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That woman on the UK tram affair

The internet has been buzzing for a while about the incident of a woman, Emma West, who, as shown in a video, shouted abuse at people on a tram. It is not exactly clear from the clip what might have led to this, but regardless, it is pretty nasty and a young child sits nearby as she delivers these words. She has, according to reports, been subsequently arrested and charged.

Some people out there in the blogosphere are outraged by this turn of events – that West has been dealt with by the authorities, I mean. Initially, the libertarian in me agreed wholeheartedly, regarding this as an appalling attempt to enforce codes of conduct, including speech, in public places. It does make me deeply uneasy and I wonder whether the law would have come down like a ton of bricks on her had she just left, say, litter on the floor.

The blogger Old Holborn expresses such a view, for instance. Some people seem to suggest, in fact, that people like this woman have been provoked beyond endurance by the impact of mass immigration. Well maybe, although as a supporter of the freedom of people to move from A to B – so long as they do not expect state benefits – I don’t see why immigration should be halted because it offends people like this woman. After all, given that she lives in London, and that it is, thankfully, a cosmopolitan city and one of the financial capitals of the planet, she will have to face up the chance of meeting lots of foreign-looking folk on a fairly regular basis, immigration or not.

I had second thoughts about this business, however, when I considered that under the old Common Law (which libertarians often praise), and other laws too, an offence of “breach of the peace” might apply to this woman’s conduct; such a situation should, perhaps, involve no more than a rap over the knuckles from a magistrate and told to be of good behaviour. The same used to apply to people who got very drunk and disorderly, etc. This would not have anything specifically to do, as such, with being politically correct, as far as I can see. (There may have been elements of PC-ness in this case, of course.). The issue would be simply whether her behaviour was deemed likely to cause disorder, and of what the risk of that really was.

Also, from a property rights point of view, if a train/other service is run by a private company, say, then I would argue that the train company should be free to decide such matters, just as, in a perfect liberal world, pubs and clubs and other such places could so decide. (Alas, such principles have already been partly destroyed as in the outlawing of smoking in privately owned commercial premises). If I own, say, a theatre, and I saw a customer shout abuse of any kind at another in the bar, then I’d be within my rights as the owner of said property to kick the people out and if necessary, ban him/her from re-entering.

The context is also important in such cases, or it can be. It is one thing, maybe, to trade insults with someone in a fairly open place; it is another business if you are on a confined space such as a train carriage or small office and have to hear such abuse, in close proximity. The smaller the space, the more good manners matter. Indeed, think of how the word “civility” and “civic” run together – manners are a function of having to live close to one’s fellows. Institutions such as navies, where people have to sleep cheek by jowl, understand this point almost instinctively – hence all the seemingly petty rules.

These are issues where a healthy civil society is one in which certain behaviours are internalised, reducing the need for rules on such conduct to be enforced by things like police. We should not need to legislate so that mothers do not swear in front of their young children while verbally attacking strangers, or dumping litter on the pavement, or spitting, or urinating in public. And to a degree, the fundamental problem is that this internalisation of moral conduct has been hit by a variety of forces, including the Welfare State, breeding an often oafish, whining sense of entitlement. And it also leads me to the view that one of the most effective ways to restore civility is through private, non-state ownership of public spaces.

By the way, on a related topic, I can recommend Edward Shils’ classic, The Virtue of Civility.

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37 comments to That woman on the UK tram affair

  • jameshigham

    We found over our way that there was no perfect unanimity on the question. Seems line ball this one, except for the general freedom part of course.

  • Nick Lane

    My problem with this case: She’s been remanded in custody. The same day I heard that, the local radio reported on a police operation to crack down on shoplifters.

    Results: Several people fined, the rest cautioned.

    No matter how nasty this woman is, how can what she did be worse than theft of someone else’s property?

  • If it hadn’t been for the government there would have been no extortion, the money would never have been handed over to the tram builders, the tram would never have been built and this incident would never have happened.

    It’s Tony Blair’s fault.

