Less than a week into the new government and we are already beginning to see the signs of a Conservative party moving sharply to the right now that the Lib Dem shackles are off.
Announcing proposals for counter-extremism legislation yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said that she would implement ‘banning orders for groups’ who are ‘actively trying to promote hatred ‘ and ‘undermine British values’. Prime Minister David Cameron added that we have been a ‘passively tolerant society for too long’.
A similar piece of legislation was proposed 3 times during the coalition but was rejected every time. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake today said that they were blocked because they were ‘ill thought through, illiberal and will not tackle the problem they are supposed to’.
For starters, the proposal is flawed in principle. It is undoubtedly the case that these proposals undermine the key British value of freedom of speech. Whilst the Lib Dems hugely disagree with the views of radical fundamentalists like Anjem Choudhry, we will always defend their right to say it. That is a fundamental principle of democracy. If you partially stop freedom of speech, as these proposals do, you set a very dangerous precedent which can border on censorship and risks allowing a government to silence any voice of which it does not approve.
Pragmatically it is also hopelessly flawed. It is common knowledge that if you ban something it sends it underground where it cannot be regulated so effectively. Extremist views are best defeated by free speech. The demise of far-right groups in the UK such as the BNP and the EDL was largely down to an increased media exposure which highlighted the bigotry and extremism of their views. Had we, as a country, allowed this to fester underground without confronting it, it would remain unresolved.
To conclude the proposals do absolutely nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem of radicalisation and are instead a weak attempt at regulating the results. They are wrong in principle and will not work in practice. Expect a lot more of this over the next 5 years!
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