Sick of woke censorship? You ain’t seen nothing yet

A Starmer Labour government will be a disaster for freedom of speech.

Toby Young

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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It certainly looks like Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is on course for a large majority at the General Election. What will this mean for free speech?

The Free Speech Union, which I founded in 2020, is a non-partisan organisation and will defend its members who get into trouble for exercising their right to free speech regardless of their political views, provided they stay within the law. I’m worried that a Labour government will bring in new laws that will criminalise vast swathes of speech that are currently legal. We anticipate fighting a number of test cases in which we challenge whether those laws are compatible with our existing laws, including the Human Rights Act.

For instance, Labour has promised in its manifesto to bring in a ‘trans inclusive’ conversion-therapy ban, something the FSU has long been campaigning against. Conversion therapy, commonly understood as a coercive attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, is already against the law in Britain. So what does Labour want to ban, exactly? The answer is any deviation from the ‘affirmative care’ approach to gender-confused adolescents. The FSU is concerned that if Labour passes this law, parents who challenge their children’s belief that they’re ‘born in the wrong body’ or try to talk their children out of having dangerous medical procedures could end up in jail. That’s a law we think may be incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to a family and private life, and Article 10, which protects the right to free speech.

Another source of concern is Labour’s proposed Race Equality Act. Announced earlier this year, the act will further institutionalise critical race theory and attempt to foist diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on to the workplace. As we’ve seen at the FSU, if you challenge the ideology underpinning DEI initiatives – by pointing out that the UK is one of the least racist countries in the world, for instance – you can find yourself out of a job. We anticipate being involved in lots of employment-tribunal cases involving people who’ve been fired for challenging woke diversity training.

I’m also worried about things Labour may do that were not flagged up in its manifesto. For instance, it could pass a Hate Crime and Public Order (England and Wales) Act that replicates the Scottish Hate Crime and Public Order Act south of the border. If that happens, we will set up a Free Speech Hotline in England and Wales, just as we’ve done in Scotland, so any member who has his or her collar felt for supposedly committing a speech-related ‘hate crime’ can be provided with top legal support.

There’s also a risk that Labour will criminalise ‘Islamophobia’ as defined by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims in 2018. According to the APPG definition, which the Labour Party has accepted, Islamophobia is a ‘type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’. This means that any criticism of the religion of Islam could be deemed ‘Islamophobic’. With his background as a former director of public prosecutions, Starmer may try to do this in a behind-the-scenes way, rather than through primary legislation. He could issue guidance to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as to the courts and tribunals, to broaden the definition of the ‘stirring up’ racial hatred offence under the Public Order Act 1986 to include ‘Islamophobia’.

Finally, I think there’s a real risk Labour will attack the freedom of the press, forcing newspapers and magazines to sign up to a state-controlled press regulator. Indeed, Starmer’s frontbenchers have consistently vowed to reinstate Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – abolished by the Tories in the Media Act 2024 – which would effectively push the press to sign up to a regulator. Publishers that don’t will have to pay the legal fees of anyone who sues them, even if the publisher wins. If Labour does do this, we will defend any newspaper or magazine that refuses to kowtow to de facto state regulation by appealing to Article 10 of the European Convention, among other things.

The bottom line is there’s a real risk that under a Labour government tens of thousands of people will find themselves in trouble for saying things that are perfectly legal at present. If you think we’ve become a society that won’t tolerate dissent from a narrow, ‘progressive’ ideology, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Over the next five years, we anticipate a surge in demand for the Free Speech Union’s services, with our legal department being particularly busy. You can donate to our new Free Speech Union Fighting Fund by clicking here. And if you know people who you think could get into trouble under a Labour government for exercising their right to free speech, please direct them towards the sign-up page here.

Toby Young is the general secretary of the Free Speech Union.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK


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