Did The Government Just Ban Cheese Sandwiches?

Last week’s Queen’s Speech contained the standard Tory fare, and prompted the usual, largely justifiable anger. Yet the interesting stuff was tucked away at the bottom of the 21 point list. Undoubtedly, the outright weirdest point on the list was at number 20, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which promised to outlaw all “legal highs”.

The tabloid press has done a good job of convincing people that legal highs are a threat to humanity, and the standard “hang ’em all!” comments can be found on social media. But in reality, legal highs are just drugs that haven’t been banned yet. Coffee, alcohol and tobacco are all legal highs: and two of those substances are responsible for around 99% of all known drug deaths, both legal and illegal.

Government after government, Labour after Tory after Labour, has banned legal highs for no reason whatsoever. In 2005, the last Labour government banned magic mushrooms. This, despite the fact that the drug has probably been used for thousands of years, causes no known harm, and probably has multiple medicinal uses. Labour also banned mephedrone for no particular reason other than media outcry: as I blogged here, it was later discovered that legal mephedrone availability had led to a steep decline in cocaine use. This has now probably reversed. Substance after substance, often more beneficial than harmful, has been banned. Among all the bans, other potentially important substances have been attacked, notably cannabis, LSD, ketamine and ecstasy. This kind of act is simply cultural vandalism, and is our reward for electing puritanical dullards to represent us.

Science has made a mockery of all these bans. For every banned substance, a dozen new ones reach the market. The legal process can’t keep up with the technology. So, some Baldrick-like Tory policy-maker came up with a cunning plan! Why not just ban ALL recreational drugs? That way, anything that reaches market is instantly illegal by virtue of being a drug. Somehow this piece of outstanding idiocy made it into the Queen’s Speech, and probably soon into law.

Why is this thinking so stupid? Because we are chemical beings, and infinite substances have a “psychoactive effect”, including our foods. Try fasting for a day then eating a piece of dry bread: your mood will be rapidly uplifted as the starch reaches your system and is metabolised. Starch, our main source of energy, is a drug – as is its faster-acting sister, sugar. And that’s just the beginning. Cheese contains opiates – substances related to morphine and heroin. Did the government just ban cheese sandwiches and cheeseburgers?

Worry not! The new law will, apparently, make exemptions for drugs already in daily use, including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and foods: these exemptions merely underline, rather than do away with, the ludicrous nature of the law. Now, if one puts one’s pills in a cheese sandwich, do they count as food?

And, of course, existing medicines will also be exempt. But if I use paracetamol as a hangover remedy, am I using it medicinally or recreationally? If I take Viagra for a sex party rather than to remedy impotence, is it now a legal high? Hilariously, the drug at the forefront of this ban – laughing gas – is also a food additive (it’s used to whip cream) so is still freely available on Amazon.

Here’s the thing: virtually everything we put into our bodies is a drug, and many drugs have recreational as well as other uses. This is why the entire anti-drug narrative has always been nonsensical: it simply attacks mankind’s chemical nature. We’re all drug users, every one of us.

This legislation does, at least, do away with one big lie: every drug that’s ever been banned to date has been labelled dangerous, whether it really is or not. The new law at least finally admits that our worthless drug laws are not based on harm, but on morality. They don’t measure a substance based on its ability to hurt us, but on its potential for being enjoyable. Finally, some honest politics!

One wonders why they didn’t go beyond drugs and ban everything fun. But then they would have ban their own creation of idiotic laws, because one suspects certain politicians get a masturbatory thrill from trying to micro-manage our private lives so carefully.

What Does Fascism Look Like?

Let me first apologise – my ‘three part’ series “Are Women Oppressed?” is taking its time: only part 1 has been written so far. I’m working on a book, which I hope to announce soon – this (and caring for a young child) has sapped my available blogging time. Tangentially, the book will cover the same subject area as this post: the renewed rise of fascism, and the need to reinvent the left as a progressive force once again.

