The plan is to extend the already sinister enough football banning orders that currently relate to the throwing of things onto the pitch and engaging in racist chanting. Now what you communicate on the internet could result in the deprivation of your right to go into a real, private space that the owners of the stadium might otherwise be pleased to admit you to. It is not clear whether what an allegedly racist person tweets to Marcus Rashford or whoever would have to be proven first in a court of law as ‘hateful’ (in itself, of course, a highly subjective and politically partisan judgement) for the banning order to kick in. Ominously, the prime minister is talking in characteristically vague terms of wanting to stop ‘vile’ and ‘bullying’ behaviour which could mean almost anything. The government’s new Online Safety Bill will give a state regulator the power to order the erasure from cyberspace beliefs that are not themselves illegal to express but which they judge to be emotionally ‘harmful’ or factually ‘misleading’.
The context in which this latest demand for yet another civil liberty-denying measure is being advanced is the disapproval some England fans have expressed by booing the taking of the knee before games. This is a gesture in support by the players of what can also, itself, be defined as a racist statement: namely, the unproven assumption that Britain is ‘structurally racist’, that white people constitute an oppressor, ‘privileged’ class. This undignified posing is derived from the Black Lives Matter Movement in America and is designed to symbolically represent the central claim contained within Critical Race Theory. Keir Starmer linked his condemnation of the booing and those who, like Priti Patel, have refused to condemn those expressing themselves in this way, with the demand for the extension of the use of football banning orders. It will be interesting to see if the followers of clubs who boo the taking of the knee at this forthcoming season’s games are themselves now ejected from stadiums, prosecuted and then legally blocked from attending games for years to come.
When I first heard about the Chinese regime’s use of the social credit system whereby individuals are allocated scores relating to their monitored behaviour and then subjected to penalties proscribing them from doing various things, such as the right to travel far within the country and take out a loan, as well as being publicly shamed in some towns, I assumed that at some point people on the new ultra-left would start demanding the introduction of a similar approach here. Sasha Johnson of Black Lives Matter, AKA the ‘Black Panther of Oxford’, has duly obliged and ominously called for a ‘race offenders register’ which would see persons accused of racism being banned by law from holding certain jobs and even living in certain areas. It would be akin to internal exile in the old Soviet Union.
Now, incredibly, it is a Conservative government which is setting the wheels in motion, supported, naturally, by the opposition parties. Expect the demand to restrict the right to attend matches to be extended to other things. Britain is not only in danger of going down the road of social credit totalitarianism but of following in the footsteps of the post-war West German Radikalenerlass that prevented people who were judged to be communists or fascists from doing teaching jobs. Then people who are judged to be ‘transphobes’ or ‘islamophobes’ will be subjected to various restrictions and so on and on and on. First, they came for the soccer internet trolls, then the taking-the-knee booers…
What is disturbing from a liberal perspective is that virtually no one in public life is prepared to stand up unequivocally for the right to communicate one’s beliefs – moronically racist or not – in a, by definition, self-regarding, non-physically aggressive way. It is taken as read that the expression of certain beliefs should be eradicated from the public square and, now, cyberspace.
This way lies totalitarianism since once one genre of belief is outlawed then the principle of free speech becomes endangered across the board. Once it is established that some premier league footballers have a right not to be offended, where does this end? Do conservatives and supporters of the state of Israel also possess such a ‘right’? Do I have a right as a white person not be demonised by those who articulate Critical Race Theory? The logic of the New Left’s culture-control agenda is that they should be the ones to decide who gets to speak since politics and what is communicated socially, they believe, is a zero-sum game between oppressor and oppressed groups. This is, needless to say, a very dangerous ideology and those who really do value the conditions necessary for a pluralist democracy need to start defending the right to freedom of expression of those they disagree with profoundly, or even despise. In a free society, racists should have as much right to speak as anti-racists, Marxists as liberals, anti-democrats as well as democrats.