While he may have displeased some of his Labour Party colleagues, and not a few of the members, over his differences with General Secretary Jennie Formby in the way Labour has dealt with allegations of anti-Semitism, deputy leader Tom Watson has not been backward in coming forward to do the right thing when it comes to far-right intimidation.
So it was that he stood up in the Commons today and put his case directly. “Every social media platform other than YouTube has taken down Stephen Yaxley Lennon’s profile because of his hateful conduct. Late on Monday night, Yaxley Lennon turned up at a journalist’s home, banging on the doors and windows, demanding to be let in. After being escorted away by Police, he returned at 5am and continued his intimidation.”
There was more. “The incident was livestreamed. He later warned journalists in a YouTube video to expect ‘a knock on the door’. Does the Secretary of State think it is right that YouTube, and the parent company Alphabet, continues to give this man a platform?”
By thus speaking, Watson knows that he will join all those journalists as targets for the bullying, intimidation and threats emanating from Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson. He has also spoken today of the more general threat to free speech coming from the far-right - those who take their cue from the likes of Lennon.
“Those who have expressed their opinion online will know that doing so can unleash a torrent of abuse designed to make you wonder whether you should speak out at all. This week, we’ve heard of female colleagues having panic buttons installed in their homes because of the death and rape threats they’ve received. This culture of abuse, intimidation and threats undermines our democracy and the principles of free speech”.
He had more to say. “So can I ask him to consider, and even guarantee, that the online harms White Paper will introduce measures to prevent hate figures, extremists and their followers turning the online world into a cesspit of hate”. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright was on the same page as Watson, which may mean he too becomes a Lennon target.
On the general point, he told “[People must be able] to debate and to discuss issues that are sometimes uncomfortable and certainly controversial … But … no freedom of speech can survive in this country if we do not protect … people’s ability to say what they think, free of intimidation, free of the threat of violence, and those who engage in intimidation or threats of violence, should not find succour online or anywhere else”.
Regarding Watson’s suggestion that Lennon should not be given a platform by YouTube (the company has thus far declined to remove him), Wright had this to say: “I hope that YouTube will consider this very carefully and consider what he has said, what I have said and reconsider their judgement”. In other words, the Government agrees that Stephen Lennon should not be given that platform by YouTube.
Whether those within the Labour hierarchy, or members, are fans of Tom Watson, he has undoubtedly done the right thing today in making a stand against far-right intimidation, and especially that practiced by Stephen Yaxley Lennon.
Let us hope that YouTube management now reconsider their decision, too.
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