Free Speech Union – weekly newsletter

Dear Mike Buchanan,

Welcome to the FSU’s weekly newsletter, our round-up of the free speech news of the week. As with all our work, this newsletter depends on the support of our members and donors, so if you’re not already a paying member please sign up today or encourage a friend to join and help turn the tide against cancel culture. You can share our newsletters on social media with the buttons at the bottom of this email (although not if you’re reading this on a desktop). If someone has shared this newsletter with you and you’d like to join the FSU, you can find our website here.

Westminster Declaration delivered to PM, warns of growing censorship

FSU General Secretary Toby Young has joined over 100 journalists, historians and academics in signing the Westminster Declaration, a statement delivered to the PM, warning that attempts by social networks, government officials, universities and NGOs to label protected speech as mis-, dis-, or mal-information – and to persuade social media platforms to remove it – are having a chilling effect on free speech (NY Post, Telegraph, Times).

Figures from all sides of the political spectrum, including the biologist Richard Dawkins, historian Robert Tombs, comedian John Cleese, author Jordan Peterson and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, raised concerns over the “censorship of ordinary people, journalists and dissidents” in a statement delivered to the Prime Minister.

The Westminster Declaration Says:

We are all deeply concerned about attempts to label protected speech as ‘misinformation’, ‘disinformation’, and other ill-defined terms.

What’s more, time and time again, unpopular opinions and ideas have eventually become conventional wisdom. Free speech is our best defence against disinformation.

By labelling certain political or scientific positions as ‘misinformation’ or ‘mal-information’, our societies risk getting stuck in false paradigms that will rob humanity of hard-earned knowledge and obliterate the possibility of gaining new knowledge.

The signatories expressed alarm over the widespread use of such terms, adding: “We do not want our children to grow up in a world where they live in fear of speaking their minds.”

During the Covid lockdowns, journalists Julia Hartley-Brewer and Peter Hitchens, as well as our own General Secretary – all of whom have signed the Declaration – were flagged for Covid disinformation by a shadowy government unit which operates out of Whitehall.

The Counter Disinformation Unit worked with intelligence agencies to monitor the online posts of journalists and members of the British public.

Ms Hartley-Brewer was ‘flagged’ over a conversation about vaccine passports, while Mr Hitchens raised alarm bells when he shared an article suggesting the data used to justify the lockdown policy were incomplete.

The Westminster Declaration also raises concerns about other measures that threaten free speech, including the Online Safety Bill.

You can read the Declaration – its signatories include the heads of FSU Australia, FSU New Zealand and FSU South Africa – by clicking here.

FSU General Secretary to give Contrarian Prize lecture!

Toby will be delivering the Contrarian Prize lecture at Bayes Business School on Wednesday 1st November. In his lecture, entitled ‘Freedom of Speech and Censorship: Examining the Tensions between open discourse and harmful content’, he will argue that efforts to suppress misinformation, disinformation and ‘hate speech’ nearly always backfire and undermine democratic discourse.

Responding to the lecture will be Dr Mark Honigsbaum, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at City, University of London, and Jemima Kelly, columnist at the Financial Times. The event will be chaired by Cindy Yu, Assistant Editor of the Spectator.

This is a public conversation, so there will be plenty of time for audience questions to really engage in a meaningful dialogue. Attendance is free but requires registration, so if you’d like to attend please click here to find out more.

The FSU’s first South West Speakeasy – tickets now available!

We are delighted to announce the details of our first Regional Speakeasy in the South West of England. FSU members and the wider public are invited to gather for a debate and a drink in Exeter on Wednesday 29th November. You can get your tickets here.

Our speakers will be Professor Doug Stokes of the University of Exeter and Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, the director of campaign group Don’t Divide Us. They will discuss what the campaign to ‘decolonise’ really means and consider its implications for truth-seeking, equality and freedom of expression.

We do hope that large numbers of members will be able to get to Exeter for this evening event, which will include a stimulating discussion and the chance to meet other free speech enthusiasts from the region. There will be a pay bar at the venue.

P.S. Members in the Cambridge area are invited to attend a gathering on Thursday 16th November of the Free Speech Cambridge group, where the special guest will be author and campaigner Laura Dodsworth. Tickets are free, but you must reserve a spot here.

Re-platformed Education and Indoctrination event video now available!

You can watch Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert in action at Uncancelled: Indoctrination or Education, our most recent, in-person event at The October Gallery in central London on our YouTube channel by clicking here (and don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there).

