Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 167
21st November 2007
Notes on a BBC Debate Between
Chris Bryant MP and Sean Gabb
by Sean Gabb
I went on the wireless yesterday morning—the 20th November—to debate freedom of speech with a Labour Member of Parliament. Apparently, the Oxford Union is holding a debate of its own about this matter, and has invited both David Irving and Nick Griffin to speak. Mr Irving, for those who do not know his name, is an historian who has at various times doubted the nature and extent of national socialist holocaust in Germany. Mr Griffin seems to have no particular opinion on the holocaust, but is leader of the main British white nationalist party. I am not sure if the two men have ever met. I do not know what they think about each other. But they have enemies in common, and these tend to place the two men into the same “fascist” category.
Chris Bryant is the Labour Member of Parliament for Rhondda. He believes that the Oxford Union should withdraw its invitation from two such allegedly wicked men. I was called on by the BBC to put the case against him.
I think the idea was that Mr Bryant should attack freedom of speech and I should defend it. But Mr Bryant was too clever to allow the debate to run in this course. He insisted that Messrs Irving and Griffin should have the right to speak their minds in places like Hyde Park, but that the Oxford Union should not pollute itself with their company. On the face of things, then, he was not arguing for censorship—no more than I might be if I advised you not to invite the Seventh Day Adventists into your house. Of course, his argument was only on the face of things. We live in a country where the old boundaries between state and voluntary activity have been so blurred by subsidy and regulation and deals behind the curtain, that advice is fast becoming the same as instruction. And Mr Bryant would not really defend the right of these two men to speak in Hyde Park. Any meeting they called there would be banned under the Public Order Act 1986. If the meeting were allowed to go ahead, all the speeches would be filmed by the police, and the speakers would face criminal charges under the various terrorism and racial hatred laws brought in since 1997. I do not suppose Mr Bryant would hurry forward to criticise any of this.
But he was making a clever point. To answer him would require more time than was available. So, having heard him out, I decided to go on the attack. I thanked him for his “defence” for freedom of speech, then denounced him for criticising men who were not his moral inferiors. Mr Bryant, I told the listeners, had voted for identity cards, for ninety day imprisonment without trial or charge, and for a war with Iraq that had so far killed 650,000 people. He had no right to call anyone a fascist.
It took thirty seconds and was very easily done. I reduced the man to spluttering rage. He spent the rest of the debate trying to defend his voting record, while insisting that some of his best friends had been murdered by Generals Franco and Pinochet. My answer to this one was: “Then you should know better”. That really upset him, and gave the presenter an excuse to deliver a good kicking of her own.
I recorded the debate and have put in on the Multimedia Page of the Libertarian Alliance Website. You can find it here:
But what makes this debate worth noting is not that I was rather witty or cruel. It is notable so far as it shows how easy it has become to reveal the moral bankruptcy of our ruling class.
Mr Bryant is a typical member of this class. At Oxford, he was a member of the Conservative Association. He next took holy orders in the Church of England, becoming first a curate and then a youth chaplain. After this, he joined the Labour Party and got a job at the BBC. In 2001, he was sent into Parliament for the pocket borough of Rhondda—a place where a Labour candidate would be elected even if it were a dead cat. His most public achievement since then has been to put up semi-nude pictures of himself on a website to assist his search for male company.
I am a few years older than Mr Bryant, and I attended not Oxford but York University. Even so, I know his sort. He belongs to a class and generation of people who combine endless moral superiority with bossiness. All through the 1980s and 1990s, they recited their mantra of contempt for anyone who was not one of them. When they came into their own, they said, they would make England into a kinder, gentler country. Their order would be more tolerant, more inclusive, more open and more accountable. Once they had dropped their commitment to socialist economics, they even promised it would be no less economically efficient.
Because their intentions were so pure, no moral failing or evidence of hypocrisy could be held against them. Look at Mr Bryant’s search for male company. When the newspapers showed us a man in ill-preserved middle age posing like a model from an underwear catalogue, his friends put round the word that he was the victim of an “anti-gay” witch hunt. When it was said that, regardless of sexual taste, he should have behaved with more dignity, we were reminded that the 1950s were over and we now lived in “Cool Britannia”. Attacks on his support, and that of his class, for the European Union were thrown back as accusations of “xenophobia” and “extremist tendencies”. Rising evidence of corruption and administrative incompetence were brushed aside.
But there comes a point when the truth is both undeniable and hurtful. After ten years of domination by these people, we have now reached that point. It is useful to rub noses in the daily scandal. At the moment, Mr Bryant and his class are presiding over the negligent loss of 25 million names and identification data. Tomorrow, it will be something else. But there is always some more or less credible excuse to get them out of permanent trouble. The real stick to use against them is three bloody wars and a police state at home. They promised us neither of these things. But that is what they have delivered.
I wish they had been more like the people they always said they were. But one advantage of their not having been so is their plain embarrassment. We do not live in the world that they promised us, and perhaps that they did vaguely want. We live in a world where they are looking and sounding and behaving just like their parodic notion of the old ruling class.
I called Mr Bryant a fascist. He took vast offence at the word. I may yet receive a letter from his solicitor. But after ten years of rule by him and his class, what other political term fits him better?