We don’t have to show the slightest respect for other people’s views – just for their right to hold them. Respect, after all, must be earned. It’s only freedom of speech that’s a right. When someone says something which you find stupid or offensive, you can say something back. You can tell them to fuck off. They don’t have to, but they’ve still been told.
- David Mitchell, writing about the self-publicising Islam4UK. As Mr Mitchell says, we should have the right to be offensive, and we should have to put up with being offended sometimes. A pity that we don’t.
Freedom of speech has ceased to be a right in Britain. In practice you are no longer permitted to be offensive, if you are within the grasp of the authorities. You may be threatened or arrested, have property seized, or forced to defend a criminal trial. Sell or wear a mildly rude T-shirt, and you may find public order legislation stretched to make an example of you. Write down “inappropriate” fantasies in a blog, or a poem, and prepare to defend a serious criminal charge. Quarrel with someone, a planning department, say, and if they can even suggest you hinted at forbidden speech, they can use the police to intimidate you.