The story so far.
After Toby Young got cancelled for cultural crimes four years ago, he set up the Free Speech Union to help others threatened by cancellation. The project prospered, it took on staff. Young expanded his activities into the Covid information wars via another start-up, the Daily Sceptic. Then, abruptly, Paypal cancelled him and them. A third of Young’s organisations’ revenues were processed by Paypal and the services was switched off with little notice and less explanation.
It was the first sign that Britain was going down the same path as the US where big tech companies are adopting political positions and regulating the speech of their customers, keeping them within official limits.
There was a row. MPs and peers rallied. They understand. They are classed by banks as Politically Exposed Persons and have their own difficulties with bank accounts and financial services. Enough pressure was brought to bear on Paypal – a notoriously difficult company to engage with through normal channels – and after a week, in late September, the accounts were restored.
Now read on…
New Clause 15 in the Markets and Competition Bill set the hearts racing of all freedom-loving, free speech enthusiasts. In this afternoon’s Public Bill session, Sally-Ann Hart made the case for her Amendment that would make it illegal for payment providers like PayPal to suspend the bank accounts of organisations whose views they find disagreeable.
The Free Speech Union founded by Toby Young, along with his Daily Sceptic site has enjoyed fame, some fortune, and a record of victories for people bullied out of their jobs by cancellation fanatics. In some quarters, he enjoys a senior position in the political demonology of Britain. His defence of biological reality, or his arguing the case for not locking down the British economy were particularly unforgivable. PayPal, taking upon itself the role of moral and political arbiter, closed his accounts. The disruption to a small but influential organisation was existential.
Tory MP Sally-Ann Hart has proposed an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill that would make it illegal for a financial provider to deny service on political grounds.
In a statement on Twitter Sally-Ann cited PayPal’s recent closing of the Free Speech Union’s account as motivation for her move, adding “This is not party political; we must protect everyone’s right to free speech”. Elon would be proud.
The Free Speech Union welcomed the move and joined Hart’s call for the government to support the amendment. Toby Young, General Secretary of the organisation, said:
“Every MP who’s concerned about the emergence of a Chinese-style social credit system in the U.K. should support this amendment. British people should not be denied access to essential financial services because some liberal authoritarian in California disapproves of their political views. It’s cancel culture at its worst.”
If recent government action on the Online Safety Bill is anything to go by, they might be in luck…
The Free Speech Union has written to Matthew Rycroft, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to complain about a directive to Home Office staff to include their pronouns in their email signatures. They are concerned that this instruction, which appears to be mandatory, is a form of compelled speech that violates the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to free speech (Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights). They also argue it is a breach of the Equality Act.
Staff in the Visa, Status and Information Services department have been instructed to format their email signatures to include their pronouns on their email signatures:
[Name of unit] | Visa, Status and Information Services
Customer Services Group | UK Visas and Immigration
Address/office location [on one line – e.g. Level 3, Foundry House, Sheffield]
T: +44 (0)XX XXXX XXXX
M: +44 (0)XX XXXX XXXX
OUR VSI Our People Our Operations Our Customers
This is they have been told because of “the wider cultural changes” taking shape in the department. The Free Speech Union is asking the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary to ensure that no employee is penalised for refusing to include their pronouns in their email signatures and to make it clear to civil servants that stating pronouns on email signatures is not, and must not become, mandatory. They are hopeful of success because Matthew Rycroft has not included his pronouns on his official uk.gov biography…
The Court of Appeal has just ruled a landmark judgement that the recording of non-crime hate incidents is an unlawful interference with freedom of expression. The court explicitly says that such matters being recorded and stored in police databases is likely to have a serious “chilling effect” on public debate. Astonishing: some common sense…
The case was sparked by ex-police officer Harry Miller receiving complaints over allegedly “transphobic” tweets, leading to a visit by a Humberside police officer in January 2019 who recorded it as a “hate incident”. While the High Court last year ruled that the police force’s actions were a “disproportionate interference” with Miller’s right to freedom of expression, his challenge to the College of Police’s guidance was dismissed, with the court finding it “serves legitimate purposes and is not disproportionate”.
Today’s victory should be welcome to all who believe in the right to free speech both on and offline. Welcoming the judgment, Toby Young said:
“The Free Speech Union is proud to have played a part in winning this landmark victory, but the lion’s share of the credit must go to Harry Miller. Thanks to his courage and tenacity, we can all rest a little easier in our beds tonight, knowing the police are not about to knock on our doors because we’ve made an inappropriate joke on Twitter. They should be policing our streets, not our tweets.”
Merry Christmas one and all…
An article in this week’s New Statesman (“In the Post-Corbyn World, What Next for Alternative Left Media?“) spurred Guido to do some research into their traffic and how they are performing generally. The short answer is not very well in terms of raw audience size. In comparison to right-of-centre political news and opinion sites they are well behind. Like-for-like The Spectator has double the New Statesman’s readership. To give you an idea how much worse they are faring after the Corbyn-era glory days, consider this, Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic alone had last month more online readers than the New Statesman, Novara Media and Morning Star combined!
Even the upstart newly launched GB News website has more traffic than most left-wing websites and those same websites say GB News is failing. The question that needs answering is why are right-of-centre news and views outlets out-performing – in terms of audience reach – left-of-centre news and views websites? Some of them will argue that we’re looking in the wrong place – the audience is not just on their website. The Canary and Skwawkbox generate engagement on Facebook which outstrips their own native website audience by a multiple. Novara Media’s videos and podcasts are apparently seen by far more viewers and listeners than will read their articles. Owen Jones has his own lucrative YouTube channel. Of course GB News has a television channel so can’t be compared like-for-like, it also has an active online video audience, as do the Spectator and Unherd. They match the left for reach, similarly they tend to preach to the converted. The only place where the left-wing media seems dominant is on social media, Twitter in particular.
Is the left’s supposed dominance of Twitter entirely true? The left are are certainly more active on Twitter, in terms of followers however @GuidoFawkes has more than any of the left-wing politics sites. Academic research suggests that left-wing Twitter is more active and that activity is mainly preaching to the converted and engaging with other left-wingers. The left is more active on Twitter undoubtedly and it gives the micro-blogging site a hostile atmosphere for right-of-centre users, however election after election shows that, in the words of David Cameron, “Britain is not Twitter”. As the SNP’s Cyber-Nats demonstrate all too loudly, ferocious activity is not evidence of numbers.
Is it money? The New Statesman is backed by Mike Danson, a billionaire willing to bankroll the millions in annual losses of the magazine without flinching. Novara Media got funding from a foundation backed by millionaire philanthropists, Tribune Magazine has the backing of an American publisher. The healthy tradition on the left of funding publications from readers’ donations means Novara Media and Owen Jones have six-figure revenues and paid staff, on the right only Toby Young’s Daily Sceptic is funded likewise. The Spectator and Guido Fawkes are profit-making commercially competitive media enterprises that stand on their own two feet, they are also read in droves by left-of-centre readers who don’t share their editorial line for the news, gossip and entertainment, whereas few right-of-centre readers would enjoy reading the dreary ideological output of most left-wing publications. Funding isn’t the problem.
Perhaps the answer is simply that the likes of the Guardian, Daily Mirror, Buzzfeed News, Huffington Post and the BBC provide most left-of-centre news consumers with satisfactory confirmation of their prejudices such that they just don’t have to venture out to the alt-left for content that appeals. Is it just that in the wider media context it is harder for the alt-left to appeal beyond an ideological core readership?