Bill Carmichael: Free speech for everyone

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I FIND myself in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory this morning – I’m in agreement with a bunch of Islamic fanatics.

The case concerns Emdadur Choudhury, a 26-year-old benefits bandit from East London, who was this week convicted of burning a poppy during a Muslim protest on Armistice Day last year.

The protest was disgusting and should never have taken place. During the two-minute silence, the extremists began chanting “British soldiers burn in hell” and they screamed that troops risking their lives to protect ordinary people in Afghanistan were “murderers, rapists and terrorists”.

I can well understand the distress this caused to people who were trying to pay their respects, and I agree with many, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who found the £50 fine imposed on Choudhury risibly lenient.

But I am afraid the fact remains that they should never have been prosecuted in the first place. It was, as the defence unsuccessfully tried to argue, an unwarranted infringement of their freedom of expression. Free speech means nothing unless you are prepared to extend it to people you disagree with. Once you allow the state to dictate what opinions are deemed unacceptable, you are on a very slippery slope. Perhaps your beliefs will land you in the dock next?

We’ve already seen the police using so called “hate speech” laws to persecute Christians and silence those whose views are seen as unfashionable. For example, preachers have been arrested for using quotes from the Bible that some homosexuals find offensive, and woe betide anyone who dares draw a cartoon of Mohammed.

And the UN has adopted a resolution calling on all nations to enact a law that would outlaw any criticism of Islam.

We should resist these illiberal moves robustly. We honour our servicemen and women not only by wearing a poppy with pride, but also by resolutely defending the freedoms for which they died.

Camp followers

After five years of rolling about in the mud, interspersed with regular bouts of violent thuggery, the Climate Campers have decided to call it a day.

A meeting of environmental activists in Dorset decided there would be no Climate Camp this summer and the organisation would be disbanded. One activist said: “I think people felt they wanted to be freed up to get on with new things.” I think that’s green-speak for: “We’ve grown up a bit.”

I’ll miss the unhappy campers, because they provided an endless supply of comedy gold.Who could forget, for example, the very first climate camp outside Drax power station in 2006? Hundreds of protesters threatened “confrontational direct action” to close down the plant, which provides electricity for about seven million homes.

But they were careful to secure their own electricity supplies by installing a diesel generator at their campsite.

So the self-righteous, sanctimonious eco-warriors were quite happy to plunge millions of vulnerable people into the dark and cold, but couldn’t bear the thought of existing more than a few hours without being able to recharge their phones and laptops.The hypocrisy stank even more than the composting toilets.

Laughable though they are, they have had a malign influence on the debate over future power supplies, with the result that we’ll soon be facing regular power cuts.

Only this week the chief executive of the National Grid, Steve Holliday, admitted that Britons had to get used to living without electricity because of the move away from cheap coal and nuclear power towards hideously expensive wind power.

When the lights start to go out, remember who to blame.

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