Sunday Column: If free speech is not safe at Eton then where is it safe?


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By Derek W Gardiner

Since it's foundation in 1440 by King Henry VI, Eton College has educated some of the most influential people in British history, 20 British Prime Ministers including the first, Sir Robert Walpole and the current one, Boris Johnson, great authors such as George Orwell, Aldious Huxley and Douglas Murray and the future King of Great Britain, Prince William. Eton has been renowned as one of the greatest educational institutions in the world and costs £42,500 per year to attend, nearly double the average salary.


So naturally, parents who pay to send their children there would expect intellectual traditions of freedom of enquiry and academic rigour to be part of the curriculum, regrettably, this is ceasing to be so. An English teacher named Will Knowland was dismissed from his job after posting a video on YouTube (which did not form part of any curriculum) in which he gives a lecture criticising modern feminist ideology he was then asked to remove it but refused to do so. While many may not like the arguments that he makes in the video, it is the academic way to criticise and refute these arguments not try to have them taken down and their author lose his job.


The sacking sets a very bad example to the pupils there who may grow up to be our leaders by telling them that only a certain set of opinions are allowed and that those who go against them should be punished by the loss of their jobs, reputations and livelihoods. The "Progressive" left are often quick to invoke their own rights to freedom of speech and protest when they consider it a "worthy cause" but if they disagree with the point they will label it as hate speech and misinformation which should be taken down immediately. Yesterday, #Stoptheleftpurge was trending on Twitter with many leftists complaining that their accounts were being deleted which perfectly illustrates what happens when you don't speak out for those with whom you disagree.


Mr Knowland is now quite rightly going to an employment tribunal with £50,000 crowdfunded so far and his dismissal has been met with horror from parents, pupils and donors. One rather brave pupil wrote a letter to the headmaster, Simon Henderson saying “parents, staff and boys have been shocked by your arrogance, laziness and most of all your utter disregard for the school in handling this affair, and if you have any honour at all, you will tender your letter of resignation to the Eton community”. Another master quit over the "indoctrination" of pupils at the college and some high paying donors have said they will stop funding the school if the disciplinary action continues.


Eton itself claims its actions were on the based on advice that they may be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights commission but why would that be the case for a YouTube video which did not form part of the school's curriculum. If this is what the Equality and Human Rights commission spend their time doing then they clearly need to rethink their priorities.


The chickens are coming home to roost for the anti-free speech movement. An academic institution be it a school or university cannot function under the belief that somebody taking offence to something precludes it from being a legitimate argument, this narrows the parameters under which topics can be explored and damages pupils capacity to reason. As the late great Christopher Hitchens said: "I've been told that's offensive, as if these two words constitute an argument, not to me they don't".


Britain has always been clear on what it wants from Brexit, its the EU that keeps changing.



HENRY NICHOLLS/ REUTERS

I often hear from remainers that brexiteers had no idea what they wanted out of Brexit and the Leave campaign members all said different things during the referendum but this is simply untrue. The Leave campaign always made clear that what it was seeking was a bilateral free trade deal with the EU similar to what Canada has where goods are allowed to move freely across borders with zero tariffs and without supranational institutions being able to override UK law, without our fishing waters being open to EU fisheries and with us having the freedom to give state aid to our industries.


This is a line that has more or less been stuck to but the EU has constantly changed their position from demanding the so-called backstop be included in the withdrawal agreement to then agreeing to remove it from the withdrawal agreement. The EU has had a supreme power of Britain for the past 45 years and they don't want to give that up. The latest reports on the negotiations suggest they are now demanding 100% control of fishing in Britain's territorial waters after agreeing to give back just 18% of fishing quotas previously and have introduced a new demand to impose punitive tariffs on UK exports if we diverged from EU law.


The UK's chief negotiator, David Frost has been quite clear that he is not prepared to cave in on these demands and why would any self-respecting country do so, it would amount to another surrender document. The time is right now to depart on WTO terms and come back to the negotiating table in a stronger position, knowing we already have trade agreements with 50 of the worlds 195 sovereign states.


Why aren't the left defending our freedom of movement


The North Yorkshire Police are now conducting border patrols and using numberplate recognition technology to prevent people from moving from tier 2 and tier 3 areas for non-essential reasons. This comes a few weeks after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made travel restrictions banning non-essential travel into and out of level 3 and 4 areas illegal with the support of her Green party lackeys who once "celebrated" freedom of movement. However, in England, the travel restrictions remain advice so the Police cannot legally enforce them.


So where are all the people who have spent the last 4 years moaning about the loss of their freedom of movement. Well, they have been surprisingly supportive of these regressive measures, how easy it has been to scare the left into compliance and send them into an almost religious mania about a virus which has a mortality rate of around 0.2%. Maybe we should have taken the hint when they said that words were violence that the left can easily lose its critical perspective.