Remix sat down with Mick Hume, a journalist and author known in Britain for his focus on issues related to free speech and freedom of the press, at the MCC Feszt in Esztergom, Hungary, at the end of July to talk about what has happened to free speech in the U.K.
According to Wikipedia, you used to be a Marxist, a libertarian Marxist. That’s how you are described there, as a libertarian Marxist…
Yes, there was a time when I liked to call myself that because I found that it annoyed all the right people on both sides of the debate. The libertarians hated it, and the left hated it. But I do not have a political label that I can attach to myself these days. I think one of the problems with politics is we’re stuck with 20th-century language – left, right, conservative, Marxist… – and politics has changed. We just don’t have the right language.
Still, you considered yourself a Marxist then, didn’t you?
Yes, most certainly. I was the launch editor of the Living Marxism magazine in the 1980s, when I was in my 20s.
And you were a figure in Britain’s Revolutionary Communist Party.
Many people think that what is happening in the West with free speech, freedom of opinion, and what we call woke ideology, which includes all this LGBT and gender stuff, is Cultural Marxism. As a former Marxist, do you agree with that?
No, I don’t think it’s helpful to call it Cultural Marxism. It’s a bit like the generals at the beginning of the First World War who were trying to fight the last war, were trying to fight yesterday’s enemy rather than realizing that the machine gun had been invented and the world had changed.
I think calling it Cultural Marxism is kind of trying to find something in the past. It’s actually something new happening. I would rather describe it as my friend Frank Furedi describes it, as a combination of technocracy, ideology-free management politics, merged with identity politics.
Identity woke politics gives the technocrats a political language in which they can justify their authority when they don’t have an ideology of their own. It is a new phenomenon. You can call it what you like, but that’s what it is.
So you probably disagree with Victor Orbán when he once said – while on a state visit to the UK, by the way – that there is a parental link between the elites coming from the 1968 revolution in the West and the former communist regimes of Eastern Europe…
Oh no, I do agree with that. All I’m saying is that if we try to find a label of the past to describe what is happening today, we’re kind of missing the point. There’s something new happening. We’re not fighting yesterday’s battle. We’ve got to fight today’s battle. But I agree with that convergence point. The woke left have inherited the Stalinists’ hatred of freedom.
When I was a young man, I thought I was left-wing because I believed that free speech and democracy, the two principles that I’ve always cared about in my life, were left-wing causes. Historically, they were.
Today, however, the left is the enemy of both of those things. And even when I was left, I was never part of that left. So my friends and I were the only people on the left who, even in the 1980s, were against the “no platform” policy of censoring fascists, censoring conservatives, saying people should be banned.
That was starting then, and from the first, we were always against that and for freedom of speech. So my principles are the same, not just in politics.
Mick Hume, second from right seen wearing a hat, taking part in a discussion panel at the MCC Feszt
In the U.K., dissidents are not only “deplatformed,” they can now get “debanked.” This has happened to Nigel Farage this year…
My old comrade. I worked with Nigel in the Brexit Party.
Well, he’s had his bank accounts closed, and we now know for sure that it happened because of his political opinions. We also know that other people like, for example, members of the Free Speech Union have been debanked too in the U.K. Is this debanking of people the newest stage of a totalitarian drift in your country?
What it demonstrates very powerfully is that what you described as woke cancel culture is not just about a few radical students trying to get feminists banned from university campuses for criticizing trans ideology. It goes to the top of society. The corporate world is now run by woke ideologists. The woman who was in charge of Nigel’s bank had to resign when it became clear that she was the one who lied to the BBC and told them that Farage had been debanked for financial reasons, not political reasons.
Her whole mission in running that bank, as she said herself, was to pursue cause-led banking. She told the BBC those lies at a dinner for a green charity. So she’s not interested in banking, she’s interested in environmental causes and diversity.
That’s what her idea of being a corporate boss was: Not making profits for the shareholders or paying back the government the billions of pounds that they spent bailing out the banks, but running an ideological institution. So, it’s very dangerous.
I’m very grateful to Nigel because he’s exposed how far this has gone. Right at the top of capitalist society, we have woke ideologues who are prepared to cancel people, to make people, as Nigel described himself, a non-person by removing their right to have a bank account. In the 21st century, if you haven’t got a bank account, you don’t exist, right? You cannot operate.
Nigel Farage said he might have to leave the U.K. if he cannot have a bank account there.
