Monday, 3 May 2010

An opportunity to make freedom of speech an election issue?

I've been reading the accounts (Telegraph and Mail) of the arrest of Dale McAlpine, a street preacher, in Workington. Mr McAlpine is just the latest in a string of street preachers in Britain to be approached by police for questioning about alleged homophobic remarks. If the story is as reported is is pretty worrying.

Tim Worstall comments
"I have a very strong feeling that the actual crime here is pissing off a policemen. And that might be an even greater problem than the restriction of free speech one. That we’re hiring people into the police force who have such thin skins, are not able to understand that what is illegal and what might hurt a policemen’s fragile ego are not the same thing, that’s a problem."
He may have a point. There has always been a problem of people with an agenda who like a police uniform because it gives them an opportunity to bully people who annoy them. And seven hours in police cells is not minor bullying - it's pretty serious.

But the real issue is freedom of speech, and the blatant abuse of the 1986 Public Order Act. In the context of the latest arrest, the remarks of Lord Dear, former Chief Constable of the West Midlands, speaking on the debate on the Waddington amendment last year, are very interesting.

“ . . . prior to the Waddington amendment, the police regularly received complaints from homosexual groups that exception was taken to remarks that homosexuality was deplored on religious grounds. The police were forced to act. They operated, as we have already heard alluded to, against a background of the Home Office’s guidance notes on how to handle hate crime under the Public Order Act 1986, to which the issue of sexual orientation was added by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.

"The so-called guidance notes in fact required rigid adherence. Any complaint of hate crime, by whomsoever made, even a bystander, had to be recorded as such and fully investigated. No exercise of discretion was countenanced. Accordingly, the police, and later the CPS, when faced with a complaint concerning remarks about sexual orientation, would follow the Home Office’s guidance notes, go through the whole procedure of interview, sometimes following arrest—fingerprinting, taking DNA samples, police bail, sometimes charge—even though pretty well everyone in the official process knew that there was little or no chance of a prosecution, much less a conviction, following.”

". . . With the Waddington amendment in place, the police are released from the virtual straitjacket imposed on them previously; they can exercise common sense and good judgment on the day; and they can police with the light touch which is so often sought and required by society.”

Hmmm. Common sense? Good judgment? Light touch? I don't think so.

There is, of course, another issue. The Conservative Party manifesto has sections (p79) entitled "Restore our civil liberties" and "Protect our freedoms". The Liberal Democrat manifesto says (p93) "Liberal Democrats will protect and restore your freedoms." Yet the leadership of both parties have, as far as I am aware, been totally silent on the police harassment of street preachers over the past 13 years.

I realise that they cannot comment specifically on this case, since Mr. McAlpine has been charged, and his case has not yet come to court. However, they have just been handed an opportunity to speak out about the erosion of freedom of speech under successive Labour governments. Somehow, I can't see them taking it. I suspect that they are scared that they'd be accused of being libertarians. Or something like that.

9 comments:

Albert said...

It is certainly saddening to see the gay community increasingly be the enemy of freedom. I expect that many gay people are unhappy about being branded as so intolerant, and wish the Government would stop enshrining the more bitter elements of the gay movement into law.

The worry for them ought to be (apart from the injustice of it) that by being associated with such injustice and undermining of basic freedoms, they will be the victims of the inevitable backlash.

As for putting your trust in the Tories, see this. They are so clueless. Do they not realise that huge numbers of people (often Labour voters) are fed up of being told how they will regard homosexual relationships?

Young Mr. Brown said...

Well, Albert, I'm sure you know that I am not about to put my trust in the Tories.

Young Mr. Brown said...

And by the way, the very fact that the Tories are speaking about a "contract for equalities" tells you all you need to know about them as a party. They are basically socialists.

Theresa May says "Make no mistake: the Conservative Party has changed." Exactly.

The only reason traditional conservatives have for voting Tory is to keep the other lot out.

Stuart said...

Cross-posted this one Young Mr Bear.

Let's face it, the three main centrist parties are all the same under the skin, and many have come to realise this.

This has led to my interest in Libertarianism, but I will say that this blog is the best of the bunch. I find the other Libertarian blogs quite vulgar and crude. I'm not sure why they feel they have to portray this image and it's a shame because it undermines a very important message.

Woops sorry that's a little off topic, just had to get it off my chest I think.

Caroline said...

I've just chanced across this blog - goodness me, you absolutely reflect my views entirely.

I've had a horrible week of the very worst kind of cyber-bullying, I've been accused of being a homophobe and all manner of both untrue and unpleasant things, simply for daring to suggest, that at the moment, the balance of power seems to be totally wrong, that one minority's rights seem to be more important than others.

My view on this case is identical, namely that it's more about offending a policeman than inciting any kind of hate and its interesting to note that even Peter Tatchell seems to be concerned.

Albert said...

by the way, the very fact that the Tories are speaking about a "contract for equalities" tells you all you need to know about them as a party. They are basically socialists.

Quite - but try convincing Patently of that.

The only reason traditional conservatives have for voting Tory is to keep the other lot out.

Exactly. Is it not telling that after all we have gone through with Labour and Brown, the Tories' polls are still so low? No one actually wants to vote for them either.

Caroline, sadly what you say confirms a truth the truth that there's none so illiberal as a liberal.

Young Mr. Brown said...

"but I will say that this blog is the best of the bunch.

Thank you, Stuart. That made my day!

:-)

With regard to politeness, libertarian blogs vary quite a bit. I don't know if there are any that are quite as polite as this one, but some, such as The Last Ditch and Samizdata, do pretty well.

Caroline,

Thanks for that. It's always a relief to find someone that agrees with one.

And good for Peter Tatchell. If he can say it, why won't Nick Clegg or David Cameron?

Albert,

I suspect Patently knows it in his heart of hearts.

"Is it not telling that after all we have gone through with Labour and Brown, the Tories' polls are still so low? No one actually wants to vote for them either."

I'm also intrigued by the low Tory polls. Is it because traditional Tory voters are disillusioned? I do wonder if the very low turnout in the last two General Elections is partly due to traditional Tory voters staying at home.

It seems to me that if they wanted to sent a clear message to the Tory leadership, they would be better advised to vote UKIP. And it seems that there are not many who are doing that.

At the risk of going off topic, it seems perverse to vote UKIP in European Elections but not in General Elections, since it is MPs rather than MEPs that have the power to take us out of the European Union.

Albert said...

YMB,

they would be better advised to vote UKIP. And it seems that there are not many who are doing that.

True, but the trouble is that not to vote Conservative allows the Liberals or Labour in, and their policies are so much worse. The local Liberal is in favour of euthanising for example, it seems vital to me to keep such a person out if possible.

The Conservatives ought to be ashamed of themselves that the best reasons to vote for them are negative ones - even now. Perhaps, as you hinted last week, it might be better if they didn't win on Thursday. That would be an argument in favour of voting UKIP. What a mess.

iorwerth said...

Couldn't agree more with Tim Worstall - the officer who declared himself a member of a gay pressure group will have a job in court to explain his impartial handling of the matter.
It is worth noting too that Peter Tatchell was quite scathing of the police handling of a similar incident in North-East England.
He ismissed the U.S. preacher in that case as a "petty ranter" and stated that police time would be better spent investigating violent homophobice crime. If a hardened gay rights campaigner can see sense, shouldn'tothers too?