  • notforme

    You havea strange view of benefits. You say: “as a supporter of the freedom of people to move from A to B – so long as they do not expect state benefits”

    Sadly, there is far more to it than this. If you imagine the impact of unfettered immigration on low-value jobs, the pressure on local housing and such incidentals as providing translators in hospitals as well as teachers in ‘diverse’ schools and couple with it some acceptable crime practices among numerous ‘newcomers’ you will see that it is not all about direct benefits.

    Unless, of course, you are saying that people can freely come to these islands providing they are not ill, don’t ever require homes or need education then it is fine because these services are not benefits.

    I would think some of those immigrant needs however will have to be met, agreed?

  • Unless, of course, you are saying that people can freely come to these islands providing they are not ill, don’t ever require homes or need education then it is fine because these services are not benefits.

    Pretty much, yes. I think that people should be able to freely come to these islands to earn a living, and then should be required to pay for their own housing, schooling, and healthcare in the free market when they need it. As should the natively born. The government spends huge sums of money on these things, and all three of them are worse in quality for almost everybody than they would be if the government did not spend any of this money.

  • Aetius

    While the woman’s behaviour was nasty and presumably criminal, what a great many people in Britain will take away from this story and any number of other reported incidents is that the courts are biased against native people, against Christians, against the productive and against owners of property.

    In a healthy polity, the people have a confidence that the law is fair and isn’t against them. In my view, these conditions no longer apply in the UK.

  • Was she drunk or otherwise under the influence in that video? Having been around more than my fair share of outraged drunks in my time, she sure seemed like it to me. I think she has far deeper problems than her hatred of immigrants. Reminds me of that scene in a Western:

    Q: Why is that man so damned angry?
    A: Because he was born.

  • bloke in spain

    Coincidentally, I have had a house guest for the last week who, whatever this woman said, she could have out performed her for sheer vitriol. She was born & lives in Birmingham & is now in the position that she’s unable to walk down streets near her home without being stopped & asked what she’s doing there. The entire area has been taken over by the Pakistani community.
    Might be worth mulling over that not only is she a nurse, she’s also mixed race Caribbean/White.

    It’s very easy to be liberal about immigration if you, yourself don’t suffer the consequences. You think you live in a multicultural society because you pleasantly chat with Mr Patel at the paper shop, have a helpful Indian doctor, maybe work with a university educated African etc etc etc. You don’t. The people you’re meeting have chosen to assimilate. They’ve largely taken on the indigenous culture. Try living in an inner city ghetto & see how long your liberalism lasts.

  • anonymous

    Ask a Native American how well unrestricted mass immigration worked out for them. At a time when benefits didn’t exist.

  • newrouter

    Ask a Native American how well unrestricted mass immigration worked out for them.

    please contact the bureau of indian affairs:

    http://www.bia.gov/

  • Michael Lorrey

    Public civility is a result of legalized public duelling and social shunning, imposing a deterrent upon boorish or unladylike behavior. Of course, an expert dueller can be as rude as he likes, provided he doesn’t mind being quite busy duelling. One takes ones chances.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    notforme:

    “Sadly, there is far more to it than this. If you imagine the impact of unfettered immigration on low-value jobs, the pressure on local housing and such incidentals as providing translators in hospitals as well as teachers in ‘diverse’ schools and couple with it some acceptable crime practices among numerous ‘newcomers’ you will see that it is not all about direct benefits.”

    Ah, the old lump of labour fallacy! I wondered when that would show up. Fail.

    I am not downplaying problems such as getting the newcomers to speak English etc, but given that most immigrants want to migrate to a new country because they want a better life, then it follows that absent a big Welfare State, the only way they can do that is by working hard. How is this a problem? Do explain.

    bloke in spain:

    “It’s very easy to be liberal about immigration if you, yourself don’t suffer the consequences. You think you live in a multicultural society because you pleasantly chat with Mr Patel at the paper shop, have a helpful Indian doctor, maybe work with a university educated African etc etc etc. You don’t. The people you’re meeting have chosen to assimilate. They’ve largely taken on the indigenous culture. Try living in an inner city ghetto & see how long your liberalism lasts.”

