In Which I disagree With Julia

JuliaM posted a somewhat controversial article here on Sunday. I have to say, given the theme of the site, it was rather a case of stepping into the lion’s den and I expect that she was fully expecting some flack. I do hope she wasn’t disappointed.

I slept through the Royal Wedding which seemed to me to be the best use of my time –  having worked the previous night. Had I been awake, I’d have found myself something to do that avoided any exposure to it. I have no interest in the House of Windsor or their activities. They are a matter of supreme indifference to me. Others camped out several days in advance to get a glimpse of nothing much. That’s their prerogative in a free society –  what freedoms we still have, that is.

Which brings me to the issue raised in Julia’s post; that of the police preemptively rounding up potential troublemakers. And it is here that we diverge dramatically. The word –  the key word –  here is “potential”. I believe some folk wanted to carry out mock executions. Now, I suspect that the police have a point here in that there was a real likelihood of public disorder, so preventing that might have some validity. Personally, I tend to place it in the same category as flag burning and given the general feeling of the majority of people in London on Friday, making fools of themselves is something of an understatement. I do appreciate that in this instance, the Fuzz had to make an assessment, so, okay, no mock executions, I can live with.

However, demonstration is a basic liberty. If the Muslim Brotherhood against King Richard –  or whatever they are calling themselves today –  want to have a peaceful protest, then fine. If the Marxists against the nobility want to have a protest and do a bit of banner waving, then fine, let them. That is what freedom of speech means; letting people have their say.

Julia’s argument is one that steps onto the top of a very slippery slope –  and, no, this is not a logical fallacy –  it is one that says; “well, this is a one-off, so stopping people just this once is okay”. It is not okay. On Friday, it was the Royal Wedding –  an event that is fairly rare on its own. Next year we get the Olympics where already the elite will have the Zil lanes in place to avoid the delay caused by the proles going about their daily business. Was Friday a dry run for this? After all, it’s only a couple of weeks in the calendar. Then, having accepted it for Royal Weddings and sporting events, what next?

The idea that people can be rounded up for something they might do is repugnant in a civil society. Pre crime was supposed to be a piece of science fiction, just as 1984 and Animal Farm were supposed to be fiction with a warning. A warning that has not only gone unheeded, but has been actively put into practice –  you will see this in London as the more equal animals speed by in their exclusive Zil lanes and you sit fuming at the red traffic lights. You can see this when people who say things we don’t like are rounded up because of what they might do, not have done.

This is why Julia is wrong on this one –  freedom of speech, if it is to be preserved, is for 365 days a year, not 364.

And to finish, we have been taken to task because we have allowed Julia to publish her contrary article. It is not libertarian. Well, so far as I am aware, Julia does not consider herself a libertarian. She is not alone in our line-up of contributors. This is not a libertarian blog; it is broader than that. Our theme is liberty. We believe in freedom of speech –  including speech that we disagree with. This is why, from time to time, you will see an article that you don’t like. James and I are practising what we preach here.

46 comments for “In Which I disagree With Julia

  1. May 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    “The idea that people can be rounded up for something they might do is repugnant in a civil society.”

    And yet it exists. And is used more often than we care to think. Dangerous prisoners who get a far longer sentence than their actual crime would suggest, because they will not admit guilt. The mentally ill, detained because they are ‘a danger to themselves and others’. It’s always a value judgement by someone, based not upon what they have dome, but what they might do.

    The enemy of the good has always been the perfect…

    • May 2, 2011 at 3:18 pm

      Dangerous prisoners who get a far longer sentence than their actual crime would suggest, because they will not admit guilt.

      At the risk of going wildly off topic, this highlights that catch 22 experienced by the innocent wrongly convicted. Admit to what you didn’t do, show contrition for what you didn’t do and we might consent to giving you parole… It’s an absurdity.

      Likewise the Mental Health act is an abomination. I accept that in some rare cases a judgement has to be made – but I would expect evidence before the fact, not suspicion.

      However in the context of what we are discussing – a little noisy disruption at the Royal Wedding is a small price to pay for liberty.

      • May 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm

        The Mental Health Act might well be ‘an abomination’, but the alternative would be truly unthinkable…

        • May 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm

          If it was strictly limited to violent behaviour towards others and there was clear evidence of this, I might be inclined to agree with you. As it is, the remit is so wide, I would prefer the alternative.

