One consistent thread runs through the narrative of those in the press establishment willing to promote the view that Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, is not such a bad person and should be given a hearing, and that is the refrain repeated ad infinitum, and indeed ad nauseam, that it is all about free speech, the right for the individual to speak freely without hindrance of any kind.
But last night, and again early this morning, Lennon visited the home of historian and campaigner Mike Stuchbery in the kind of intimidatory act clearly intended to curtail his right to speak freely, to tell him “exercise your right to free speech if you dare, and see what happens”. So the consistent view would be to also defend Stuchbery’s right to speak freely - as well as not have Lennon tell a series of lies about him.
What, then, of those great libertarian voices, those who are first to the barricades when any kind of free speech is being proscribed? Ah well. Sadly, the position is so very different when the boot is so firmly on the other foot. Take Fraser Nelson, editor of the increasingly alt-Right Spectator magazine, which carried the article on which I passed adverse comment back in 2017, which led to Lennon doorstepping me.
Where was The Great Man’s defence of Stuchbery’s right to free speech? Sadly, it wasn’t: there was not a sound from him. Nor was there a sound from James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, who wrote that article for the magazine in which he told the world that Lennon was not really such a bad sort after all. Not a word.
How about Battersea bedroom dweller Paul Watson of InfoWars infamy? He’s hot on free speech, and always ready to pass adverse comment on anyone he believes is looking to constrain it. Sadly, that only applies to those on his side of the political divide, those who are way off the end of the screamingly batshit conspiracy theory scale.
So he said nothing, either. Never mind, though, there’s always UKIP’s new leader Adolf von Batten. He was incandescent when Facebook finally called time on Lennon’s presence on the platform. He was equally forthright when Mark Meechan, who styles himself Count Dankula, was abruptly binned by BBC Scotland from a show on its new digital channel. But you know the answer. Kipper free speech is only for Kipper fans.
There is, though, one online source that surely will stand up for Stuchbery’s right to speak freely, and that is Spiked Online. Mick Hume and Brendan O’Neill will be there, standing shoulder to shoulder with him in their contrarian but even-handed manner. Er, no they won’t: the best that the Spiked gang can manage today is to sneer at the brief Twitter suspension - since lifted by Bruce Daisley’s personal intervention - of Rachael Cousins.
As Peter Walker of the Guardian has put it, referring to Stuchbery’s Twitter thread about Lennon’s visit, “For those who argue Tommy Robinson/Stephen Yaxley-Lennon is a ‘free speech campaigner’, let alone a ‘journalist’, then do read this brief and disturbing thread. These are the actions of someone trying to shut down free speech through open intimidation”. It’s not about free speech with Lennon. It’s all about him.
That’s how much all those campaigners care about free speech. They don’t care at all.
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