    I have lived in London, including some of its poorer bits, for nearly 20 years. And during that time my views haven”t changed in that I see the prime problem here as being welfarism. Those people who chose to assimilate did so because the incentives were there to do so.

    So no doubt to your surprise I tend not to lose my rag on a train whenever I sit next to a non-white local or a tourist. Or maybe it is because I learned a few manners along the way.

    (Actually, some tourists on the Tube drive me nuts, but that is because it is usually at around 8 am when I need a second coffee).

    And I point I would make to opponents of migration – which is what opponents of immigration are – is whether they think we should revert to the days of yore when the serfs had to ask for permission to work in the next village. Does not sound very much like a free market to me.

  • MajikMonkee

    If she just randomly started saying that stuff then its harassment.

    If the other person started it prior to the video beginning, then she’s just expressing an opinion with colorful language. Not one I agree with but she’s entitled to it.

    Her terrible English, uninformed ideas and profanity is no worse than Bob Geldoff speaking about Africa.

  • When arguments against immigration resort to arguing about the welfare services they receive then those arguments are more properly against welfare services. Somebody quite wise said that, I believe.
    Indeed, one may even argue that the reason there are so many jobs easy to find for immigrants with obvious disadvantages when compared to the local population (language etc.) is because so many of the local population are paid not to work.
    Welfarism is also at least partly responsible for the inner-city ghettos described. Why are all these locals asking the nurse what she’s doing there not at work? Where do they find the time?

    As to the tram woman, the law should not be involved at all, except possibly for a public order offence (depending on how minimal you believe a state should be). She is at liberty to say whatever the hell she likes, s long as she accepts the consequences, whether they be removal from the tram, a simple punch on the nose or being recorded, put on the internet and ridiculed by the entire world.

  • bloke in spain

    “Why are all these locals asking the nurse what she’s doing there not at work? Where do they find the time?”

    Oh, that’s a very easy question to answer. Three of the houses in the street are given over to the production of ‘skunk’ cannabis. The distinctive odour is unmistakable. Various other establishments do a roaring trade in selling the stuff with cars coming & going day & night.
    You might well ask why this blatant illegal activity hasn’t come to the attention of the police….. Keep on asking. It won’t do you a lot of good.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Whoops, fine comments all.

    “As to the tram woman, the law should not be involved at all, except possibly for a public order offence (depending on how minimal you believe a state should be). She is at liberty to say whatever the hell she likes, s long as she accepts the consequences, whether they be removal from the tram, a simple punch on the nose or being recorded, put on the internet and ridiculed by the entire world.”

    Agreed. My only quibble is that according to some sites I have seen, some of the commenters seem to treat this woman as some sort of heroine figure. Sad.

    Bloke in Spain:

    “Three of the houses in the street are given over to the production of ‘skunk’ cannabis. The distinctive odour is unmistakable. Various other establishments do a roaring trade in selling the stuff with cars coming & going day & night. You might well ask why this blatant illegal activity hasn’t come to the attention of the police….. Keep on asking. It won’t do you a lot of good.”

    Well, given that a lot of local white youths get blind drunk of an evening and cause mayhem, I guess that balances these things out. As for the approach of the police, some of them might figure that trying to ban such drugs is a waste of time. They have a point.

    By the way, “bloke in Spain”, are you Spanish or a migrant?

  • Stephen Willmer

    Take away the swearing and what is left of the outpourings of this woman’s head wouldn’t fill a thimble.

    Doubtless the experience for those around her, and on the receiving end of her tirade, was obnoxious and unpleasant but I had no sense of incipient menace or, more subtly, of that tonal quality that turns a sentence uttered harmlessly one way into a sentence that ruins your day when uttered in another way and that, for me, is usually the best test of offensiveness; so often what matters is not what is said, but how it is said.

