OPINION: Freedom Fighters Are Still Fighting For Free Speech
Editors Note: The author is vice chair and branch secretary of UKIP North London Branch.
Freedom of speech was once something we took for granted in our country. We were so proud of it. I grew up being aware of it. I was grateful for it. We even mentioned it when studying history. Without free speech can you even have a democratic vote? At school we held mock elections, we held debates, we disagreed with each other, we looked forward to being adults and making our own choices. We were preparing for life in a free and democratic country.
My friends and I would go to Speakers Corner on our own as soon as we were old enough to see all the (sometimes eccentric) speakers and experience it first hand. We gave out leaflets on animal rights, something I have always felt strongly about, amongst other things. We knew we were experiencing true freedom – the right to disagree with each other but still be able to not only speak but enjoy the support of those who disagreed with us. I remember taking my boyfriend from Ireland to see it – he was impressed – but even then it was starting to change. The signs were there – I got shouted at and warned for disagreeing with a speaker’s opinion. But still, we went regularly to see who was saying what. We were proud of it. People from all around the world are amazed by this place where you can just pitch up on an old box or stand and start talking about whatever you want. And other people will listen and want to hear what you have to say. Maybe even join in or debate with you. Genuine heckling enjoyed. A uniquely English phenomenon.
Even our press. The worst in the world for printing shocking things about the lives of the rich and famous… but on the other hand, think of all the hypocrites and crooks that have been exposed over the years… oh and they really are! How the high and mighty do fall under the scrutiny of the British media… sometimes not always for the best but more often than not we find out those who choose to moralise on us while operating different standards for themselves. Woe betide the fakes and the liars. Those who tell us to feel guilty about loving our country and having a meagre home of our own with a tiny garden, while privately renting out their own huge mansions for more and more profit. Crocodile tears exposed. Where would be without our freedom of the press which only recently we had to fight to protect? Don’t be caught sleeping or we will lose it.
So what is going wrong? Why is Speakers Corner now dominated by a certain type of extremist? Why is freedom of the press under threat? Why can you now be accused of hate speech without even opening your mouth? How has this happened? Free speech being abused by those who don’t actually believe in it? Must everything good in our society now be policed or governed by the law in order for it to survive? We all have the right to speak our minds and more importantly, we all have the right to offend and be offended, to argue, to debate. And never more so than during the Brexit Referendum. Whilst out campaigning I have to say that on the few occasions the police were called to protect us from abusive objectors that the police defended our right to open the conversation and did their best to enable us to keep going. It was too important a subject to not debate on the street, and this is what we should be doing, as one policeman put it, bless him. So we freedom fighters are still out there! If you have freedom of thought and word then you don’t need a weapon to fight your cause! Just a little courage and a few interesting observations perhaps… and an audience will become yours.
Are we now though heading to a place where our natural tolerance and restraint is being tested to it’s very limit? Things don’t bode well for the future. Has the so-called new liberalism finally eaten itself alive?
But still, I have faith… in all things British – our humour, our practicality, our stoicism, our sense of justice and our ingenuity. If anyone can find a way, it’s the nation that abolished slavery and won 2 world wars that can find it.
Let me know if you’re heading out to make a stand for something, anything, anytime soon! I’ll come along and applaud your right to do so.