The FSU was delighted to be able to re-platform Dr Sehgal Cuthbert following her shocking cancellation from an education conference three weeks ago.

Two days before the event Dr Sehgal Cuthbert was notified by the organisers that a handful of delegates had expressed concerns that their ‘psychological safety’ would be undermined by being in her presence. Apparently, this was due to the campaigning work of her organisation Don’t Divide Us, which researches and challenges the divisive effect of identity politics in education and other policy fields.

We were delighted that all four panellists from the cancelled debate took part at our joint event with DDU on Monday, including the three who withdrew from the conference in solidarity with Dr Sehgal Cuthbert. The FSU wrote to the organiser, who subsequently apologised to Alka, and our event was then advertised to delegates who were denied the opportunity to take part first time around.

Can words really hurt? Tickets for our Edinburgh Speakeasy available now!

Join us on Wednesday October 25th from 7:30pm in Edinburgh for the FSU’s next Speakeasy, where we’ll be discussing the threat posed to free speech by growing attempts to police ‘hate’.

Our expert panel includes Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, Prof Holly Lawford-Smith, the editor of Scottish Legal News, Kapil Summan, and Lecturer in Public Law at the University of Glasgow, Dr Michael Foran.

The panel definitely won’t be short of things to talk about.

Almost three years after receiving royal assent, Scotland’s controversial Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – which FSU Scottish Advisory Council member Jamie Gillies describes as an “authoritarian mess” – is due to be activated in 2024.

It was reported recently that Police Scotland is setting up a special unit to deal with the new hate crimes that are now codified in law and training is underway.

Widespread concern about the chilling effect on free speech of this legislation was one of the reasons the FSU set up a dedicated Scottish office in 2021.

In-person tickets are still available but please book now to avoid disappointment.

Kevin Spacey “deeply moved” by standing ovation after FSU Director’s intervention!

The actor and former artistic director at The Old Vic, Kevin Spacey, was given a standing ovation by an audience in Oxford as he performed a scene from Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens on stage for the first time since being cleared of sexual assault. This was the finale of a lecture about Sir Roger Scruton given by FSU Director Douglas Murray (iNews, GB News, Guardian, Mail, Times).

The 64-year-old was said to be “deeply moved” to be returning to the stage in the UK, days after a West End cinema cancelled its offer to host the premiere of a British film when it found out it featured the House of Cards actor.

Mr Spacey has now been cleared of all the sexual-assault charges levelled against him not just once, but twice, on two separate occasions, and in two different jurisdictions. He also won a civil case in the United States, where the bar for finding someone guilty is significantly lower.

As part of a planned return to acting following his near six-year ordeal, the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End was supposed to host the first viewing of Control, in which Spacey provides the voice of a kidnapper who hijacks the Home Secretary’s self-driving car. But last week, a month before the film was due to premier, the Prince Charles Cinema, decided to pull out.

Greg Lynn, who runs the cinema, wrote in an email to the film’s production company that cinema staff were “horrified that [they] were being mentioned in the same breath as [Spacey’s] new film for the premiere”.

“Th’unkindest beast more kinder than mankind,” as the forest dwelling Timon of Athens – a victim of cancel culture’s equivalent in fifth century BC – would no doubt ruefully have reflected.

And yet not quite, because thanks to Douglas Murray, Mr Spacey has now been able to return to the stage in the UK. During Douglas’s lecture at the University of Oxford on Monday, in which he recounted the cancellation of Sir Roger Scruton in the last year of his life and Douglas’s successful campaign to un-cancel him, the American Beauty actor delivered a five-minute scene from Shakespeare’s rarely performed satire on wealth, greed and betrayal (you can watch his performance here).

It was, as Douglas pointed out in his accompanying lecture on our age of cancellation and defenestration, a fitting choice in the circumstances. “Timon has the whole world before him,” he said. “He is surrounded by friends and admirers. He is generous to all. Yet he falls on hard times and when he does absolutely everybody deserts him. He is left with nothing and nobody, and risks being filled with despair and rage.”

Speaking about his decision to invite Spacey to perform, the conservative columnist and bestselling author told The Times: “It’s about what happens when a society drops a person for no reason. It’s something that has been on Kevin’s mind, as it was on Roger Scruton’s mind, so I said I want him to be back on stage in the UK.”

Scruton, who died in 2020 aged 75, was sacked as a government advisor after a New Statesman journalist lied about what he’d said to him in an interview in an effort to paint him as a racist. The magazine later apologised for misquoting him and Scruton was reinstated as an adviser.