The book will be announced soon, I hope. please join my mailing list to learn more. I will also be dropping my pseudonymity… who is MoronWatch? Watch this space…

Inevitably, a comment on the first post accused me of being “reactionary”. This makes my point. The new, conservative left uses the language of the old, progressive left but without the understanding that was once there. The “Are Women Oppressed?” series is to demonstrate this point: the old organs of the left – including the feminist movement – have become reactionary. Their language is similar, but their goals have reversed. The new claim of “female oppression” (which has only really surfaced in the past few years) is a fascistic one with the purpose of turning back the clock on women’s rights. All progressive movements will decay, if they’re allowed to survive long enough.

I hate to pull rank (OK, cancel that – I enjoy it), but I have impeccable left-wing credentials. I descend from a century of socialists and communists, and was very active on the left from the late-70s and through into the 90s. I had – still have – links into the old revolutionary movements, including the ANC’s radical generation. 35 years ago, the bright young things were tempted by the fragmented Trotskyist movement. Today, smart young people in politics appear to be clustering around libertarianism. The point for progressives then is to make the case for left-wing libertarianism, as I have tried to do.

Fascism is a deep, socially conservative, anti-sex, authoritarian and anti-science ideology. It is neither inherently right nor left. Yes, the left is correct that 1930s fascism, born in Italy and then in a more extreme form in Germany, was a right-wing movement. That doesn’t mean it will be this time around. The key thing to understand about fascism is that it comes from the grassroots, not from above. It is the mob, mobilised to attack progress. That’s why it is the most frightening of all political tendencies. To see how 21st century fascism might look, don’t get too distracted by the UKIP types. They are the dying embers of the old fascism, endlessly rehashing old xenophobic messages. It’s no accident that the typical UKIP voter is older than average. The creation of UKIP, in the longer run, will be beneficial to the centre-right. The Tories have shed their most poisonous tendencies and are thus able to move back towards the centre. This will benefit them in the mid-term.

Where are the young fascists? Those are the ones to watch.

A look at the No More Page 3 campaign gives a hint. hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition against female nudity: the progressive feminists of the 1960s would be horrified. Although it operates under a veneer of feminism, those who have encountered the movement close-up have found it to be heavily religious in nature. This campaign has united Britain’s largest trade union with the girl guides… The old anti-rape organisations that emerged from the Women’s Lib era have given up chasing rapists, and put their names to a movement that seeks to claim women’s bodies are dangerous and must be covered up. They are blaming women for rape, though a little more subtly than the old “don’t dress like a slut” brigade. If the campaign had called itself British Mothers for Chastity, the left might have been suspicious. But fascism moves on; it is a worm that seeks to embed itself in the softest spots of society. If masquerading under the banner of “women’s rights” is to tactical advantage, that’s where it will be found.

When the British Christian morality movement fizzled out, its ideas found a new home. If you can’t beat feminism, you reinvent it as a wholesome, pure, anti-sex idea. NMP3 has cleverly used the left’s tribal hatred of the Sun and Murdoch… and what’s not to hate? But the Sun’s heyday is long gone. It is a declining force, and so makes for an easy target. To see the ranks of the organised left march in (goose-)step behind a closeted Christian morality campaign is worrying indeed.

The anti-racism movement has gone the same way. Just as with “female oppression”, the new shout of “white privilege” didn’t originate in the civil rights era, or in the anti-racism movement of the 70s and 80s. It’s a new slogan, and created with the intent of turning back the clock on equality, and trying to redefine people by their skin colour. Tellingly, this expression seems designed to taunt poor, white, working-class people into joining ranks with the far-right. It is good, old-fashioned race-baiting. A century after the peak of European power, and with China, India and even Africa rising, now fascists have decided to proclaim the end to racial equality with the creation of the bogus idea of white privilege. Attacking racial equality is the home turf of fascism. Only the slogans have changed.

In South Africa, fascism today means that immigrants are lynched by locals. This isn’t the first time – it happened on a larger scale in 2008, and back in the 1940s. If this was happening in Europe, the left might understand what was going on, but when black people kill other blacks, they don’t recognise fascism in action. Instead, ludicrously, this is blamed on “the legacy of Apartheid” or colonialism. And so the left has adopted the most colonial type of thinking. Black people, they seem to think, are like children who copy the bad habits of we white adults. It doesn’t seem to cross their minds that Africans are just as capable of xenophobic brutality, for their own ends, as we are. Just as elsewhere, the old South African heart of progressivism – the ANC – has imploded, become conservative and corrupt. The ANC’s new generation of leaders have enriched themselves. So has the left-wing “outsider” opponent to the ANC, Julius Malema: simultaneously a “revolutionary” and a multi-millionaire who spreads racial division. Once a revolution is done, the revolutionary organs will rot.

