Bill Carmichael: We throw away a free Press at our peril

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IT is tempting in modern Britain to take many things for granted – peace, relative prosperity and also political and religious freedoms.

It is easy to think this is the natural order of things and that things have always been this way.

But even a cursory look around the world, or even into our own relatively recent history, will demonstrate that the enjoyment of such liberties is actually very rare.

If there is a “natural” order of things, it is more likely to involve repression and poverty than the relatively easy life we experience today.

And freedoms don’t just happen – they have been fought for by previous generations at the cost of much blood and treasure.

Take, for example, freedom of expression, the focus of campaigns by English radicals from the Civil War onwards. People like the Levellers realised that freedom of expression was vital in order to defend all our other liberties.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, freethinkers such as Tom Paine and John Milton championed free expression as an essential liberty. At the same time radical newspapers such as Henry Hetherington’s Poor Man’s Guardian and William Cobbett’s Political Register gained huge popularity among the newly literate masses.

The Chartists – the first mass working class movement in world history – owed their origins to the campaigns against stamp duties imposed by the government to suppress circulation of radical newspapers.

Yet the political descendants of those radicals, today’s left wingers, are increasing antagonistic to the notion of a free Press and are keen for the Government to control what we can read for the first time in over 350 years.

In the wake of the Leveson inquiry, I have spoken at a number of public meetings, invariably packed with left wing activists and students, where even mentioning freedom of the Press will get you booed to the rafters.

How easy it is to forget. Are Leftists really prepared to abandon hundreds of years of radical tradition because they don’t like Rupert Murdoch or the Daily Mail? I am afraid the answer is a resounding yes.

Liberty is a precious gift handed down by previous generations and our duty is to defend it. Of course that means people will be free to write and say stupid and sometimes vile things. That is the price we pay to live in a free society.

One thing is for sure – once we meekly give up our freedoms we will have a devil of a job getting them back again.

Blair’s wise words

I don’t expect to be popular for saying so – but Tony Blair is right; his analysis of the Middle East in a speech in London this week was spot on.

The former Prime Minister warned that not only the West, but Russia and China too, should unite against a common enemy that threatens us all – Islamist extremism.

And although there has been a heavy cost in intervening in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, there is a price to pay for not intervening too, as in Syria.

Syria has descended into a barbarous civil war involving radicalised fighters from the UK. The security services have voiced fears that once these fighters tire of murdering fellow Muslims in Syria, they will return home and start blowing up buses and trains in Britain.

Blair also said that we are spending billions on fighting this vile Islamist ideology, while it is being actively promoted in schools and madrassas by our so-called allies in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. This is a global war and has nothing to do with “Western imperialism”, oppression, oil or Israel.

Whether it is schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria, monks decapitated in Thailand, churches firebombed in Egypt, mass stabbings in China, schoolchildren murdered in Russia or the daily mounting body count in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, all these atrocities share one common theme – they are committed by Islamist extremists in the name of Allah.

Blair is surely right when he said: “This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful co-existence or conflict between people of different cultures.”