Latest episode of the FSU’s weekly podcast is out now!

This week, hosts Tom and Ben are joined by Dr Jan Macvarish, the FSU’s Education and Events Director. October is always jam-packed with events, so they take the opportunity to hear Jan’s perspective on the role that events play in the life of the FSU and the meaningful difference they make to our members. During the second half of the discussion, they come back to the difficult and tragic events unfolding in the Middle East and explore some of the themes raised by the statement released by our General Secretary last week.

The link to download the episode is available in full here.

Lloyds Bank offers ‘counselling’ to 30,000 staff who may have been ‘triggered’ by Rishi Sunak saying “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman”

Lloyds Bank HR Director, Sarah Underhill, has written to 30,000 staff offering them counselling if they were triggered by the “appalling” rhetoric heard at the Tory Party conference that “targeted the trans and non-binary community” (Guido, Mail).

The conference that so upset Ms Underhill (pronouns: She/Her) saw trade minister Kemi Badenoch state that she would “not apologise for fighting for a society that knows what a woman is”, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared to suggest that trans activists were “bullying” people into agreeing with their views.

He told the conference in his keynote speech: “[NHS] patients should know when hospitals are talking about men or women, and we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t. A man is a man, and a woman is a woman – that’s just common sense.”

Following the event, Ms Underhill wrote in an email to employees:

Like many of you, I was appalled to hear the rhetoric coming from the Conservative Party Conference this week, targeting the trans and non-binary community.

Hearing language that fuels hate and division is shocking. To all our trans and non-binary colleagues, please know that at Lloyds Banking Group you are not alone. You are valued. You are welcome here.

Support is available via our LGBTQ Mental Health Advocates and through the private medical healthcare available via BUPA. You can also contact Mind Out, our LGBTQ mental health partners.

Ms Underhill will no doubt be delighted to learn that former Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage is to move his banking arrangements to Lloyds (Sky News). Earlier this year, the politician turned broadcaster had his long-standing account with Coutts closed after an internal risk committee determined that his views on Brexit, migration, LGBT rights and Net Zero “did not align” with the bank’s “values” (Telegraph).

Also this year, former Brexit Party MEP Henrik Overgaard Nielsen was informed his account with MetroBank would be terminated, while Baroness Claire Fox – a former Brexit Party MEP – also revealed that she had suffered the same experience, and suspected political motivation.

Elsewhere in the sector, Barclays Bank was recently forced to pay over £20,000 compensation to the Christian organisation Core Issues Trust after it closed its accounts due to pressure from LGBTQ+ groups.

Back in July, Rev Richard Fothergill, a Church of England vicar and member of the FSU, was told by the Yorkshire Building Society that it would be closing his account after he responded to a request for feedback to complain about the bank’s promotion of Pride and what he considered a morally suspect trans agenda.

Following concern that the progressive values held, and so militantly expressed, by senior banking executives like Ms Underhill might be contributing to the slow creep of politically-motivated de-banking, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt recently asked the financial services watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to undertake a ‘de-banking’ review.

FCA officials then proceeded to ask banks if they were guilty of any wrongdoing, and, if they were, to please, if it wasn’t too much trouble, offer up any incriminating evidence that they might have on themselves so that they could receive lots of negative media attention and get into all sorts of regulatory trouble (Telegraph).

Having completed this hard-nosed, methodologically rigorous review, the regulator concluded that information supplied by banks suggested there was no evidence of a firm closing an account “primarily because of a customer’s political views” (Mail).

Battle of Ideas Festival – discount tickets available for FSU members!

All the big issues in our fast-moving times will be up for debate at the Battle of Ideas Festival on Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th October in London, including the FSU Session Online Censorship: An International Clampdown? featuring Toby Young, Konstantin Kisin, Silkie Carlo, Norman Lewis and Thomas Fazi. Discount tickets are available using this link. Many of the panel are signatories to the Westminster Declaration (see above).

Christmas Comedy Benefit – tickets now available!

Our annual Comedy Benefit will take place just before Christmas on Wednesday 20th December. Our MC for the evening is FSU favourite Dominic Frisby and he will be joined on stage by a fantastic line-up: Francis Foster, Daniel O’Reilly, Tania Edwards and Alistair Williams. Come and let your hair down with the FSU staff as we celebrate another successful year defending free speech. Tickets here.

Kind regards,

Freddie Attenborough

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