The very concepts of “left” and “right” have dissolved into meaninglessness. Progressives need to take a step back and re-examine their beliefs: equality, individual liberty, democracy and evidence-based thought form the bedrock of progressivism. The last great liberal era – of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights – was a full half-century ago. Nostalgia for the good old days of revolution, Labour, trade unionism and equality is blinding the new left to the reality of the new fascism. It’s time to move on.

Should Progressives Vote for the Green Party?

British politics are getting more interesting. The two parties that have shared power for most of a century, along with the traditional third party, are all in decline. Scotland is undergoing a nationalistic surge, and has become – for the time being – a one-party state. Insurgent parties of right and left are in the ascendency. Much discussion goes on about the nature of UKIP, but the Greens have been under far less scrutiny. Urban liberals, disenchanted with Labour and the Liberal Democrats have drifted greenwards.

The Green Party has adopted the kinds of left-wing talking points that would appeal to disenchanted progressives in search of a new party, but its roots lie in environmentalism. Although the environmental movement has become associated with the left in recent decades, its instincts lie in true, small-c conservatism: a deeply-held belief that the old ways are the good ways. Because of this, the Greens have a dodgy relationship with science and high-technology solutions.

Continue reading Should Progressives Vote for the Green Party?

Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

MoronWatch came into existence to take snarky aim, on Twitter, at right-wing stupidity, religious/superstitious fundamentalism, bigotry and state brutality – a mish-mash of interests which all come under the umbrella of “moron-watching”. Those who have followed my blog for a while will realise the wheels began to come off this objective a couple of years ago, as my eyes were opened to immense depths of stupidity on the left as well as the right. Having been active on the left for a while in the 80s, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the intellectual decline that has taken place on the left while I’ve not been paying attention.

Continue reading Right-wing vs Left-wing Libertarianism

How To Deal With UKIP: Yes, Let’s Talk About Immigration

A month ago, I was at a weekend music festival with seven friends, all black (as I’ve explained before, I’ve long been accustomed to the role of token whitey). Misreading a headline on my phone, I announced that Jeremy Clarkson had been sacked by the BBC for – allegedly – mouthing the word “nigger”. My friends’ reaction was an immediate groan: yet another dumb, politically-correct decision made by rich white people in the name of protecting the feelings of black people. It’s not, of course, that black people enjoy being racially abused: but such abuse is, in fact, incredibly rare. There is a huge difference between having “nigger” shouted at you in the street by a stranger and having it said as part of a nursery rhyme. This is a difference that black people tend to understand, and the white middle classes tend not to. Similarly, no black people (to my knowledge) were offended when a radio DJ accidentally played a tune containing the word (for which he was sacked) or when a One Direction band member affectionately called a friend “nig”.

Let’s not be under any illusion: the white media and political establishment has not, all of a sudden, become the champion of black people’s feelings. Indeed, by blurring the lines between genuine race hate and words that they deem to be “racist”, they are setting back the cause of race relations by years. When I attended marches and came face-to-face with the thugs of the National Front, Combat 18, the British Movement and the British National Party, I don’t remember being supported by hordes of Oxbridge-educated BBC executives; and yet today, the white British elite dares to tell me, and others who risked our necks to clear racism from our streets, what words we may or may not use, regardless of the context.

There is no such thing as a “racist word”. There is racism for sure, and there are words that might have racist connotations depending on context, but in their irrational fetishisation of mere words, politically-correct cretins have opened the door wide for racists to operate with free rein. The rise of political correctness – which is itself a politically-correct term for censorship – has been a victory for the far right.

UKIP can thank the white middle-class left for its rise. Nigel Farage must laugh daily at the ease with which he can navigate the rules of political correctness: each time a UKIP councillor says a “racist word”, he expels them. And yet he can easily formulate genuinely racist messages that pass the moronic PC check-list. Whether Farage himself is racist (he probably is) is irrelevant. What’s important is that he has mastered what the Americans call “dog-whistle politics”. He is the master of rallying society’s bigots without breaching the “don’t say naughty words” rules. Can’t say “nigger” or “paki”? No problem – just hint that the “complexion” of our society is changing, or that “somebody” from “somewhere” is taking your job.

