There appears to have been a long tradition in the United Kingdom where the public have been able to make their voices heard. Some have shouted from rooftops, some have debated at Speakers Corner and some at University. Wherever it has happened, we have had to right to do it without fear and acts of violence against us. However, there appears to be a trend building quite recently of popular right and far right politicians and figures that are victims of food or drink being thrown at them, either as an attempt to silence them or as a means to embarrass them.
The right wing Australian Senator Fraser Anning, sparked outrage for blaming Muslim immigration for the New Zealand terrorist attack, was egged whilst giving a live interview on TV. The video went viral and the 17 year old teenager was famously dubbed egg boy. More recently, we had another far right activist Tommy Robinson, whilst campaigning in Warrington had milkshake thrown at him. Again the video went viral and many on the left hailed the milkshake thrower as a hero for standing up to racists. Even more recently the same was done to Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and again, the public took to social media to hail this as a victory against anti immigration rhetoric.
There is an uneasiness I have with all three of these events. I have no sympathies for any of these men, I have no points of agreement with their political views. But what I do accept is that not matter how abhorrent you think they are, they still have a right to say what they like so long as it doesn’t break the law.
Free speech is a right we all enjoy in the western world, it is a natural part of how our society functions and at times it is something that we take for granted. But this isn’t about free speech, not really, this is about those on the left and even those on right that have no control over themselves when they hear something they disagree with. If the way you behave is determined by what you hear, read or see, then a simple solution is to not engage in it or exercise some self-control.
For many, having an egg or milkshake thrown at political figures is an innocuous act. It doesn’t carry the same weight as say, being punched in the face or having a bottle smashed over your head. Sure, it doesn’t, but what it does do is provide for the stepping stones to lead to something like that.Take for example Ruth Townsley, a now former Happy City charity worker who took to Twitter and congratulated Paul Crowther for throwing milkshake on Nigel Farage. The congratulating of the attack wasn’t my first concern, but rather her disappointment that it was milkshake and not acid that should have been used. What have we become if we’re openly inciting acts of violence against political figures we disagree with? Townsley has since lost her job and quite rightly. Incitement to violence is illegal and must be condemned at all times.
But this isn’t the only example. Chorlton Brewery tweeted “Note to our customer: please don’t throw our beer over fascists. Hit them over the head with a brick as is traditional.” Again, a legitimate business openly inciting violence. You can’t on the one hand complain about politicians whipping up anti immigration hysteria, whilst also in the same breath engage in or promote acts of violence. You’re a hypocrite! My fear is, that if this continues then it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed. If the right and far-right are fair game, then who isn’t?
If you want to beat those that you disagree with, engage in debate with them, challenge and dismantle their ideas and win over the public with yours. What you can’t do, is physically stop someone from having their say, whether it is to block them entering a university or throwing milkshake at them. If you do that, then you’ve already lost the argument. Preventing someone from voicing their opinion, especially when it is not illegal, seems to me as a direct challenge to democracy. It is a way to homogenise thoughts into what is and in this case, the left, deem acceptable. Policing ideas like this is not what democracy is about, democracy is about having the platform for enable pluralism.
We live in the western world, famous for our democracy. A place where many minorities have and wish to settle, when suffering persecution in their own countries. It is a place where we value human rights, religious rights and also condemn all forms of hate. We live in a great country, one that I don’t think any other can rival. But having said that, it is a country that seems to be losing its way. We seem to be regressing against ideas and opinions that we find unpalatable and seem to want to do all that we can to shut them down than to confront them. I see no benefit in this and I urge all those to either engage or ignore, but not to physically stop anyone from airing their opinions. You may benefit in the short term, but you cannot eliminate ideas. They will always exist.