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

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.

Scotland's Moment of Truth

Monday Apr 01, 2024

Monday Apr 01, 2024

By the time this episode of ‘That’s Debatable!’ is released, the not-so-new Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act will have come into force. We mark the occasion with a dive into an excellent piece by a concerned Scot, writing under the pseudonym C.J. Strachan. The article reaches back to 17th century Scottish history – the case of Thomas Aikenhead – and includes the powerful words that the 20 year-old wrote on the morning of his execution for blasphemy, “It is a principle innate and co-natural to every man to have an insatiable inclination to the truth, and to seek for it as for hid treasure”. With all that has been going on, listeners will not be surprised to hear that we have seen a marked uptick in the number of new FSU members living north of the border. We take a few moments, therefore, to explain how we are configured to support our Scottish members, including an overview of the FSU’s Scotland Office. There is good news to mark in the case of Rachel Maclean MP where we assisted in the successful scrubbing of a Non-Crime Hate Incident (‘NCHI’) against her name. We continue to support Murdo Fraser MSP who is facing a similar battle in Scotland. We end with some April Fools' Day fun, while remaining all too aware of how truth and absurdity are now more difficult to distinguish than ever.  
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Mar 26, 2024

We’re in Jules Verne’s hands today as we travel around the woke world, from East Sussex in England to Scotland, the USA, the EU, China and beyond. We begin, though, with some research from Finland that was cited on X by Rolf Degen. He remarks on two large studies that suggest high critical social justice attitude scales are linked to anxiety, depression and a lack of happiness. Could this also explain why the silent majority on the non-woke side might reasonably be reluctant to jump into the fight? We're sure, though, that listeners will have discerned an increasing clamouring in recent days around the free speech implications of the Hate Crime Act in Scotland, from the Prime Minister expressing his concern to comedians taking a stand in Edinburgh. Scotland has also been in the news following the alleged recording of an NCHI (Non-Crime Hate Incident) against MSP Murdo Fraser, following a tweet he posted criticising the Scottish Government’s transgender policy. The story was carried by the Scottish Daily Mail and reports how the FSU has been helping Mr Fraser to back a legal challenge against Police Scotland. Next up, we discuss a report published by government advisor, Dame Sara Khan, which highlights threats to the UK’s social cohesion. It describes how 85% of the public believes freedom-restricting harassment currently occurs in the UK, with 60% believing the problem is worse than five years ago. Many of the findings link in with those of the research into anti-blasphemy extremism that we discussed in a previous episode. We also provide an update on the case of Professor Michelle Shipworth and examine an Unherd article by Sam Dunning that outlines the extent of Chinese interference with our higher education sector.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Zero Tolerance

Tuesday Mar 19, 2024

Tuesday Mar 19, 2024

It's the first birthday of ‘That’s Debatable!’. We hope listeners will indulge us as we take a moment at the beginning of today's episode to look back over one or two of the segments from the last twelve months that have particularly resonated. First up on today’s main menu, however, is the ‘Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act’, which will now be activated on April Fool’s Day, nearly three years after it first received Royal Assent. The law creates new stirring up of hatred offences for protected characteristics including age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and transgender identity. As Dr Stuart Waiton of Abertay University has reported in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, “From Section 4 of the Act itself, we find that saying something a ‘reasonable person’ would consider ‘insulting’ could be enough to see the long arm of the law reach into your living room”. He goes on to say, “What we are witnessing is a new type of authoritarianism – one that is clothed in the language of care and protection”. We continue with a discussion of Labour’s proposed Hate Crime Action Plan announced by Yvette Cooper. Worryingly, the proposal risks bringing back far more frequent recording of Non-Crime Hate Incidents (‘NCHI’), this after all the effort we have expended in getting these expunged from the records of people who have simply expressed a controversial view in the public square. We finish with a brief discussion of the latest report from Hope Not Hate, which focuses on what it calls the new ‘Radical Right’. This phenomenon allegedly “differs from the traditional far right in that it advocates an illiberal democracy rather than overthrow of the system itself”. Rather ludicrously, this leads to a document that lists senior Tories such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith in Section 3, its ‘Radical Right Feature’.
That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

J.S. Mill the Obscure

Tuesday Mar 12, 2024

Tuesday Mar 12, 2024

As reported in the Telegraph and in detail on our website, University College London (UCL) has now launched an investigation into its decision to ban academic and FSU member Michelle Shipworth from teaching a “provocative” course involving China in order to protect its commercial interests. The twists and turns in the story are quite breathtaking and include the startling moment when a UCL professor admits, “I have no idea who J.S. Mill is”. The whole drama is recounted today by Ben who has been involved in the case since Michelle first contacted the FSU for help. We also discuss a new report by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens that blows the whistle on so-called anti-blasphemy extremism in the UK. The Times explains that the report was first commissioned by the government’s counterextremism chief and exposes links between activists at the forefront of recent protests in the UK and an extremist Islamist political party in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). TLP was temporarily banned in Pakistan because of violent rallies and its support for mob execution of perceived blasphemers. Worryingly, the report reveals the emergence of a UK wing of TLP. As we discuss, it feels very late in the day for us to be waking up to this threat. Anti-blasphemy extremism is an affront to British values and is bad news for us all, but perhaps especially for our most vulnerable Muslim groups, such as the Ahmadis.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

Tuesday Mar 05, 2024

The FSU has published an essay by Tim Dieppe (Head of Public Policy at Christian Concern) with a Foreword by Professor Richard Dawkins. Tim argues that any attempt to define ‘Islamophobia’ will have a chilling effect on free speech – and we agree. The dystopian graphic at the top of the paper underlines the point that if society were to accept the APPG’s definition of ‘Islamophobia’, and then do its best to eradicate it, we’d have to shut down every Islamic Studies department in Britain’s universities. Despite being ill-thought out and not fit for purpose, the APPG’s definition is gaining traction and is likely to become more entrenched, not less, over the coming years. Christianity is up next as we turn to an article in the Telegraph revealing that the Church of England is hiring a “deconstructing whiteness” officer to combat racial injustice. The Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Bishop of Dover, told Synod on 25th February that Anglicans needed to “further embed racial justice” and should not be afraid of being called “woke”. We discuss whether the Church of England might not be in danger of earning a rebuke akin to that received by the first century church in Laodicea. The trendy new Woke religion ends our line-up today as we discuss BBC partiality in its treatment of Justin Webb for saying, “trans women, in other words males” on BBC Radio 4 last August. We could do worse than quote former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, from a recent article for the Daily Mail, “the problem is that the erasure of biological truth is becoming a professional practice by our media”.
‘That's Debatable!’ is edited by Jason Clift.

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