What is most perplexing is that the left’s spokespeople on race are those members of society that have the least experience of it. The white middle classes are the most ignorant on racial matters; and yet, because the middle class possesses an immense self-confidence in its own abilities (and quietly scorns the lower classes that it claims to defend), somehow the liberal narrative on race and immigration has been written by those who least understand these issues.

When I was active in the anti-racist movement, it wasn’t like this. The unions formed the bedrock of the mainstream left, and unions (love them or loathe them) were the very bodies that encompassed working people of all races. Long before the ascent of moronic political correctness, the most powerful black man in Britain was Bill Morris, who led the mighty Transport and General Workers’ Union and then the Trades Union Congress.

The Blairification of the Labour Party made the party acceptable to the middle classes, and won it a generation in power; but simultaneously, it removed the party from its bedrock working class support. Now, none of the big parties could understand working class resentments, and now, UKIP has filled the vacuum.

Today, political leaders are being urged to “talk about immigration”: but this is euphemism for accepting the far-right position that immigration has damaged society, and must be reined in. Yes, we must have an honest discussion about immigration if we are to see off the rising threat from the far right: and for that to happen, the moronic censorship rules of political correctness must be stripped away. The narrative must be wrenched away from pompous, privileged commentators and the voices of those who have been most affected by immigration must be heard.

Let’s talk about immigration.

Fact 1: Immigration changes working class communities

When, a century ago, Jews flooded into the East End of London, the locals had never encountered anything like them. They were alien people with strange ways of talking, a bizarre religion, and weird food. Despite being white, they clearly looked different from English locals. The animosity that flared between Jews and locals was hardly surprising. Of course, the upper classes scorned the fascist street thugs; but they also scorned the Jews. The same happened in the 1950s, when certain, poor parts of British cities – such as Notting Hill and Brixton – rapidly filled up with black people. The Notting Hill race riots of 1958 blew up because poor white people were confronted with a culture they had never encountered, and left by the establishment to deal with it. The problem was solved, not by PC language policing imposed from above, but by the community itself. The Notting Hill Carnival (in my humble opinion, the world’s best party) is the lasting result of that. The same happened in Bradford in 2001, when working class communities had to deal with an influx of Asians. Communities can resolve these problems, so long as government responds to ensure that housing, health and education services cope with the new population. Political correctness makes the problem worse: When the sneering PC response is to tell people not to say “Paki”, when they are facing rapid changes to their communities and ways of life, the effect is to drive traditional Labour voters to embrace the far-right.

The message: yes, immigration has directly affected your community. This doesn’t make immigration a bad thing, but the authorities must take heed of your worries and problems.

Fact 2: Non-white people can be racist

Perhaps the single most ludicrous position of the politically-correct elite is to declare that only white people can be racist. This point (rightly) enrages people who live in areas of high immigration, and know from their own experiences that white people can be, and are, the targets of bigotry. It is a statement that can only be made by privileged white people who have had little, if any, contact with black or Asian communities. If any single sentence can be blamed for the rise of the BNP, the EDL and UKIP, it is this one. The truth is simple: some people are hateful morons, and those people exist in every community. To decide that a violent assault is more or less acceptable depending on who threw the punch, and who received it, is the height of idiotic thinking; and yet this appears to be the default position of today’s left. Those white people like me, who have spent much of their lives as a white minority in black communities know that there are a few people who hate us for the colour of our skin, not the content of our minds. When many Somalis migrated to the UK, it was primarily the black British community that resented their arrival, and violence between the groups was common. When I was at school, some black people turned on “Pakis”, pleased to find common cause with white skinheads. Many people in mixed relationships have learned that they experience far more bigotry from black people than from whites. This isn’t the “understandable” result of “racial oppression”, as too many white liberals appear to believe. It’s racism.

The message: No group is free from racial bigotry. Any victim of racism is as worthy of support as any other. This includes white people.

