by the new law and fully intend to keep the debate going.
"That's Debatable!" is edited by Jason Clift.

Copyright 2023 All rights reserved.

Version: 20230822