Labour: offensive and menacing
Reading or watching the news today you’d think that the big story of the day affecting all of our lives is that Gordon Brown is planning to step down as Prime Minister, and that men with superbly tailored suits and expense accounts are deciding the make up of our future government. Really is that such a big surprise? It’s no surprise to anyone who remembers Nick Clegg’s claim a few weeks ago that the Lib Dems couldn’t do business in a coalition with a Labour government that has Brown at the helm. It’s no surprise to the many people here in South Shields that have noticed that our MP David Miliband spent more time out of his constituency than in during the election campaign, enjoying a whistle-stop tour of Labour parliamentary candidates up and down the country, and then sweetly tweeting about how lovely they all are. Building a support base needs plenty of honey I suppose.
No fly zone
Nope, the really important news today was none of that. The big news story of the day, which has actually received very little coverage, was that a man who tweeted an irate message on twitter a while back today received a fine of £1,000 and a criminal record for his lapse of judgement. Paul Chambers claims it was a black joke to match his black humour at his disappointment that Robin Hood airport was closed:
“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week… otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”
Okay, it’s not a funny joke at all, but that isn’t the point. Mr Chambers was blowing off steam on his twitter account with a tasteless comment, maybe offensive, but not hurting anyone. However, Yorkshire police and the Crown Prosecution Service thought different and that the full weight of our unjust laws should be brought to bear on Mr Chambers. I won’t go into detail, because the ever excellent Jack of Kent has been covering the case and has been instrumental in bringing it to a wider audience, today largely to the burgeoning twitter hashtag #twitterjoketrial which has demonstrated a huge amount of outrage at what essentially has been a test case to ban free speech on twitter.
Imagine the bother
In another airport brouhaha, self confessed ‘militant atheist’ (whatever one of them is) Harry Taylor was given a six month prison sentence (suspended for two years) and an ASBO last month for leaving anti-religious cartoons at a prayer room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport in 2008. Mr Taylor was annoyed that an airport named after a famous non theist should have a chapel or prayer room so set out on his own campaign to ‘convert believers to atheism’ by leaving cartoons and posters at the prayer room. His actions and literature were provocative, but shouldn’t have caused too much offence to an open minded adult. Well, except for the airport chaplain who immediately, instead of just putting the cartoons in the bin, took terrible offence, became ‘severely distressed’ and contacted the police, who then arrested and charged Taylor with religiously aggravated harassment. I suppose this is how ‘Jesus is love’. Or something.
Free Speech vs Bad Laws
As Jack of Kent suggests, Chambers’ trial has wider implications on commentary on any electronic publishing medium, as section 127 0f the Communications Act 2003 says:
“A person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”
Taylor’s case shows that how after England’s ancient blasphemy laws were dropped from the statute, these new blasphemy laws dressed up as religiously aggravated harassment have been introduced, laws with such a wide remit that even this blog post may actually fall foul if someone was suitably offended. Merely causing offence or distress has become enough to get you in front of the beak.
Labouring the point
Okay, but what’s all of this got to do with today’s Lab-Dem coalition scuttlebutt you say? Well, Labour were the boys and girls who brought the laws in to prosecute both Mr Chambers and Mr Taylor. Labour have brought in so many illiberal laws over their tenure that now you can have your DNA taken from you and a criminal record given in return for nothing more than speaking your mind.
In a liberal country, people would be free to say stupid things and be offensive without fear of a fine, imprisonment and criminal record.
Do we really want Labour back for another term to continue bringing in such legislation? Or can we believe that the naturally authoritarian Tories leading a Con-Dem coalition be any better? Would the Lib-Dems get out their liberal cojones to make the next government roll back these unjust laws?