So the defamation escalates. First you call someone a ‘transphobe’. Then next time you can call them a ‘known transphobe.’ Next, when you’ve called them a known transphobe often enough, they become a ‘Notorious transphobe’. All without saying a single word, and just because the attackers say it and say it again and again.
Last night a good friend – still in the Labour Party because he’s too bloody minded to leave – contacted me with a request. Would I post the email he’d just received from a party comrade? Since its themes are issues close to my heart, I’m happy to oblige.
Said issues being:
- Identity politics diktat, its rise in direct proportion to the suppression of class politics. In a recent post, on Covid-19, I’d spoken in general terms of “rising authoritarianism – some of it in the name of social inclusion”.
- The conflation of two quite different things. One, refusal to accept that males who ‘identify as female’ are, on that basis, female. (A refusal also known as asserting a truth overwhelmingly backed by science – that sex is biological and binary.) Two, transphobia. Being in the first camp (as I am) does not auto-place me in the second. See my post last March on identity politics.
- Striking parallels between that conflation and another – support for Palestinians with antisemitism.
- The circular logic, and other threats to reason and justice, inherent in witch hunts – from Salem, through the McCarthy era, to those which helped to bring down Jeremy Corbyn and now run seemingly unchecked in the British Labour Party.
But that’s enough from me. Here’s Esther Giles in her own words.
No-Platforming and the so-called Left:
The Supposed “Right of Intolerance”
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
This quote, wrongly attributed to Voltaire, was actually written by (would you believe it) a woman, Beatrice Evelyn Hall, in a book published in 1906 about Voltaire. She wrote under a pseudonym because she was a woman. And, yes, I have met people who will not read anything written by a woman.
Here’s something that Voltaire did write once, in his 1763 Treatise on Toleration:
The supposed right of intolerance is absurd and barbaric. It is the right of the tiger; nay, it is far worse, for tigers do but tear in order to have food, while we rend each other for paragraphs.
I am going to talk to you about:
- My recent no-platforming experience and the fall out;
- Why we must fight for free speech and thought; and
- The New No-Platforming
- No-Platforming- the Antithesis of Free Speech
Last Sunday evening there was an event about Democracy and Free Speech. This event was put on in defence of CLP officers suspended for disobeying the diktats of the General Secretary by allowing members to debate and/or vote on topics he had forbidden. The organisers of this event no-platformed someone (me) because someone had lobbied one or more of the speakers. One of the speakers (a prospective candidate for Mayor of Liverpool) told the organisers she would withdraw unless I was removed from the platform.
The organisers feared her withdrawal would spark further speakers pulling out and asked me to withdraw for fear of the whole event collapsing. I pulled out. The event went ahead using a webinar with the chat disabled. The organising group knew their decision to no-platform one of the advertised speakers would be a controversial one, and seen as hypocritical, but they felt either that the event was more important than the principle (of free speech), or that what I was accused of genuinely made me a “persona non grata”.
I think the organising committee was divided on the issue. It has certainly, in the fall-out, revealed deep rifts in groups and campaigns. Importantly, when this happens to you, you find out how people and groups respond to the white-hot flame of the witch-hunt. Some melt away like snowflakes. Some swivel round and stand by the side of the witch-hunters. Some run for shelter, and some stand in the flames by your side (including people you never met before) and become an even more valuable gold.
I want to put this no-platforming in the context of free speech, and explore what no-platforming has now become
Why Free Speech
What does free speech do? It shines a light on bad arguments and hate, rather than letting it fester in dark corners – for example, arguably, the BNP collapsed following Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time in 2009. Free speech allows debate when there is disagreement about ideas and ideologies. It helps us to find the truth by dialectic. It promotes trust, honesty and respect where differing points of view are listened to. It requires confidence to challenge and that the challenge is respectful. It requires time to think and debate.
That’s why, in the Labour Party (for those of us who still have meetings or can go to them) we have the process of motions submitted in good time, and time allotted for debate in a comradely fashion.
The ability to debate competing viewpoints is one of the foundations of democratic society. If dissent is seen as offence, and then elevated to hate speech, the consequences for democracy are alarming – and that is what I think we are seeing now.
What are the limits on Free Speech? It should not (in my view) promote acts of violence. If someone says something a reasonable person would believe to be “so appalling it should not be said”, they should be called out. We should refuse and reject the rhetoric of violence.
Yesterday, somebody who has been posting smears against me on social media for the past 2 years justified their smearing (and my no-platforming) by saying “you are standing with people who really have been unfairly smeared and are completely innocent of all accusations”. This person was saying that they were the arbiter of free speech and that anyone with whom they did not agree should be silenced.
The New No-Platforming
“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists – the National Front or the EDL – and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is particularly being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views (many 2nd wave feminists and other sisters and brothers) have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. But they are called transphobes and whorephobes; it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety. And so comrades are prevented from speaking by the opinions of the ideological thugs ((in my case it seems to have been the LGBT+ group, though I cannot be sure). And we know, of course, that critics of Israel suffer the same fate. As someone said to me this week “attacks on free speech and thought about Israel come from without, but the gender debate results in the left eating itself.”