And he’s been refused accounts by a dozen banks.
Several others, yes. I’m sure he’ll get one now because of all this fuss. But nevertheless, he’s done a great service exposing how far this has gone. So, it’s a very important thing.
Is it specifically the banks or is it the corporate world?
It is across the corporate world. If you listen to corporate leaders talk, all they’re ever talking about now is diversity, sustainable development, and all these kinds of woke issues.
Why? What motivates them to do so?
It’s almost like capitalists don’t believe in capitalism anymore. They’ve lost the ability to justify themselves and their position in society. If I say: We’re here to employ people and make profits, that’s a dirty word, even amongst capitalists themselves. So, they’re looking for some kind of mission, some sense of worth in society.
It goes against the interests of free speech and a free society. And it does serve their interests; not financially, but woke ideology and cancel culture are really a new way of disciplining the working classes, telling ordinary people what they can say, what they can’t say, what they can think, and what they can’t think.
And it’s not just the corporate world. You wrote an article in the Daily Mail in April about a new bill, the Worker Protection Bill, which was proposed by the government of Rishi Sunak to discipline the companies that do not fall in line with this new woke ideology.
Yes, this new law would give people the right to sue their employers because they’ve heard something they don’t like in their work environment. It’s actually been proposed by a couple of Liberal Democrats, but the government has supported it. So this is another indication of how these things go to the top. The Conservative Party – this is a conservative government – is actually pushing this bill through.
When campaigning against Liz Truss for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Sunak said that, if he became prime minister, he would fight this “woke nonsense” that had “permeated public life,” he would “end the brainwashing, the vandalism, and the finger pointing”, and “protect British freedoms.”
So it’s another broken promise…
Yes. You know, we have to judge politicians by what they do, not by what they say about themselves. And the Conservatives are very good at making speeches about free speech, democracy, and British values. But in practice, the country is being run by civil servants and technocrats who are 100 percent committed to this woke cancel culture. And the government has not stood up to them at all. So, the Conservative Party is part of the problem, not the solution.
In fact, several British prime ministers in the past criticized what was happening at universities. Boris Johnson and Theresa May both said they wanted to restore freedom of speech, freedom of thinking, and academic freedom in universities across the UK. Has anything been done for that purpose?
They are bringing in a law that is supposed to protect academic freedom, and they say they are going to appoint someone to be in charge, a kind of free speech tsar. So you might say that’s a step in the right direction, but a law is not the answer.
We’re in a culture war. You’ve got to fight it. And just putting a law on paper and saying that free speech exists in universities will not solve the problem.
In America, they have the First Amendment, the gold standard of legal protection for free speech. That hasn’t stopped American universities from going down this road further and faster than us in terms of restricting academic freedom.
So, it is a step in the right direction, but a law is not going to fix it.
There seems to be also a problem with the British police monitoring social media. Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the Polish Law and Justice Party, once cited the example of a mother who was arrested in front of her children at her home in the U.K. for calling a man a man on Twitter, whereas that man identified himself as a woman. The poor woman was in custody for several hours and prosecuted by the police. She finally won her case in appeal, but this took several years. And Kaczyński said that as long as Law and Justice governs in Poland, it will preserve people’s freedoms and Poland will not go totalitarian like Western Europe.
It is indeed quite extraordinary that the police have for several years in Britain become more interested in, as I used the slogan once, policing the tweets rather than policing the streets.
They have become a kind of thought police. They’re obsessed with what people say on social media and hassle them for things that are not a crime.
It’s not a crime to call someone a man who is a man. It’s not a crime either to call a woman a man. But somehow they’ve invented these things as crimes.
And what’s interesting about that is that they started keeping a register of what was called non-criminal hate incidents: Things that weren’t a crime, but which they’d decided were hate speech. So, your name would be in that register even if you hadn’t committed a crime but just said the wrong thing.
They were told from the top to stop doing this, and they’ve just carried on. They are a law to themselves. The British police are one of the most woke institutions in our society.
You’ve only got to look at the way that they deal with the Just Stop Oil protesters who are blocking the highways of London, with the police asking them if they can help them or if they would like some water and are all right. And when drivers come and drag those people out of the road, the police threaten to arrest the drivers, not the road blockers.
So, the police in Britain are a major problem.
