A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph:
Ministers will fine universities which stifle freedom of speech and tell heritage groups “public funds must never be used for political purposes” in a major new bid to torpedo efforts at rewriting Britain’s history, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
Gavin Williamson, the Education secretary, will announce this week that a ‘Free Speech Champion’ will be given powers to defend free speech and academic freedom on campuses.
Colleges or student bodies that try to cancel, dismiss or demote people over their views will be sanctioned in a major Government escalation on the ‘war on woke’.
Separately, Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has summoned 25 of the UK’s biggest heritage bodies and charities to a summit next week where they will be told “to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down”.
The Government’s twin assault on the so-called ‘cancel culture’ comes amid concern at senior levels in the Government over attempts to rewrite Britain’s past.
In a further assault on alleged wing bias, the Government has tasked the new head of Ofcom with ensuring broadcasters report with “due impartiality”, according to an advert for the role seen by this newspaper.
It comes as MPs today accused broadcasters like the BBC and Channel 4 of trying to “appeal to a narrow band of north London metropolitan virtue signalling politically correct lefties.”
Last night Sir John Hayes, the chairman of the Common Sense Group, welcomed the measures by the Government to tackle so-called ‘cancel culture’.
He said: “It is absolutely right that the Government steps in to defend free speech. Without the ability to speak freely soon we will not have the ability to think freely.”
He added that while “universities ought to be places where ideas are to be a fulcrum for devising and testing ideas to be places of imaginings”, debate was being closed down to new ideas by “the thought police”.
Mr Dowden was right to remind “organisations that have strayed from their purpose that protecting and promoting our heritage is about making people proud, not making them feel guilty about being British”, he said.
Mr Williamson will announce on Tuesday that new measures to strengthen the existing legal protections for free speech in higher education, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose.
Changes to the law will ensure student unions, as well as universities, are subject to the duties to promote free speech.
A new ‘Free Speech Champion’ will be set up to work from the Office for Students, the student regulator.
They will be given powers to champion free speech and academic freedom, impose fines on providers or student unions that restrict speech unlawfully and order redress if individuals have been dismissed or demoted for their views.
A source told The Telegraph: “Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open, inquiring mind.
“Unacceptable silencing and censoring on campuses is having a chilling effect and that is why we must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached.”
Separately, Mr Dowden and Heritage minister Nigel Huddleston have asked 25 of the UK’s biggest heritage charities, museums and art galleries to a round table meeting in Whitehall on Tuesday next week where they will be told to stop trying to “airbrush” history.
Attendees will include the leaders of the National Trust, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, the National History Museum, the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum will be told to put into practice the Government’s “retain and explain” towards heritage.
Mr Dowden stepped in after The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that £150,000 of public and lottery money had been used to pay for a ‘Colonial Countryside’ review of the links between the National Trust and historic slavery.
In a letter to the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs, Mr Dowden said: “Whilst I agree that we should use heritage to educate people about Britain’s rich and complex history, this work should never be driven by ideology.”
Further bids for public money to cover the cost of the Colonial Countryside project would be turned down. “I have been consistently clear that public funds must never be used for political purposes,” he said.
Mr Dowden is also concerned after Historic England – the Government’s official “adviser on the historic environment” – branded villages as “part of the transatlantic slavery economy” in a review of halls, churches and pubs.
Mr Dowden has now ordered his civil servants to work with Historic England to ensure that it understands the Government’s “retain and explain” approach to contested history.
Mr Dowden said in the letter, seen by The Sunday Telegraph: “Proud and confident nations face their past squarely; they do not seek to run from or airbrush the history upon which they are founded.
“History is ridden with moral complexity and interpreting Britain’s past should not be an excuse to tell an overly-simplistic version of our national story, in which we damn the faults of previous generations whilst forgetting their many great achievements.Purging uncomfortable elements of our past does nothing but damage our understanding of it.”
A department source said: “Oliver Dowden is a Culture Secretary who isn’t afraid to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down.”
A spokesman for Historic England said: “As the Government’s adviser on the historic environment, we continue to work closely with them on the ‘retain and explain’ approach to heritage that has become contested.
“We have been working on the subject of contested heritage for some time – we believe that removing difficult or contentious parts of the historic environment damages our understanding of our collective past.” The National Trust was approached for comment.
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