The Liberal Democrat party’s foreign affairs spokesgoblin, Velma from Scooby-Doo — or ‘Layla Moran’ as she is known to close friends and family —has decided that freedom of speech on university campuses is of absolutely no consequence. Indeed, she described the government’s initiative to preserve the rights of students to hear a diverse range of opinions as ‘divisive’ and quite unnecessary, while she was appearing on one of those BBC Question Time editions that nobody watches any more. Velma presumably thoroughly approved of her own party’s subsequent decision to remove the tweeted clip of her spouting this bilge so that the public couldn’t hear it. If you are opposed to freedom of speech it is important to be consistent on the issue, and so if one’s own freedom of speech is repressed one should rejoice rather than cavil.
Velma’s views seem to accord with those of Nadia Whittome, the Labour MP for Nottingham East — the youngest of our parliamentarians at 24 years old and with a mental age of approximately seven and a half months. In July, Whittome explained that talking about things was a gateway to hatred. She said: ‘We must not fetishise “debate” as though debate is itself an innocuous, neutral act. The very act of debate in these cases is an effective rollback of assumed equality and a foot in the door for doubt and hatred.’ Whittome was on this occasion referring specifically to the righteous fight for trans emancipation — an obsession undoubtedly shared by her 60,000 constituents who habitually refer to what we once called ‘women’ as ‘menstruators’ and are anxious to ensure that men in wigs are allowed access to women’s toilets, prisons, sporting events, etc. That is, after all, why they turned up at the polling station and voted for her. If this is not the case, perhaps they could review their bizarre decision in 2024.
Most frequently, the reason given for opposing freedom of speech, either on university campuses or in public life, is that it can ‘hurt’ vulnerable minority groups, such as men in wigs. This is implicit in the constant assertions that some students will not feel ‘safe’ if somebody turns up one evening and says something with which they might disagree. But this is a deception and should be recognised as such. The real reason the likes of Velma and Whittome do not respect freedom of speech and debate is that when exposed to scrutiny their worldview subsides into nothingness, like a house built with butterscotch–flavour Angel Delight, rather than with bricks and mortar. The patent idiocies of their non-sequitur shibboleths — ‘white privilege’, ‘structural racism’, ‘gender pay gap’ and the notion that gender differences are (in the case of trans people) a social construct or, in the case of gays and lesbians, ‘hard-wired’, do not stand up to even the gentlest of scrutiny and many — such as the last — are actually paradoxical. They are absurdities, easily swatted away with logic.
However, if you do this, the lefties will reach deep into their grab-bag of terms which they have invented to close down argument and you will be accused of the aforementioned ‘white privilege’, or of bully-ing, mansplaining or gaslighting. The facts and logic of your argument are not being challenged: your opponent is playing the man, not the ball, with recourse to meaningless nonce words or phrases. Increasingly it seems to me that bullying, mansplaining and gaslighting are all simply a case of somebody telling somebody something which they need to hear but which, for reasons of stupidity, they are reluctant to hear. Properly speaking, bullying should mean getting your head kicked in on a daily basis by someone who doesn’t like the look of you. It does not mean a white, male, public-school-educated civil servant being upbraided for his uselessness or obstructiveness by a diminutive BAME female secretary of state. Nor should it refer to the CEO of a company telling his highly paid employees that during this pandemic they should man up a bit and stop whining.
The broadcaster Piers Morgan was accused of ‘bullying’ this week. A freelancer who had worked for him was disparaging on social media about his experience. Morgan responded by suggesting he was as much use as a ‘lobotomised aardvark’. More than 1,000 TV freelancers wrote to Morgan’s employers denouncing his bullying of this chap. It isn’t bullying, by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply a riposte — and probably well-deserved. Mansplaining, meanwhile, is the act of a man explaining something to a woman. It is something we are not allowed to do any more. We should just let them get on with it.
And white privilege? I was once accused of this most modern of evils by that political colossus David Lammy MP. I had written an article suggesting that a contributory factor in violent behaviour of some young black kids in London — all those stabbings — might be that so few of them had a father living at home with them. This was, according to Lammy, the very apogee of white privilege. Imagine, as a former comprehensive school kid from the north-east of England, how it felt to be called out for my privilege by a Harvard-educated former government minister. I wept for weeks after. Imagine still more my surprise when I discovered that a couple of years earlier Lammy had made exactly the same connection between absent fathers and the epidemic of stabbings among London’s young black community.
This is the perfect example of my whole point: it is not the facts that were at issue, for Lammy agreed with them. The facts were beside the point. It was that a political opponent had said them. Playing the man, not the ball. Mind you, I do wonder — a little, a little — how the hell the bloke got into Harvard, given some of his recent pronouncements.
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