Fact 3: Free speech is ESSENTIAL

As the left has become increasingly dominated by the white middle classes, its messages have become increasingly ludicrous, and irrelevant to society as a whole. The new generation of left-wing journalists is called upon to comment on everything. Privileged white Oxbridge graduates from the shires write comment pieces on every subject under the sun, including race – a subject with which they surely have little direct experience. Even when they attempt to take on board working class views, they come across as patronising and ignorant. When editors select black commentators, they tend to pick those who will repeat the standard white narrative. The banning of “offensive” words has crippled the ability of the left to counter the UKIP threat. I urge those with politically-correct sensibilities to listen to the excellent N Word from the rap artist Greydon Square. As the introduction says: “There is no such thing as the N Word… the word is Nigger… how can we get past the word when we can’t even say it?”

The message: UKIP will not be countered by banning words. Political correctness has been the greatest friend of the far-right. It must go.

Fact 4: Some people have been disadvantaged by immigration

Economists are clear: immigration is a boon to economies. London, by far the greatest home to immigrants in the UK, is also by far the wealthiest city. This is not a coincidence. However, there have been both winners and losers. A bricklayer friend was clear to me that his wages dropped after mass immigration began from Poland. Prostitutes tell a similar story. This is not a reason to stop immigration; but the authorities must respond, identify those people who have lost out, and find strategies to help them. Scrapping university tuition fees for affected groups might be one of many ways to address the problem. One of the many disastrous legacies of Blairism was to close the door to working class people entering higher education.

The message: We accept immigration has not been a win for everyone.

Fact 5: Immigration is a good thing: long may it continue!

And once we’ve dispensed with the mealy-mouthed bullshit that has characterised the race debate for decades, we can make our case loud and clear. Immigration has enriched our culture. Immigration has enriched our economy. Sure, there have been inevitable cultural clashes, but these can be managed, as such clashes have been in the past. Yes, there have been losers, but we are richer as a society, and can afford the welfare state and education system that we need to fix these short-term problems. But ultimately immigration can and will continue, and will continue to make our country a better place to live. Let’s face it: much of the UKIP vote came from people least affected by mass migration. It came from the whitest areas of the country, and the older, more conservative individuals. It is an ultra-conservative reaction to inevitable change. We can sympathise with those who fear change, while pointing out that they’re wrong, they’re ignorant, and they will inevitably lose.

The message: It’s time to man the barricades. The right is on the march; it’s time to let Labour die, and create a muscular new left that can counter it.

Maria Miller, the Expenses “Scandal” and the Assault on Democracy

Knives are out today for the Culture Secretary Maria Miller. Having been caught over-claiming expenses, and forced to pay back £5,800, her latest crime was to issue an apology that was only 32 seconds in length. The public loves the spectacle of MPs, and especially ministers, in discomfort, and the press is unrelenting in pursuing this important story.

Except, it’s not an important story at all. Since the entire scandal over MPs’ expenses blew up in 2009, the press has revelled in its supposed assault on parliamentary corruption. But the biggest story to emerge was how tiny the extent of the corruption was, amounting to a mere £1m in total. Much of this was not really corrupt at all: MPs, having had their pay driven down in recent years, had been given a wink that they could use the expenses system to make up some of the difference. Only in a handful of cases was there a suspicion of criminal activity.

With honest reporting, the outcome would have been a handful of prosecutions, a review of MPs’ pay (which would probably have concluded that they are somewhat underpaid for what they do), and some national back-patting to congratulate ourselves on having one of the least corrupt political systems on the planet.

Instead, the incident has been endlessly replayed, twisted and exaggerated. I’m no fan of Maria Miller or her government, but I would point out that her original “crime” was almost insignificant; and pursuing her now on the basis that her apology was too short is pathetic.

Why has the scandal been so over-exaggerated? Because it has been used as an assault on our Parliament and our democracy. Five years of endless repetition have left the public with the idea that our parliamentary system is rotten to the core. It is one of a number of essentially false stories that are being used to weaken faith in democratic government.

Combine MPs’ expenses with other popular, but untrue memes: that the Labour government crashed the economy (actually this was caused by bad lending in the US); that the UK’s national debt level is unsustainable (it’s high but we could have paid it down without the need for Osborne’s cuts); and that open borders with the EU have somehow caused the country damage (although economists and business leaders are confident that the opposite is true), and you have a potent formula for undermining British democracy.