          Mental disorder is defined as ‘any disorder or disability of mind’. This definition includes conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, personality disorders, autistic-spectrum disorders, organic disorders such as dementia, behavioural changes due to brain injury and mental disorders due to drug use. The definition includes learning disability only where it is associated with abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible behaviour.

          You can be locked up against your will and forcibly medicated for any of those conditions. That’s pretty unthinkable to me.

          • May 2, 2011 at 4:22 pm

            Also the definitions can and do change. They used to put away unmarried mothers. I can certainly remember news of one dying in an institution not so long ago having been put away 60 or so years earlier.

          • Paul
            May 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm

            Millions of people have suffered and do suffer from mental illness. I’m one of them. An awful lot of people suffer in silence, too, due to the extreme stigma.

            Like Longrider says, it should only really be a case for locking people up if the person has threatened to or has actually committed harm or against self or severe distress – i.e. not just a defence mechanism for powerful people, the wicked and the corrupt! – for others (some stalkers, for instance) or if the evidence that they will do so is clear.

            There is also the possibility that people lock away women who have been sexually abused and it would be too ‘damaging’ to “local interests” if that were to be revealed. Which I’m sure has never happened…

            And it’s far more likely that those who are mentally ill but harmless will suffer abuse than those who aren’t due to a multiple of reasons. It used to be frequently rife in mental hospitals for instance.

  2. May 2, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Call me paranoid but I half expected Brown to use such powers before the last election to prevent potential “disruption”. I must admit I thought all this anti terror nonsense was implemented for that purpose. I guess, like everything else, he bottled it.

    Or as I say maybe I’m just paranoid.

    • Paul
      May 2, 2011 at 5:37 pm

      It’s increasingly difficult not to be paranoid these days.

  3. May 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    “However, demonstration is a basic liberty.”

    It depends where you do it, doesn’t it? If they’d held their protest in the middle of a wood somewhere, or booked a hall, I rather doubt the police would have bothered.

    They arrested them because they were intent on holding their protest in the faces of those celebrating the event, precisely to provoke a reaction. This was no more ‘an exercise in free speech’ than someone spitting in my face is them ‘exercising their right to clear their throat’.

    • bnzss
      May 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm

      “This was no more ‘an exercise in free speech’ than someone spitting in my face is them ‘exercising their right to clear their throat’.”

      A more pertinent comparison would be arresting you for having the audacity to clear your throat, in case you spit at somebody and they spit back.

      “It depends where you do it, doesn’t it?”

      Too right. Public land, public demonstration, it’s all good. Much better way to spend one’s time than all that pomp and circumstance, no?

      • May 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm

        “Much better way to spend one’s time than all that pomp and circumstance, no?”

        I might believe that many number of things are more fun than ‘all that pomp and circumstance’. What right have I got to force anyone to watch me doing what I want, though..?

        • bnzss
          May 2, 2011 at 5:17 pm

          You mean like all those people in London who couldn’t get anywhere ‘cos two people decided to get married all over it?

          Come on, let’s be consistent here. Fact is, nobody’s forced either to look at or pay attention to any action. If we must have public land, this is what we have to put up with, else it isn’t public in the slightest…

    • May 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      That’s surely the point of a demonstration. It would be pointless to do it anywhere other than at the main event.

      Call it crass, call it tasteless by all means – I’m no monarchist, but would agree with those sentiments, but it is still a basic liberty to express one’s dissatisfaction openly on our streets. The police have to make a value judgement about disorder – so preventing a mock execution, but not preventing a demonstration would have been a reasonable compromise.

      The monarchy has survived much worse – including a real execution.

      • May 2, 2011 at 3:30 pm

        “…but it is still a basic liberty to express one’s dissatisfaction openly on our streets.”

        But not to force your dissatisfaction on others unwilling to view it. It’s not like they could say ‘Oh, let’s leave them to it and go watch another Royal Wedding somewhere else’, is it..?

        • May 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

          Actually, that happens at every demonstration, doesn’t it? Someone will always be forced to view that which they don’t like. To which the answer is; too bad. Get over it already.

          I was particularly aggrieved to see on the news the demonstrations by the students and UK Uncut, but would defend absolutely their right to do it – not the vandalism, of course, the basic march and hot air 😉

  4. May 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I’m with JuliaM on this one. Many of those detained (or all of them?) had made statements about proposed disruption. Football hooligans are prevented from travel…who would complain had 4 young Muslims with backpacks been detained early on July 7th six years ago had they made a stement beforehand?

