LibLink: Nick Clegg: Free speech must not be the victim in fighting extremism

In this week’s Standard column, Nick Clegg looks at the controversy surrounding Donald Trump and Tyson Fury and questions the knee jerk reactions that call for them to be banned:

But there are always things in life which are unpleasant and offensive. Donald Trump is a dangerous loudmouth. Tyson Fury is a terrible role model. Germaine Greer is wrong on transgender rights.

Maybe it’s the instant, push-button, “something must be done” culture of the internet age. Adding your name to an online petition without a second’s thought is a gratifyingly rapid reflex to something that is irritating or outrageous in the news. It’s the digital equivalent of children stamping their feet in anger or frustration. My kids do it all the time.

But in the real world we can’t just wish away everything we don’t like. More importantly, banning stuff doesn’t mean it goes away — it just pops up somewhere else. Barring Trump from the UK is the political equivalent of playing Whack-a-Mole — he’ll just pop up somewhere else, twice as loud.

In a liberal society, offensive views should be challenged, not blocked. Bigots should be exposed and defeated in argument. Big-mouthed cretins should be ridiculed, not turned into martyrs (and certainly not elected president).

He then gave a bit of an insight into the arguments between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives:

The Lib-Dems saw the solution in free speech where extremist ideas are beaten and discredited in public debate; the Conservatives sought to restrict or ban extremists from the airwaves or the internet for saying divisive things. The Home Office proposed so-called “banning orders” for groups that fell short of the existing threshold for proscription under the Terrorism Act — giving the Government far greater freedom to ban groups it didn’t like — and Asbo-style powers to prevent people from saying “extreme” things.

Towards the end of last year the Home Office produced a draft Extremism Strategy, which included everything from banning orders to “fundamental British values” tests for foreigners applying for visas, to powers to allow the Government to pre-approve TV programmes for broadcast.

More recently, thankfully, the Government appears to have backed off from some of the more unworkable ideas but still wants to go ahead with the banning orders and Asbo-style powers.

He concludes that:

Free speech is the antidote, not the cause, of unpleasant opinions.

What do you think? Are there limits? If so, where and how do you draw the line?

You can read the whole article here.

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary published in print or online.

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2 Comments

  • Alan Hughes 19th Dec '15 - 5:23pm

    I was glad to find this link to the article. He has expressed well my concerns with increasingly illiberal times. This is one area which puts clear water between the liberals and the conservatives and labour. As an ex-labour voter, looking for a home, it is quite attractive.

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