There’s no shortage of real scandals to obsess over, should the press decide to. Our police forces have recently been repeatedly exposed as being corrupt to the very top – far more so than MPs. We are spied on as a matter of routine. Our postal service was privatised at far too cheap a price, costing us around 750 times the cost of the expenses débâcle.

Many MPs are cowardly, display a faltering grasp of complex issues and fail to provide the parliamentary leadership we need. Many of them are morons. But they’re our morons. We created this Parliament by allowing ourselves to be distracted from big issues by dishonest reporting. By holding MPs to ludicrously high standards of behaviour that we apply to nobody else, we end up by filling Parliament with dull mediocrities. If we want better MPs, we should participate in politics, and elect better MPs. That’s a power we have, thanks to generations of people who fought for democracy.

But instead, the public (or its most moronic members, anyway) is increasingly convinced that democracy is failing, and that action must be taken. This benefits UKIP, the party that once pretended to be all about leaving the EU, but now openly stokes up hatred against immigrants. Never mind that Nigel Farage has claimed more in MEP’s expenses than any British MP – today, he is billed as the heroic outsider who will bring down a corrupt political elite.

The editors of the Mail, Times, Express, Sun and Telegraph (who each earn far more than an MP) know they’re stoking an anti-democratic insurgency. The dangerous rise in nationalism – whether the right-wing UKIP form, or the supposedly progressive variety in Scotland – risks destabilising a country that for centuries has probably been the most stable on Earth. And it risks destabilising a continent which is the most bloodthirsty on the planet, and has never needed a good excuse to go to war with itself.

MPs who over-claim expenses can be exposed and left to the electorate. We have far bigger problems to deal with than that.

Free Speech, “Rape Threats” and the War on Twitter

Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)
Control-freaks hate Twitter (cartoon released into the public domain by Carlos Latuff)

British leaders often invoke the idea that Britain is a “beacon of freedom”. Anyone paying attention though, will note that free speech has always been strongly restricted in the UK: far more so than in the United States, where it is constitutionally protected. Sadly, most British people seem to have a vague understanding of what free speech is, or why it is so important. This lack of love for free expression runs across the political spectrum; of the three large parties, only the Liberal Democrats show any real interest in protecting it.

But the rot isn’t just within the political parties. By demoting free speech behind “security”, “protecting children” or simply “protecting against offense”, our political leaders are merely reflecting the attitudes of their supporters. I’m regularly told, by both righties and lefties, that “free speech doesn’t mean all speech” or “free speech is all very well, but there must be lines in the sand”. Thus demonstrating they don’t understand the basic meaning of the word “free”. Protection of free speech must include “bad” speech, by definition. After all, the ideas that women should get the vote or that homosexuality should be decriminalised were once “dangerous” ideas.

Despite the regular self-congratulations about how free we are, Britain has always had a censorious, paternalistic culture towards “protecting” its citizens from the menace of genuinely free expression. Our television is the most censored in Europe, and our government regularly blocks bigoted loud-mouths from entering the country (as if we didn’t excel in creating our own bigoted loud-mouths). This situation was suddenly disrupted by the arrival of the consumer Internet around 20 years ago, which brought truly uncensored expression to British people for the first time. With the later appearance of Web 2.0 – meaning tools that allowed non-technical people to easily publish content – true free expression accelerated further.

So the powers that be – government, police and media corporations – have always had an unspoken desire to rein in online free speech; to take us back to the 1980s, when they could largely control the flow of information to the masses.

Twitter, a classic Web 2.0 creation, is quite probably the most free mass medium of them all. It represents America’s First Amendment distilled and productised. It allows people to publish what’s on their minds in an instant, and for popular ideas to be rapidly propagated. Twitter is the great leveller: it favours the unknown over the famous. Well-known individuals will always find themselves the butt of jokes and personal attacks, simply because they’re famous. On Twitter, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

Needless to say, British authoritarians, control freaks and the fascist-minded hate Twitter. Our authorities have tried to keep American free speech at bay since the US Constitution was written, but now it has invaded our country: and we should be pleased of that. Since Twitter’s birth, it was only a matter of time before war was declared on the platform. The police have been flexing their muscles for some time. Since Paul Chambers went to court in the infamous Twitter Joke Trial in 2010, authorities have increasingly tried to take control of online speech. But Chambers attracted great public support; the authorities had chosen the wrong target.

