What’s the difference between Greta Thunberg, Sir Roger Scruton, President Trump and the Cabinet Minister who (disgracefully) leaked the PM’s decision to allow Huawei some part of Britain’s new 5G Network? The answer is that, in common perception, Greta is a charmingly simple 16-year-old speaking up for climate warriors the world over; Scruton and the leaker are plainly old, right wing, and by definition baddies. So we adore Greta and her chums, bunking off from school and engaging in such amusing antics as glue-ing themselves to the roof of the Channel tunnel, taking off all their clothes in the Gallery of the House of Commons, and bringing large parts of the capital to a standstill, all in support of a cause which most sensible people would anyhow have endorsed without their goofy antics.
Brinkworth resident, Sir Roger, by contrast, was widely condemned and given the sack from his unpaid Government post because a left-wing magazine, the New Statesman, chose viciously to misquote him, and by doing so reconfirmed to the twitter sphere their wholly ignorant perception that he is a racist bigot and a variety of other things. He is in fact one of the most brilliant - and truly liberal and compassionate - philosophers of our age, and guilty only of being unguarded in an interview with an avowedly leftist rag. The howls of protest from people who had not in fact read the interview, far less listened to the now released tapes of it which whole exonerate Scruton, are reminiscent of the mob condemnation of the wholly innocent women accused of witchcraft in the Crucible.
And the guilty Cabinet Minister (and I by no means endorse leaks from the National Security Council, which must remain secret if it is to have any usefulness), revealed to the world that the PM has decided to over-rule advice from the security services and others and allow Chinese Government telecoms giant, Huawei, access to our 5G Network with potentially vast influence over all of our lives in the future. They should not have done it in the way they did, but perhaps it is actually quite important that the Nation is told of the decision.
The same rather self-righteous Twitterati commentators express their horror at the notion of a State Visit from President Trump, and Mr Speaker Bercow exceeds his authority by indicating that he may not address both Houses of Parliament. Putin did; President Xi of China did, Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma did, every President of the United States in the past has, so who are we to muzzle the duly elected President Trump, dislike many of his views as we may do. The State visit is in honour of his office, not his personality. Her Majesty neither endorses not condemns the views of the very many state visitors over the years. America is our largest and most important ally and friend and it is only right that we welcome her President, (albeit that we are free to express our opinions of some of his views face to face.)
The very foundation of free speech, to which we risk giving no more than lip service, is that we must listen carefully to people, including people with whom we may very fundamentally disagree. They must be allowed to say whatever they like, and to justify it thereafter. If we simply jump on every passing bandwagon and approve of those things which the Twitter-sphere dictates that we should approve of, then we may well be cutting across the hard-won right of free speech.
‘Approval of what is Approved of’ is as worthless as ‘Disapproval of what is disapproved of.’