“I remember [Friedrich] Hayek telling me that Brits thought you only had totalitarian dangers if people wore funny uniforms and funny salutes. He said they don’t understand that a man in a tweed suit can be as vicious as any Gestapo officer.”
Peter Clarke, Political Secretary to Enoch Powell (1972-75), 2007
“The whole power of the aggressor depends upon preventing people from seeing what is happening and from saying what they see.”
Enoch Powell, 1970
I used to think a totalitarian Britain, should such a horror ever occur, would most likely look something like IngSoc (Newspeak for English Socialism) from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four; socialism’s reliance on coercion to enforce its aims meant it seemed logical to me that a movement which sought to control people’s thoughts and actions would be spawned by the Left.
By the same token, it irritated me that in the dystopian comic-turned-film V for Vendetta, fascist dictator Adam Sutler was portrayed by John Hurt as a former Conservative MP; how could a man who came from the party of Thatcher possibly be believed as a fascist dictator, I thought?
So naturally it is with great humility, sadness and anger that I have to concede it is the Conservative Party, not Labour; David Cameron, not Tony Blair, which are busy constructing a totalitarian state here in the United Kingdom. And it is something which both terrifies me and emboldens me in my belief that establishing Conservatives for Liberty more than two years ago was not only the right thing to do, but necessary, too.
Mr Cameron, who nailed his colours to the mast only days after the general election with the chilling announcement that following the law was no longer enough, and Theresa May, the latest in a long line of authoritarian Home Secretaries, have been on my radar for some time now; but the disease appears to spread much further.
My attention was recently drawn to Liz Truss’s PPS Mark Spencer, whose interpretation of the Government’s ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’ – already an intolerable curtailment of freedom of expression – are the stuff of nightmares. Mr Spencer chose to express his views on the subject on the Conservative Way Forward website on Wednesday which, if nothing else, helpfully distinguishes that ostensibly Thatcherite group from one like Conservatives for Liberty which actually believes in free speech.
There are many things frightening, absurd and laughable in Mr Spencer’s diatribe, not least his presumably unwitting grasp for the totalitarian’s favoured piece of doublethink, itself increasingly used by the Government; “Freedom of speech is one of the most important values that we have here in Britain. But…”
Mr Spencer’s “but” was in reference to incitement to violence, but that is already a crime, so EDOs are not necessary to enforce this; their real intention coming a sentence later as wanting to prevent “racists, religious fundamentalists and homophobes the freedom to spread their message” which, even if you are not a racist, religious fundamentalist or homophobe (and I’d like to think you aren’t), is nothing short of an assault on the very concept of freedom of speech.
And then there’s his justification of such powers as protecting “vulnerable communities” from such messages; a statist paternalism which spits in the face of the Conservatives’ claim to be the party of individual responsibility, instead treating entire communities as children who cannot be trusted to respond responsibly to ideas. Which, ironically, has a faint whiff of racism about it itself.
What’s perhaps most disturbing about what Mr Spencer says, however, is the way he packages all the ideas the Government now seeks to criminalise under the loose headings of “radicalism” and “extremism.” I am a radical, and I am often considered to hold extreme views; how far does that arbitrary definition extend?
Mr Spencer helps us answer this question in a letter sent to one of his Sherwood constituents which turns my face white; it extends even to teaching Christian orthodoxy in a Christian school in a country the Prime Minister himself has described as a Christian country (immediately before the election, of course).
The letter said:
“The new legislation specifically targets hate speech, so teachers will still be free to express their understanding of the term ‘marriage’, and their moral opposition to its use in some situations without breaking the new laws.
“The EDOs, in this case, would apply to a situation where a teacher was specifically teaching that gay marriage is wrong.”
Freedom of speech does not mean allowing people the liberty of only saying nice things; it means sometimes listening to some abhorrent things and countering them with argument, not violence. It also means allowing families, faiths and communities to raise their children with their own values, not state-mandated and state-dictated “British values.”
In Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman warns against the growth of state power over the life of the individual with the reasoning that “The power to do good is also the power to do harm; those who control the power today may not tomorrow; and more important, what one man regards as good, another may regard as harm.”
David Cameron may not be Adam Sutler. I could even be convinced that Theresa May is not Adam Sutler. But what should chill the bones of every freedom-loving Conservative is that our longed-for majority government has just made Adam Sutler possible.
This article was originally published by ConservativeHome.