    This was said boorishly and the episode is tiresome, but best dealt with by not catching the nutter’s eye and then moving on as quickly as you can.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Mind you, saying all of that, I’ve just watched for the first time what was I think the first in time of these two incidents, and that young fishwife was in a different category altogether – much harder to ignore, face more obviously contorted with rage and hatred, greater fluency (possibly less drunkenness?) and all the more disturbing because of the young lad on her lap. It was he for whom I felt greatest sympathy. The surrounding adults? I think if I were a honkey immigrant to Jamaica (and I am a honkey) in equal and opposite circumstances, I would still ignore it. Still, who knows? If you’re an immigrant on the receiving end of this sort of thing a lot, then perhaps it becomes impossible to hear without rising to the bait.

  • Paul Marks

    The women was rude (very rude) – she should have been told to leave the bus.

    And if they people she was arguing with had also been rude to her (for some reason we can not hear what they are saying) they should have been told to leave the bus also.

    END – PERIOD.

    There is no “crime” here.

    A rude women is a rude women (ditto a rude man) – one removes them from the property (in this case a bus) and that is the end of the matter.

  • roland

    what about the 4 woman that atacked the white woman and gave her rasla emrkes to her 3 get 150 unpaid work other gets can not go out from 9pm till 6am if we gave no free money out and new cars free and a free roof over there head they would not be her so lets stop giving it all away if there law was in place they would have lost there hands and in a cell for life but if white bodys do this well you think on that one what if you have nothing like bole and brack the law nothing but if you have money or car house well bewhere what you do this country is shit gone to the dogs stop giving free money away

  • roland

    what about the 4 woman that atacked the white woman and gave her rasla emrkes to her 3 get 150 unpaid work other gets can not go out from 9pm till 6am if we gave no free money out and new cars free and a free roof over there head they would not be her so lets stop giving it all away if there law was in place they would have lost there hands and in a cell for life but if white bodys do this well you think on that one what if you have nothing like bole and brack the law nothing but if you have money or car house well bewhere what you do this country is shit gone to the dogs stop giving free money away

  • Laird

    My, that was an entertaining collection of words. Sort of like reading James Joyce.

  • Roland, can you try again after running it through a spell checker? And what do you have against punctuation?

  • Laird

    No, no, Perry, that would take all the poetry out of it.

  • Sunfish

    Let me try this. I’m an expert.

    What about the four women who attacked the white woman while making racial remarks? We can’t go out from 9pm until 6am.

    The problem is, we give “them” (1) free money, housing,and cars. If we did not do so, then “they” would not be here. If we applied the law as it exists in “their” country, then they would have hands cut off and would serve lengthy prison terms for such shenanigans. However, such behavior is tolerated from “them” here. And yet, I submit for your consideration, persons of decreased melanin content would suffer unspecified consequences for
    such unspecified-but-probably-undesirable behavior.

    The problem is, my brothers, that the poor are able to act so with impunity, but those with property will indeed face undefined but negative consequences.

    Again, I must reiterate my opposition to the provision of free money.

    Just a guess.

    (1) “They” are not identified, and “their” identity is context-dependent. From the reference to cutting off hands, I can guess that “they” are middle eastern or central Asian. Which suggests that Roland is posting from the UK and probably whines resentfully every time he walks past a Thai or Indian restaurant.

  • Sunfish

    And smoten again.


    I’m the perfect little foil for the prognosticators of doom.
    I’ll bet you, any minute, they’ll be searching my room.

  • slowjoe

    Roland is clearly apoplectic about the case in Leicester where 4 Somalis waylaid a young white woman, kicking her repeatedly in the head and knocking her out.

    There were also chants of about killing the white person.

    None of the group is sentenced to jail. Comparison between the Leicester case and Croydon bus woman isn’t good. Reasonable people are going to start viewing the courts as a foreign power.

