The Online Safety Bill reveals the establishment’s insidious disregard for free speech

Marc Glendening

July 14, 2022

Kemi Badenoch is right to argue that the Conservatives need to look again at the Online Safety Bill. This is a highly dangerous piece of legislation that threatens freedom of speech and massively extends the power of the state to regulate our lives.

This is precisely why the contemporary, ‘Culture-Control Left’ (CCL) are so in favour of it, with the only proviso that it be made even more draconian than currently proposed.

A proposed law, remember that will give a state regulator in cahoots with the big platforms the right to remove material considered to be ‘legal but harmful’. The police will be able to bring charges against those deemed to have caused ‘serious psychological harm’ through their communications. Incredible that a supposedly ‘Conservative’ government is introducing this, but sadly true.

Because of the growing opposition to the Bill by political liberals of all ideological backgrounds, the government has decided to introduce an amendment that would at least, in theory, give news publishers whose views have been erased a chance to appeal. All the usual suspects in this area of politics – Hacked Off, Global Witness, Demos and Fair Vote – are now demanding that this not happen. Their claim is that this feeble supposed safeguard will lead to the spread of ‘disinformation’. Just as patriotism was said by Dr Johnson to be the last resort of a bounder, so for the CCL ‘fake news’, together with safeguarding children, naturally, are the two main disingenuous justifications for erasing content they disapprove of and subjectively believe to be false.

The CCL’s desire to block this very limited right of appeal should be seen as an indication of its broader desire to establish state control over what can and cannot be communicated between citizens in civil society. The contemporary left is out to establish government directorship of knowledge and belief. In other words, a semi-official state ideology. Those who subscribe to the values of pluralistic, liberal democracy need to get wise to this and expose the CCL’s ultra authoritarian agenda.

In a free, open society it is for citizens alone to determine the political opinions they want to access and then judge for themselves their validity or otherwise. The case for state censorship ultimately always rests upon the implicit (sometimes explicit in the case of overtly totalitarian states) assertion that members of the political elite are for some mysterious reason in a better position to decide what is ethically and factually correct than the masses (namely, you and me).

The CCL want to load the dice in the democratic game; they want to use state power to define the acceptable parameters of debate or, regarding some issues, to erase debate all together. The contemporary left has adopted a profoundly authoritarian logic that means they cannot now accept the free exchange of information and opinion. The Labour MP Nadia Whittome captures this anti-liberal mindset perfectly when she comments: “We must not fetishise ‘debate’ as though debate is itself an innocuous, neutral act. The very act of debate… is an effective, rollback of assumed equality and a foot in the door for doubt and hatred.”

The Online Safety Bill is a wet dream for the CCL. Going back to the 1970s the hard left has been campaigning for greater state control over the media. In those days it was the Orwell-sounding Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. In more recent times the Goldsmiths College sponsored and based Media Reform Coalition (MRC) and its close associate Hacked Off, among a plethora of other groups have picked up the baton for state control over the press and internet. The starting point for the CCL has been the postmodernist idea that language can constitute a form of coercive power that is the principal way in which the alleged oppressor interests in western society keep the supposedly victim categories subordinated.

The objective of the MRC and their associated allies is a combination of intensive state regulation of what can be communicated combined with direct public ownership and financing of news outlets and search engines. Professor Natallie Fenton of the MRC, who has also acted as a spokesperson for Hacked Off, disparaged in a blogpost for the New Left Project the idea of an “excessively liberalised press” and the “naïve pluralism” of “assuming that the more news we have, the more democratic our societies are.”

When authoritarians of various types in the 20th Century advanced their speech prohibitionist policies they at least had the good grace to openly spell out the long-term political project this was intended to serve. By contrast, today’s advocates of a state controlled media do not articulate their sinister plans in terms of an over-arching modern-era style narrative. This makes them more dangerous.

It’s time the ‘fellow travellers’ of the CCL agenda in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport wake up and stand firm for our basic right to challenge all orthodoxies, from wherever on the political spectrum they emanate from. Let’s hope there is a major re-set regarding the Online Safety Bill when the new government falls into place.


Written by Marc Glendening

Marc Glendening is Head of Cultural Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs

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