    • May 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm

      There’s a significant difference between disruption and murder. Had the police had evidence of the intentions of those four young men, they would have failed in their duty not to detain and question them. I have no problems with them acting upon intelligence and evidence to prevent a crime being committed. Had they done so that day, they would have discovered evidence of a crime in commission, so the arrests would have been perfectly fine. Protest – even protest that causes disruption can be managed by ensuring that protesters cannot directly affect the event, yet still get their say and, presumably, their faces on the television news 😉

      • May 2, 2011 at 3:33 pm

        Didn’t the Democrats try that at one of their National Conferences, setting up ‘Free Speech’ zones away from the main event?

        I seem to recall it wasn’t well received… 😛

        • May 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

          From a civil order perspective, there would have to be some separation – much as they do with competing demos between the likes of the EDF and the UAF. That’s just plain common sense. Equally, they have a duty to ensure that the main event goes smoothly. No one is suggesting otherwise.

          If people turned up and actually tried to disrupt proceedings, then the police can and should act. Prior to that, a degree of separation is a sensible compromise.

          The likelihood is that any shouting of slogans would have been drowned out by the majority anyway. As you said in your original comments, they would have been making fools of themselves. Let them.

          • May 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm

            I’ve never understood the logic of seperating football fans or the EDL and UAF. The only requirement is that the public should be protected.

            I’ve often thought football fans should be allowed on the pitch after the match. You could even charge for the spectacle:)

            The point is if 2 groups want to beat the hell out of each other who are we to interfere? Just prevent colateral damage.

    • William
      May 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm

      Not sure if this adds anything but…
      As I see it anyone who is hell bent on causing real disruption to any event doesn’t announce it on Facebook or Youtube prior to the day of the event. They simply turn up on the day and disrupt.

      • May 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

        Fair point. it’s what I would do.

  5. May 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    That Charlie & Co were arrested before the event to ensure the day went peacably and people weren’t bothered by dissidents can’t be right in anybody’s book, surely.

    Muslim Against Crusades also notified their intentions but I understand the police simply said they couldn’t have police protection on the day, so MAC backed down. I wish they’d gone ahead – they’d have been lynched and the country better for it.

    It is ‘the slippery slope’ but we’re we’re not at the top, we’re half-way down it; we don’t need more pre-emptive strikes against demonstrators to add to the list. I’d rather the state hadn’t intervened and Charlie & friends had gone ahead – let the public make of it what they will.

    It’s the media focus in this country that causes so many problems and between the media, govt and the police most of the people in this country don’t seem to know what’s happening. Unless you make an effort to tune in to other news sources you wouldn’t have a clue about all this. They call it protection but I call it censorship.

    If you think Thurs/Fri events are bad, wait until next year’s Olympics Incorporated with its zil lanes & extended stop & search – Londoners have already been advised to stay out of London or not use their cars fhs.

  6. May 2, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    LR, I agree with you. It’s a shame that the Westboro Baptists and the Republicans were prevented from holding their own counter-events, that really would have been the best of British on display – Islamist nutters, EDL nutters, US Christian nutters and Republican nutters, all in one town on one day.

    • May 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      Westboro’ Baptists or Islamist nutters? Which is best? There’s only one way to find out. :mrgreen:

      • May 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm


  7. May 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Ah yes, freedom of speech. lf a group of Man City supporters want to demonstrate in the middle of Man U supporters at Old Trafford we should let them? Very little difference with wanting to demonstrate at the Royal wedding. Both scenarios run a very high risk of violence … to the demonstrators.

    l have very little doubt that said demonstrators hoped to be stopped. Charlie Veitch of the Love Police certainly did. He did everything possible to make sure it happened and took no precautions to avert any impending arrest.

    Reminds me of ‘l’m going to get him, somebody hold me back … please!’

    • May 2, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      You may have a point there – the demonstration didn’t involve going to London at all. Cunning plan, that 😉

      Ah yes, freedom of speech. lf a group of Man City supporters want to demonstrate in the middle of Man U supporters at Old Trafford we should let them?

      Yes. Do the same as happens with the EDL and the UAF – keep the two sides separate.

      If by Old Trafford, you mean the football ground; no. It’s private property and the property owners get to say who goes in and what they do.

      • May 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm

        “Yes. Do the same as happens with the EDL and the UAF – keep the two sides separate.”

        Bit tough on the guy who’s piggy in the middle, though..?

