my two main complaints: 1) that pretty much all of Britain’s problems stem from the profusion of vague and subjective terms in British law (terms such as “insult,” “alarm,” and “distress”), the product of which is that “hate speech” becomes whatever the person employing it as a bludgeon says it is; and 2) that the British seem not to care too much about the erosion of their foundational liberties, preferring to debate practicalities rather than principles.
Time and time again, British journalists have been reluctant to regard creeping authoritarianism as self-evidently absurd. But Garton Ash does not shy away. Instead, he asks the rhetorical question of whether singer Tom Jones should have been arrested for singing a “song about a guy who murders his girlfriend in a jealous rage” at the Queen’s Jubilee concert, before contrasting it brilliantly with other cases that did lead to arrest:
Don’t be absurd, you say. But would it be any more absurd than a student being arrested under section 5 for saying to a mounted policeman: “Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?“, or the 19-year-old Kyle Little, charged and convicted – though then cleared on appeal – for delivering what was described as a “daft little growl” and a woof at two labradors? Or a 15-year-old summonsed for holding up a sign outside the Church of Scientology’s central London headquarters saying: “Scientology is not a religion. It is a dangerous cult“? (I repeat those exact words here, as my own. Officer, you know where to find me.)