Is Free Speech Dead In The UK?

Jake Hepple was the man behind the flying of the ‘White Lives Matter’ Banner above the Man City vs Burnley game on Monday the 22nd of June.

Far from hiding the fact, he took to social media to claim credit for the stunt. Since that time, he has been condemned roundly by the club he supports, Burnley, as well as sacked from his welding job at Paradigm Precision. His girlfriend too came under fire, for comments on her social media profiles, for which she too was sacked, in this instance, from a beauty salon. A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money for the newly unemployed couple, which after raising some £2000 was shut down, and the money returned to the donors.

Hepple told the Mail Online:

“I'm not racist. I know people are trying to make out to be one but I'm not. I've got lots of Black and Asian friends and this banner was actually inspired by the Black Lives Movement. We were not trying to offend the movement or black people. I believe that it's also important to acknowledge that white lives matter too. That's all we were trying to say.”

This clearly is someone unfamiliar with the idea that the phrase ‘white lives matter’ serves to minimise the phrase ‘black lives matter’. It is equally possible Hepple was familiar with this concept, and his crime was one of malice, and not of ignorance. Of course, all we have is his word. How much does his word mean? Even if it were true is ignorance an excuse in an age where information is abundant and instantaneously accessible?

Jake Hepple, pictured with a beer. The brewer has apologised for its beer being consumed by him. (Seriously)

The question we are asking; is free speech dead in the UK? Requires a whole series of questions to be asked, and answered before we can know for sure.

Is ‘White Lives Matter’ inherently racist? If so, should it be a crime? The police opened up an investigation into the incident and decided there was no crime to pursue, so presumably this was not a case of racial hatred. Yet is all that is legal acceptable? Clearly not.

What punishment then is suitable for an individual who makes an offensive, ill thought through and oafish stunt, which though not illegal, is harmful and offensive to many? Is firing enough? Is being banned from receiving donated funds, after having been made unemployed in the midst of a pandemic enough? Should Hepple ever enjoy gainful skilled employment again? When does the statue of limitations on his ‘crime’ expire? Is it permanent? At what stage will activists decide they will abate the haranguing of his employers into action against him? What will be achieved by relegating this man, and his partner, to perpetual unemployment? Is this the ultimate and just punishment?

Arguably we ought to know these things before we act. Arguably, we need not. Afterall ought not Hepple take personal responsibility for his actions?


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“men aren't women tho”

You might know Graham Lineham as the writer of the television comedy, ‘Father Ted’. You might also have seen him recently banned from Twitter for writing “men aren't women tho”. Again, unilateral and permanent action has been taken here, but without asking nor answering the questions the banning begs.

Do private platforms have the right to censor speech they do not agree with? Since a handful of companies control the majority of online speech, does this not establish a dangerous precedent? Since we cannot elect the censorious tech giants, how then can they be held accountable? Can a free market paradigm come into play, and usher new platforms to the surface? If not, is it dangerous that there is a technological monopoly controlling speech online?

If there is no space online for Lineham’s view that ‘men are not women’, where can he speak? If this utterance could see him banned from social media, then it must surely too be unpalatable on a university campus, or in a school?

So where then does Lineham have the freedom to speak, is it just inside his own home? If hypothetically he did not own private property, where could he speak? Just at Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner? This too has faced increasing censorship in recent times.

Unlike the Hepple case, Lineham was subject to a more thorough investigation by the police. A year ago, Lineham was given an official warning by the police, for referring to a transgender activist, as ‘he’. At what point does Lineham’s right to a view on biology clash with an individuals right to be addressed as they wish to be? Is offence the litmus test by which bannings, and police warnings can be issued? Is offence given, or taken? Who can prove whether offence was given, or taken? Is ‘proof’ burdening the victim in this instance? Ought we just to take their word for it?

What is free speech?

Those who have been deplatformed from the public square, from the feminist campaigner Julie Bindel to right wing provocateur Katie Hopkins are generally met with the same response:

‘Freedom of speech is the right to speak without fear of reprisal from the government. No one owes you a platform’.

But is this the standard of free speech that we want? That views which deviate from the norm can only be expressed in the privacy of the home? Is this a conducive way to conduct public debate? Is it a satisfactory right to speech? Might people not become further radicalised by being forced to express their views ‘underground’ where they face no challenge? Are the deplatformed offered opportunity for redemption? Since their bans are permanent, it would seem not. Tommy Robinson relocated to the Russian app, Telegram, Katie Hopkins to Parler, and Lineham, to Mumsnet. Now the views they advocate are expressed only to the converted, serving to entrench them further; is this the outcome we want?


READ: Is The BBC Biased: Should It Be Scrapped?


Count Dankula

In any case, it would appear the standard, that you can speak freely in your own home, is not entirely consistent. Take the case of Markus Meechan, aka ‘Count Dankula. Markus, who sports a Communist hammer and sickle tattoo, and sits in the online ‘skeptic’ community, taught his dog the Nazi salute, and to do so on hearing the term ‘gas the jews’. His stated reasoning was that he wanted to teach the dog to behave in the most foul and awful way possible, in order to upset his girlfriend, as a joke. Though this took place in his house, he uploaded a video of it to Youtube.

He was convicted in court, of inciting racial hatred, and fined £800.

So, this then begs further questions. Can you, for a joke, teach your dog to do odious acts so long as you don’t tell anybody about it?

Shappi Khorsandi of the Independent wrote at the time:

“…comedy is subjective. You can’t say something isn’t a joke just because you don’t find it funny.

This week I have found myself in the position of defending the rights of someone who comically and politically isn’t my cup of tea. Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula…”

Yet the courts disagreed, the intention of the joke, was they said, assumed, not decided by the joke teller. If context does not matter, then is the Independent’s Shappi as guilty as Meechan for repeating the phrase ‘gas the jews’? If the standard is consistent, she would be, as would I for asking the question. Clearly the standard is being applied selectively.

Who knows the answers?

Jordan Peterson faced near cancellation for a Vice interview, within which he questioned the mechanisms and rules which govern relationships between the genders in the workplace.

WATCH: The controversial Peterson interview

The very pursuit of the knowing of the rules, would seem to be enough to warrant ‘cancelling’, and this goes to the heart of the matter. Little Britain, Come Fly with Me, Gone with The Wind, Graham Lineham, Gavin Mcinnes, Edward Colston, Cecil Rhodes, Katei Hopkins, Julie Bindel, Uncle Ben’s Rice, Loreal, the term ‘master bedroom’ and even Dumbo have been met with censorship, outright cancellation or content warnings in recent times. Who is setting the rules, and how do we know what they are? Who is having their input heard, and who is not?

How can we learn what the rules are, without accidentally setting off a mine? Rebecca Long Bailey retweeted an Independent article, within which the actress Maxine Peake made an inaccurate claim about the Israeli security services. For this, she was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet. Was this right? Should it not have been incumbent on The Independent not to publish inaccurate information, rather on its audience for trusting it? Why is Maxine Peake facing little outrage after having (rightly) apologised, whereas Laurence Fox is facing an acting drought after having (rightly) apologised for his comments about Sikhs in WW1. Who is applying the standards, and why are they selective?

What is free speech, and is it dead in the UK?

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