        • May 2, 2011 at 4:34 pm

          It’s what he’s paid for. 😈

    • May 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      Why prevent violence between consenting adults? Just protect the public.

      • May 2, 2011 at 4:36 pm

        I would presume that this is, in part, the logic of separating. Also, there’s the issue of property damage during the fight.

        Put them together in a big field and let them get on with it would be a solution.

  8. microdave
    May 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Why don’t the police allow Charlie Veitch & co to have their demonstration for say 10 minutes, thereby upholding the “free speech” aspect – and allowing them to make fools of themselves. After that they should be ordered to stop or risk arrest.

    Sending in a bunch of unmarked thugs to snatch somebody is not acceptable on any day of the year, royal wedding or not, unless you are happy to live under a communist style regime.

    I guess what I am trying to suggest is a return to “common sense policing”.

    • May 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm

      That would be too much like common sense. we don’t do that these days. :mrgreen:

    • May 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      Seems sensible.

  9. May 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    I can see both sides of this discussion. It is quite wrong to block anyone’s free speech, but it is equally wrong for protesters to act in a way which encourages danger to the public and to attempt to ruin a special day for others.
    True freedom demands responsibility. True libertarianism surely requires that one does not steal or act against another, the would-be protesters were in effect trying to steal the majority’s celebratory day. There is both right and wrong on both sides in this situation.

  10. May 2, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I can see both sides of this discussion.

    Actually, so can I. However, I believe it could have been managed without preemptive arrests.

    • May 2, 2011 at 9:51 pm

      I agree, arrest places a mark on their future when they committed no crime. But without knowing the exact details, importantly were they asked to change their plans and warned of arrest if they did not? Without such details it is difficult for us to define what is ‘reasonable’.

      (The Firefox crashing has stopped)

  11. microdave
    May 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    As a further example of dual standards this article (I know, I know, it’s in the Mail) seems to show a group of students behaving in a pretty obnoxious manner, yet the police didn’t make any arrests.

    A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said:
    ‘No arrests were made as they didn’t feel there were any offences. It is for each officer to take into account individual circumstances and use their discretion to deal with whatever they come across.’

    Aren’t urinating in public and being drunk and disorderly, offences any more?

    If the antics of this bunch of idiots are true, I would find it more offensive than Charlie walking around with his loud-hailer, or a few twats chanting anti monarchy slogans….

  12. Monty
    May 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm


    “…I would expect evidence before the fact, not suspicion.

    However in the context of what we are discussing – a little noisy disruption at the Royal Wedding is a small price to pay for liberty”

    While in principle I would tend to agree with that, I think the police have a primary responsibility for public safety. And with one and a half million people crammed into a fairly restricted zone, the potential for sparking a dangerous situation was always going to be quite high. Any crowd of that size is vulnerable to being spooked, with tragic results. I understand that a pre-arranged republican street protest was allowed to go ahead, but it was held at a safe distance from the route, and passed off without incident. The impression I get is that the police are most afraid of those who might be planning mayhem, maybe including bolting horses, and stampeding people.

    How do you protect a massive throng of spectators from that kind of hazard?

  13. Zaphod
    May 2, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    I usually disagree with Julia. I’m sure she doesn’t mind.

    Protests which don’t inconvenience anybody are a bit pointless.

    It would be good on such occasions to have a “controlled protest zone”, not too out of the way. Something like the Hyde Park Corner thing, does that still happen? Earnest protestors and good-natured heckling. Traditional.

    I rather like Charlie and co. I’m not interested in royal weddings, but I’m pleased that so many people had a good day. The happy couple should send Charlie a piece of the cake with a note, “Sorry you missed the party”.

    • Paul
      May 2, 2011 at 10:34 pm

      Protests which don’t inconvenience anybody are a bit pointless.

      The government would like protests like that.

      That would have to be the point of the CPZ though, so as to protect both sides. It needs to be far enough away that they don’t disrupt proceedings/get themselves lynched/pose a danger but close enough to have an effect. And that therein lies the problem. The police/government/security services would end up restricting protest rather than letting it pass with some exceptions.

      All interesting ways of looking at it anyway.

  14. Robert Edwards
    July 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    You are not permitted to disagree with Julia.

    • July 21, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      Oh dear. Will anything awful happen?

      • July 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

        We’ll see, we’ll see… 😈

  15. Robert Edwards
    July 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    The ghost of GK Chesterton will come and rip your lungs out.

    Just Kidding…


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