The real War on Twitter began in mid-2013, when a well-orchestrated moral panic was launched. The clear aim of the panic is to create support for the idea that Twitter is a dangerous medium, and must be controlled. And sadly, many people – conservative and liberal – have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. The word “troll” – which originally referred to deliberately provocative posters in online chat forums – was appropriated by the media and redefined to mean “someone who is offensive online”. This now appears in a variety of contexts such as “abusive Twitter troll”, “misogynistic troll”, and so on.

Twitter has a block button, which easily hides future tweets from people one doesn’t want to see. I try not to ever use it (it would be pretty hard to watch morons if I did), but the mechanism works well for those who do. This means that the more delicate souls can forget that there are rude, foul-mouthed, abusive people on Twitter, if they want to.

The panic had clearly been primed and ready to go for some time. It found its perfect moment when a campaign was launched in 2013 to keep women on British banknotes, following the announcement of a new £5 note to be launched in 2016. A journalist, Caroline Criado-Perez, tweeted in support of the campaign, and received a number of offensive tweets in response: some of the abuse reportedly featured rape threats. Criado-Perez is an attractive, middle-class, young, blonde woman; the War on Twitter had its perfect victim, and operations commenced.

Another female journalist, who followed events on the day, tells me that Criado-Perez only received a handful of abusive tweets; and yet the event was picked up by the press and massively exaggerated. The tweets, from a handful of morons, became a “torrent”, and a “barrage”. A number of female journalists began an ironically patriarchal campaign, the subtext of which was that women are more delicate than men, and should not have to tolerate the nasty language that men do. Online death threats to men (of which I’ve received, and laughed off, many) are just boys being boys, but rape threats to women are beyond the pale.

Over the past six months, the campaign has been pumped up by the media on a regular basis. Learning from the Criado-Perez experience, the bulk of the coverage is dedicated to the online abuse of attractive young women. Feminists of the Women’s Lib generation might spot the misogynistic message being deployed here, but it appears not to have been widely noticed, with many self-declared feminists attacking “sexist Twitter trolls” rather than the sexist concept that women, unlike men, can’t handle nasty words being thrown in their direction.

Eventually, two young morons – a man and a woman, came to trial for abusing Criado-Perez. Yes, a total of two, despite the “torrent” of abuse reported at the time. The trial’s coverage was riddled with misogyny and class snobbery. Photographs of the overweight, unattractive pair were juxtaposed with the blonde demureness of Criado Perez. “Look at these oiks, abusing such a nice, middle class lady”, the news outlets (almost) screamed.

The hysterical coverage of “Twitter trolls” has set out to demonstrate that the problem of unregulated speech is real, harmful, and getting worse. The prosecution stated that:

“Caroline Criado-Perez has suffered life-changing psychological effects from the abuse which she received on Twitter”

The poor, delicate little thing (did I mention she’s blonde?)

I’m probably being unfair to Criado-Perez here; the Crown Prosecution Service were clearly desperate to get a conviction and extend British law into controlling what people can say in public. The prosecution may well have misrepresented and exaggerated her true feelings in their lust to increase their power over public discourse.

In my 25 or so years of online discussion, I’ve experienced far more abuse than I can remember. It includes threats of harm, anti-Semitic and racist comments, and endless personal attacks. And yet the idea of people being prosecuted for mere speech – however ugly the speech – horrifies me far more than the worst Holocaust joke I’ve seen. One of the preconditions for the Holocaust to take place was to silence Jews and other minorities. Free speech protects the most vulnerable in society. The idea that police should have any role in controlling expression is a horrific one, and can only have horrific consequences; and yet those who should be defending our free speech have fallen at the first hurdle because – shock horror – free speech means people might say nasty words to nice people.

It is tragic that, centuries after the Enlightenment, liberals still need educating in why free speech – even including nasty, bigoted, hateful speech – must be protected. Women, minorities and the poor are never protected by giving increased censorship powers to the state. In 1789, America’s founders recognised this and outlawed censorship in their Constitution. 235 years later, it’s about time Britain followed their example.