Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Hate?
Describing Islam as “evil”, a culture which “does not fit with ours”, Anne Marie Waters is labelled by some commentators as a figure of hate and divisiveness. Having had unsuccessful political stints in both Labour and then UKIP – with then-leader Paul Nuttall dismissing her comments as “way above and beyond the party policy” – Waters has now opted to form her own party along nationalist lines with the support of fellow disillusioned Eurosceptics, naming it ‘For Britain’.
For Britain labels itself as sitting on “neither … the Left nor the Right”, but rather representing that “forgotten majority” that voted to leave the EU. Rather more damning is Henry Bolton’s comments, which labels Anne Marie and her followers as “Nazis and racists”; comments later supported by Nigel Farage. Whilst implicitly denied through its constitution, with clauses on how all races should be treated equally under the law, the fact remains Waters has come out in backing the far-right Tommy Robinson.
However, the purpose of this article is not a detailed examination of Waters’ views, nor her supporters’. It is intended to present the arguments for whether she should be granted the right to speak to students on campuses across the country.
There is no easy answer to this question, with compelling arguments both ways. I imagine – and I would like to clarify this – there are not many at Warwick in favour of her views; I myself find it challenging to find any party-specific agreement with her at all. That is not the point, however. Jo Johnson MP proposed plain-speaking legislation in 2017 to fine Higher Education institutions should they “stifle debate” by “no-platforming” speakers. There’s certainly good intentions behind this proposal: a poor Politics degree it would be should you not be allowed to hear from a Conservative MP once. Yet it’s never that black-and-white, and the argument has more than a trace of hypocrisy to it when you consider how heavily Theresa May was involved with tightening hate speech laws during her time as Home Secretary – deliberately intending to remove platforms for speakers who incite ‘hatred’.
This Conservative government has never been the model of constancy, however, and the crux of the argument Jo Johnson proposed is valid: in a free society, there should be freedom of speech. Whilst it is true caveats to this law exist in virtually every country, with speech that incites hatred being banned across much of Europe and speech said in the face of ‘clear and present danger’ being banned in the US, it is fundamentally accepted that the ability to speak your mind is a right, not a privilege.
Furthermore, Waters does not directly incite violence: whilst her party calls for restricting Islamic culture in the UK it does not call for action against law-abiding Muslims. However, this could be argued to be an oversimplified view. Following the Brexit vote hate crime against minorities soared: should Waters’ anti-Islam policies somehow be enacted, it isn’t difficult to imagine that happening again.
Finally, Waters’ party is, whether she wants it to be or not, a haven for those too extreme for UKIP and those who are looking for a home after the BNP’s fizzle from existence, with just last year one of their council candidates exposed as being a member of the neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action.
Does this mean that For Britain is now just a party of “Nazis and racists”? This is improbable, with likely as many of its members being those who have a serious mistrust of the establishment. However, what we must remember is that Waters as leader represents all members of her party and provides a forum for those who are marginalised from mainstream politics. Whether this is a dangerous development or an example of democracy in action I’ll leave with you.