In Britain, the Conservative party has split into two factions over the Brexit deal, with Theresa May feeling lucky to make it through another week as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the Labour Party are embroiled in an anti-Semitism scandal, with many Jewish Labour MPs speaking out against Jeremy Corbyn’s complacency and endorsement of anti-Semitic groups. All the while, Brussels is tapping their feet waiting for the British government to present a deal in the Brexit negotiations. However, Britain’s biggest crisis lies not in the echelons of power, but within the very culture itself.
Associations with British politics rarely stray towards thoughts of ‘Liberty.’ Indeed, the American Revolution took place in reaction to the suppression of liberty. While the rights and liberties of the British people have improved since the Revolution, it is evident that Britains still yearn for paternalism, an appetite which our government is only happy to satisfy.
The United States was born from the ashes of authoritarianism. Independence, the Constitution, and the principle, making liberty not only an integral part to US politics, but also to American culture. The UK doesn’t have such ‘luxuries.’ Our culture, developed from the gentry and age of feudalism, still contains a prevailing attitude that ‘ruling class’ has the civil and moral authority over people’s lives.
This attitude exists not just amongst the lawmakers, but also the general public. For example, a YouGov poll was conducted to gather the public’s attitude towards the Investigatory Power Act 2016 (AKA the ‘Snoopers Charter’), which was a law that allowed government departments greater access to people’s private information without the need for a court ordered warrant. The poll showed that 53% of Britons supported the act, whilst 31% opposed it. A poll by Populus found that 46% of Brits would want Freedom of Speech limited when it comes to religion. 58% of those who identified as ‘mainstream liberals’ agreed that, “‘[I]f necessary,’ people ‘should be prosecuted’ for saying certain things about religions.” The people want their rights limited and the government is happy to oblige.
The infamous case of Markus Meechan, the Scottish YouTuber known as ‘Count Dankula,’ sparked a Free Speech debate in the UK when he was arrested on the grounds of ‘gross offence’ for uploading a YouTube video in which, as a practical joke on his girlfriend, he trained his girlfriend’s dog to respond to the Nazi phrase “Sieg heil” and to “gas the Jews.” The court case propelled Meechan to fame, fame which probably saved him from being quietly locked away. In the end, he was fined £800, which he is now disputing.
The furore generated by the story brought the issue of Freedom of Speech into UK politics, with questions such as if the government could regulate what it considered a ‘joke,’ why should the government be the final arbitrator on what is and isn’t offensive, and is ‘being offended’ justifiable grounds for being arrested? This seemingly flippant controversy is just one gross example of the British government’s effort to limit the Freedom of Speech. Britain’s liberty crisis, then, is one that starts with the people, not the government.
Correcting it is no easy task. With no mainstream libertarian movement here, it may seem almost impossible. Brits must take an example from America where, in school and in culture, a great emphasis is placed upon an individual’s freedom. No implementation or removal of a policy will solve Britain’s crisis.
Rather, in order to change the trajectory the UK is currently on, parents and teachers must teach their children their rights, teach them that they should hold the government accountable. Teach them that the state isn’t infallible, and that suppression of their rights ‘for the greater good’ is a sure-fire way to recognize a government growing out of control.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.