This is the new kind of totalitarianism. It’s not jackboots and beating people up. It’s trying to control what people are saying and not solving crimes. If your house is burgled, the police will not come. If you say the wrong thing and call someone a man on Twitter, then they will come.
In your article about this Worker Protection Bill, you gave the hypothetical example of a bookstore inviting J. K. Rowling. So, I understand that nobody in the U.K. would dare invite J. K. Rowling. So, a renowned author who says, in line with the truth, that only biological women are real women has been socially canceled in the UK, right?
Obviously, she couldn’t care less because you can’t cancel J. K. Rowling. She’s the biggest-selling author in the world. So, she’s in a very powerful position to hit back at those who try to cancel her, but yes, she can’t appear in a public forum without there being huge protests, and anything she says on social media will be attacked from all quarters.
She’s been incredibly courageous in standing up for the fact that there are two sexes and that this is a biologically determined division and a fact of life.
However, by doing this to J. K. Rowling, making it impossible, even for someone like her to operate normally in society, you can scare a lot of other people who would think: If they can do that to her, what could they do to me? They could wipe me out. They could cancel my job. I could lose my whole livelihood.
So, it has a much greater effect on other people.
That is why we now have the problem of self-censorship, which is one of the biggest problems we’re facing today in Western society.
Not just state censorship or Twitter censorship, but people who will not say what they think because they’re scared of what the consequences are. Or they don’t know what they’re allowed to say anymore, because the terrain shifts so fast. What word am I allowed to use this week? I don’t know.
The rules keep being rewritten all the time. So, self-censorship is a big issue, and this is why it’s so important for people who believe in free speech to put the banner up so that you give people a sense of confidence that they’re not alone and there’s something they can rally around.
People in continental Europe tend to think that the U.K. at least has a diverse and free press and media. I suppose you don’t agree with that, as you wrote a book titled: “There Is No Such Thing As a Free Press – and we need one more than ever.”
Everything is relative. Compared to some countries, I love the British press. But they are very constrained. Far more constrained than they used to be when I started writing for them. Every newspaper has a diversity team who are checking the language that’s used, and it’s very disruptive. Also, we have new legal problems with the British press. We have privacy laws. Libel law in Britain has always been a big problem for the press, being sued for defamation. Now, the rich and powerful are more likely to use privacy law. This is what people like Prince Harry are using to try to police the press. The thing about these privacy laws is this is a big issue not only for free speech but for democracy because those two things are always very closely connected, and the British Parliament never passed any privacy laws.
What Tony Blair’s New Labour government did was pass the Human Rights Act based on the European Convention on Human Rights. And that gave the judges tremendous power. They have used that power to basically invent a privacy law. These judges, not parliament or the government, are the ones who have decided what can and cannot be published in the British press.
You have unlimited parliamentary sovereignty in the U.K., so a Conservative-dominated parliament could change all that very easily.
Of course, they could. And they have often made noises like “We’re going to get rid of the Human Rights Act” and “We’re going to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.”
But nothing has happened because of the different forces ranged against them on that: The judges, the lawyers, the mainstream media, the civil service…
There is a very substantial wall in support of the Human Rights Act and the judges’ power, and the government has never had the backbone, the nerve, the political will. It’s all about political will to, as you say, use parliamentary sovereignty to change that.
They’ve allowed the judges to write this privacy law, and this is a terrible situation.
So, are there still reasons for hope in the U.K.?
Well, look at the Nigel Farage incident.
On one hand, that shows you how far the problem goes. But the backlash against it, the support, the public outrage, and the fact that the people responsible for it have all had to resign… The left has been after the banks for years and never got anywhere. Nigel Farage got rid of the top bankers in a week.
So, the public outrage at that kind of attack on free speech shows you there is hope. It shows that we can rally forces for free speech as a fundamental value of our civilized society. But in order to do that, we’ve got to put the flag up and fight. We’ve got to go on the offensive.
Free speech is the fundamental liberty in our society. We can have no other freedoms without it. And it must include the right to be offensive. Spinoza said 350 years ago that in a free state, any man can think what he likes and say what he thinks. That’s still the stand that we’ve got to fight for. And we’re still not there.
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A former “libertarian Marxist,” Mick Hume had a weekly column in The Times in the years 1999–2009 and has since then written regularly for leading British newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail. Hume was the launch editor of Spiked-online.com, and still writes for Spiked. He is now a regular columnist for The European Conservative website.