The Independent London Newspaper
22nd February 2017

ILLTYD HARRINGTON: Criticism gets less, people are scared

    Film director Ken Loach

    Film director Ken Loach accused the BBC of being scared of the government

    Published: 30 June, 2015
    by ILLTYD HARRINGTON

    AMERICANS are free to buy high-velocity guns and use them, often in urban massacres. This right for every midnight cowboy is established in the US Constitution, the right to bear arms. 

    Even sophisticated New Yorkers love going upstate and coming back with a dead moose strapped to the car roof, to display their alpha male credentials in urban Manhattan.

    But how much freedom should we allow? 

    In Trigger Warning, Mick Hume, editor of the online magazine Spiked, is sounding an alarm to the self-righteous, with some uncomfortable questions as to where the call to intolerance is coming from. 

    The word “ban” is coming out of mouths that generally call out “freedom”. Some of the most deadly instances of this come from the left in academia, which should accept difference.

    Ken Loach, in a scintillating TV interview, accused the BBC of high anxiety, scared of annoying the government, particularly when the question of licence fee reform is under review. 

    Elsewhere there is the dead hand of the hidden state, always ready to claim impartiality (though that does not stand up to much examination). They think that the laws of libel and slander are safeguards of freedom but more often nowadays they are used for threatening. 

    Many journalists are finding themselves in the High Court against what Lord Denning called robust opposition. Criticism gets less. People are scared. 

    Our rulers might claim their allegiance with Voltaire’s great dictum: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But, they always add, “there are limits”. 

    Indeed, parliamentarians are all graduates in the school of deference. There is no time in their hallowed surroundings for anger or contempt. Whatever has happened to wit, irony or sarcasm? It has all been swept up into a chocolate box – sweet, cloying, but ineffective. Everyone agrees not to disturb the peace.

    As in the current London theatre, no one moves or heckles in spite of appalling performances or content. 

    It got so bad during the last election that party leaders only appeared in front of selected groups. 

    Politics has lost its colour. In the 18th-century parliament, the obnoxious Earl of Sandwich yelled at John Wilkes: “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or the pox.” To which Wilkes, the great libertarian, snapped back: “That depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.” 

    That would have been unacceptable in the restraints of a modern House of Commons and yet these are momentous times. 

    Can you believe that Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions chose The Sunday Times brazenly to justify their second attack on the welfare state? Few families on basic benefits, I feel, can afford £2.50 for The Sunday Times to read of their grey future. 

    The march against austerity was resounding, but it is going to take a little more. Remember, Tony Blair held the marchers against the Iraqi War in contempt. 

    The will of the people is being pushed into the background slowly and steadily. Tolerance is regarded as intolerance. 

    It is time for people to realise their strength and accept that their birthright is being stolen, piece by piece. It seems to have escaped some people that we have had a Bill of Rights since 1688 but we live in a country where the Court of Human Rights is under daily attack. There is a moral in there somewhere.

    Trigger Warning: Is the Fear of Being Offensive Killing Free Speech? by Mick Hume is published by William Collins at £12.99.