This new no-platforming approach results in people sometimes being disgraced and defamed for the rest of their lives for one comment or incident taken out of context – or even for just having been accused of something. Universities (like the Labour Party) appear to be a mecca for no-platformers – which doesn’t augur well for the future if we don’t address it now. The social justice warriors in today’s universities seem to wage war to out-compete each other in their successes in no-platforming people.
There is a growing list of people who have been “no-platformed” and we are hearing about some of them today – including Ken Loach this week. The Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies called for his no-platforming because he had repeatedly been accused of, and been an apologist for antisemitism. Did you see what they did there? They said he should be no-platformed because he had been accused of something. And the event had nothing to do with what he was being accused of. This is another feature of the New No-Platforming. Anyway, the College (unlike the Labour Party and the Organising Group of the “Stand up for Democracy Event”) stood firm and said that “no-platforming is not… the way to pursue the goals of a free and open academic community (substitute Labour Party community)” The event went ahead. Hurrah for St. Peter’s College.
Again at Oxford University this week, John McDonnell has been urged by the Labour Society not to share a platform with a woman they call a “known transphobe”, Professor Selena Todd, who writes and teaches about class, inequality, working-class history, feminism and women’s lives. The attackers say “the content of the event is irrelevant to the issue at hand, namely that McDonnell is lending his social and political capital to a person whose views actively harm the trans community”. As one of the twitter comments says “I thought universities were about debate not censorship”.
So the defamation escalates. First you call someone a ‘transphobe’. Then next time you can call them a ‘known transphobe.’ Next, when you’ve called them a known transphobe often enough, you become a ‘Notorious transphobe’. All without saying a single word, and just because your attackers say it and say it again and again.
So, individuals are being no-platformed not because of what they actually say, but because of what people think they think – because they are not ideologically pure according to a particular group with influence. And at the same time other people are blackmailed into withdrawing or requiring withdrawal (of the heretic) for fear of guilt by association and worse.
What does this mean then? It means that if we allow them to, those groups with influence control the narrative. They control what people say, and thus begin to control what people think. It means that people walk and think in fear that they might say something that will damage them for the rest of their lives. It means that ideas cannot be debated in public.
These ideas now include:
- Israel as an apartheid state founded on murder and exile
- Women’s rights (has anyone EVER been no-platformed for wanting to debate trans rights?)
- Class analysis (talk about IdPol as much as you like)
- It means that people are not allowed to think and have a say unless within the agreed political narrative. It means that democracy dies.
And remember. First they came for the TERFs and then the so-called antisemites. And next they will come for you.
Free Speech and Democracy for All
Esther Giles, February 2020
I want a political debate about class analysis v gender ideology/postmodernism. I want the Labour Party to debate conflicts between women’s and trans rights and find a way forward – including women’s sex-based rights as set out in the 2019 manifesto and in the Equality Act 2010
The Labour Women’s Declaration
- Women and girls are subject to discrimination and oppression on the basis of their sex.
- Women have the right to freedom of belief, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly (Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights).
- Women have the right to discuss policies which affect them, without being abused, harassed or intimidated.
- Women have the right to maintain their sex-based protections, as set out in the Equality Act 2010. These include female-only spaces such as changing rooms, hospital wards, sanitary and sleeping accommodation, refuges, hostels and prisons.
- Women have the right to participate in single-sex sports, to ensure fairness and safety at all levels of competition.
- Women have the right to organise themselves, as a sex, across a range of cultural, leisure, educational and political activities.
- We condemn all attempts to undermine or limit the rights of women to self-organise and call on the Labour Party and the trades union movement to actively support these essential freedoms.
Statement to the LGBT Network
I stand by the right of every person to live their lives freely and free of discrimination, subject to the Law and so long as they do not transgress the rights of others. This includes the right to stand as a representative in Parliament and the right to housing (I have responded separately to the Labour Homelessness Campaign) and healthcare (I am a member of the Socialist Health Association and worked in the NHS for all of my career). Where there are barriers to equality, then we all need to work to overcome them, so that everyone is able to participate in democracy and society as equals.
In my bid for Treasurer, I am standing for democracy, socialism and good governance, and I believe that the running of Party finances should be based on the principle that all members’ views and requirements matter, and that we need democratic processes to ensure that these requirements are understood and taken into account.
I’ve signed up to the principles set out by the Labour Left Alliance (LLA), and which include that the Labour Party’s complaints and disciplinary procedures be overhauled so that disciplinary procedures are carried out in accordance with the principles of natural justice, and be time-limited. I am strongly opposed to witch hunts and the suppression of free speech and thought, and, as such, resist narrative such as that we should “expel bigots”. It is better to engage in respectful dialectic in order to find collective understanding.
It is also my view that Conference is the supreme body of our Party Democracy, and that as an NEC member, I would be there to oversee delivery on policy (and not make policy) and to ensure that all actions and decisions of NEC are transparent and in line with permissions granted by the membership.
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