  • Laird

    Ah, Sunfish, you made my point. Your perfectly lucid reformulation of roland’s post obviates the need for the reader to invest any effort in teasing out his meaning. It’s like reading a modern translation of Shakespeare: you may convey the meaning but you lose the flavor of the original. His stream-of-consciousness style, sans capitalization or punctuation, more forcefully conveys his anger and frustration than does your carefully modulated prose. As I said, poetry.

  • I love this blog!:-)

  • Its pretty pathetic if this the state of libertarianism in Britain. No, there is no justification for imprisoning this woman and kidnapping her son (her son was taken into “protective custody”). Yes, she made some rude comments that hurt a lot of precious, delicate feelings. That is what the fundamental right of free speech is about.

    Obviously this prosecution would be impossible in the United States, due to First Amendment protections. But if freedom of speech is a Natural Right, then it must apply in Britain as well. This woman is having her inalienable, natural rights violated, and the most British libertarians can muster is shuffling their feet and muttering about her crassness.

    As I said, pathetic.

  • Its pretty pathetic if this the state of libertarianism in Britain.

    Did you actually read Johnathan Pearce’s article or were you just harrumphing in response to certain trigger words? Now please explain which bit of that JP wrote was “un-libertarian”.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fawful, my posting was obviously too subtle for you. Read the article again. A libertarian should understand the concepts I mention: civility; property rights, etc. it is not purely a free speech issue. To think so really is pathetic.

  • I apologize if I misread your post, but I really don’t think I did. You seem to be endorsing the idea that West can legitimately be prosecuted (if only to be given a slap on the wrist). I don’t disagree that she could be removed from the tram for causing distress to the other riders. It doesn’t really matter whether the property is owned by a private citizen/firm or the government. The owner has the right to deny service for whatever reason.

    But i do think its normal to be surprised when a libertarian endorses legal prosecution for “unpopular speech”.

  • JP can reply again himself if he wishes but I think it comes down to this, fawful: would the notion of ‘a breach of the peace’ exist in some future libertarian political and social order? If not, then in what would presumably be a society in which many people may choose to go around armed, might tolerating in-your-face screaming behaviour not be a recipe for a lot of potentially very risky confrontations?

    Now I agree with most pro-liberty folks that simply expressing unpopular opinions should not carry the risk of state sanction. But the manner in which you express said opinions does matter… for example, simply saying “I don’t like Jews” should be behaviour people have to tolerate. Following a Jew down the street constantly stepping in front of them screaming in their face “I don’t like Jews!”… or for that matter screaming “I hate fried fish!”… on the other hand seems a perfectly reasonable example of an intolerable ‘breach of the peace’ that would justify some sort of forcible intervention. It ain’t the opinion so much as the manner in which it is expressed.

    In some hypothetical libertarian future, perhaps that person could be banned and excluded from that privately owned street/bus/business, if that is how things are organised (i.e. some sort of threat-of-force-backed sanction). But the thing is, why should gross incivility like that itself be seen as some sort of ‘protected speech’? Like I said, it is not the opinion that makes it intolerable, it is the manner and context in which it is expressed.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fawful writes:

    !I don’t disagree that she could be removed from the tram for causing distress to the other riders. It doesn’t really matter whether the property is owned by a private citizen/firm or the government. The owner has the right to deny service for whatever reason.”

    Then we are in full agreement, which makes it all the odder for you to criticise my comments as “pathetic”. You seem to accept my idea that the owner of a private, train, say, can or should be able eject people for behaviour that, for whatever reasons, said owners dislike.

    I am not endorsing the idea of banning “unpopular speech” and my article did not do so. I focused on the issue of whether this woman’s rant, in the circumstances and in the small, confined space she was in, might lead to the sort of disorder for which certain types of rule exist, as in rules to punish people who get very drunk and cause problems, etc.

  • It seems to me that the best way to put it to make the libertarian position better understood is to say that even if the woman in question was yelling all the “right” things, such as – I don’t know, ‘I love Jews’, ‘Blacks are great’, ‘Free markets for all’ or whatever, it would still stand to reason to have her removed from the tram.