What’s Just Happened?: The Conservatives and Free Speech

In the latest edition of What’s Just Happened?, The Linc’s Deputy News Editor Oliver Pridmore takes a look at the Conservative’s new plans to protect free speech…

What’s just happened?

It is hoped that this latest petition will lead to more respect within the UK’s political process. Photo: Ben Grey/Flickr.

Last week, the Conservative Party said that it was going to ‘step up’ its speaker programme across all UK universities.

An online petition launched by the party said the increase would support ‘free speech against violence, intimidation and abuse in politics.’

What’s led up to this?

The Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was recently caught up in a scuffle with protesters who stormed a speech he was delivering at the University of the West England, Bristol.

However, Mr Rees-Mogg later described the protest as ‘legitimate’ although he was against the fact that the protesters wore masks.

“They didn’t want me to be heard – that was the point of their protest,” Mr Rees-Mogg told a joint parliamentary committee last week.

The MP has regularly attracted controversy for his views on subjects such as gay marriage and abortion.

Why have the Conservatives launched this petition?

The scuffle is the latest in a series of attacks on MPs from across the political spectrum that have escalated since last year’s general election.

MPs have been giving evidence to committees regarding the abuse they have received, including Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, who told a committee about the level of abuse she had received because of her race.

Building on these events, at a speech last week to mark the centenary of votes for women, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the infection of politics by ‘bitterness and aggression’ was putting many women off from joining politics.

It is hoped that this latest petition will lead to more respect within the UK’s political process.

What has been the response on the other side of the political spectrum?

Although Labour are yet to comment on the petition, many Labour MPs came out in support of Mr Rees-Mogg

The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, tweeted: “My politics are not those of  Jacob Rees-Mogg however l utterly condemn the behaviour of those tonight who tried to attack him whilst he was due to speak at an event he was invited to.

“It’s extremely intimidating for any MP who travels alone to an event to be treated like this.”

Why is this important to Lincoln?

Last week, controversy surrounded the University of Lincoln as it was awarded a ‘red’ free speech ranking by Spiked magazine for the third year in a row.

The result came as a combination of the university’s ‘amber’ rating and the Students’ Union’s ‘red’ rating.

In a tweet on Twitter, Lincoln SU said: “We are ranked Red again for following our regulatory body’s (Charity Commission) guidelines and having a policy for not allowing bullying and harassment.”

Meanwhile, a university spokesperson told The Linc: “The University is committed to the principle of free speech exercised responsibly within the law in all of its activities.”

Despite the controversy following the publication of the rankings, the National Union of Students’ Vice President for Higher Education, Amatey Doku, responded by saying that those who received a red were ‘probably doing something right.’

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