“Britain is a liberal and progressive utopia – and the authorities will arrest anyone who disagrees.”
So writes Melanie Phillips in a “thought crime special” edition of the Spectator magazine, published this weekend.
Concerns about the policing of opinion are shared in the magazine by the homosexual journalist, Matthew Parris, and the Sikh comedian, Hardeep Singh Kohli.
Melanie Phillips, who describes herself as an ‘observant agnostic’, writes that “the intellectual trend in Britain is a remorseless slide towards a dark age of intolerance, reverting to a reason suppressing, heresy-hunting culture in which certain opinions are being turned into thought crimes.
“Astoundingly, people are being arrested by the police – even if the case against them eventually falls – because of what they have said. They are not inciting violence or any criminal activity. They are merely expressing a point of view. Yet for that they may find the police feeling their collars.”
She refers to the case of Dale Mcalpine, a Christian street preacher who was arrested, held in police cells and charged with a crime because he believes that homosexual conduct is a “sin”. The costs of his legal defence was financed by The Christian Institute.
Dramatic video footage shows the moment he was arrested, captured on a hidden camera. It shows police ignoring his calm pleas for officers to consider his free speech rights.
EXCLUSIVE: Arrest caught on camera
She also refers to Robin Page, chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust, who took five years to clear his name after being arrested for remarks made against political correctness in 2002.
He was arrested for saying: “If you are a black vegetarian Muslim asylum-seeking one-legged lesbian lorry driver, I want the same rights as you.”
Melanie Phillips says freedom to disagree is a precious gift passed on to us from previous generations. But she says it “is now in eclipse. The intelligentsia – the supposed custodians of reason and intellectual freedom – has turned itself into a inquisition, complete with an index of prohibited ideas.”
She concludes that “progressives feel justified in trying to stifle all dissent. Never engaging with the actual argument, they instead use gratuitous abuse to turn their opponents into pariahs (while they themselves, failing to grasp the point about evidence, characterise all reasoned arguments against them as ‘insults’)”.
Matthew Parris says Tony Blair’s ‘Respect agenda’ sparked the problem. “The implications of the ‘Respect agenda’ for free speech,” he writes, “are perilous and subterranean.” He criticises thought crime laws “which ‘send a message’ and chill the climate”.
Passion and intensity
He points out that Voltaire – whose thinking is summed up in the principle “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – may have fallen foul of Britain’s thought crime laws, such was the impertinence contained in much of his writings.
Matthew Parris remarks that “without intensity and passion, few great political or philosophical causes ever prevail.” He concludes that the open expression of words that may cause deep offence to others are “more often a part of our liberty than a threat to our liberty”.
The Sikh comedian, Hardeep Singh Kohli, recalls growing up in Glasgow being called a “Paki” (despite his turban) and being chased by yobs.
He writes: “In later years I was grateful for the rise in political correctness and the protection from racist and vicious language it affords. But now even I get the sneaking suspicion that things have gone too far”.
He is concerned about people censoring themselves out of fear of breaching political correctness. “You can witness this kind of peculiar self-censoring across the length and breadth of the country, evidence that political correctness, far from assisting us, is creating confusion.
“What began as an attempt to control offensive language seems to have become a weapon to control thought.”