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Friday, December 15, 2017

Is no-platforming by the Welsh Assembly turning UKIP into alt-right martyrs?

Because of the age we live in, I feel obliged to preface this post with some qualifications. As anybody who has read this blog will know I detest UKIP and all their works.

Over the years, leading members of that party have been outed as misogynist and racist, They are a party who campaign against Europe and yet milk the EU for the maximum financial benefit and I have lost count of the number of their MEPs who have been prosecuted for allegedly fiddling their expenses.

Their campaign for us to leave the EU was misleading, dishonest and racist, Their odious erstwhile leader, Nigel Farage continues to consort with dubious right-wingers on both side of the Atlantic, whilst pontificating about 'professional politicians', despite being an MEP for 18 years and having stood for Parliament seven times.

Politics and society would be better off if UKIP ceased to exist altogether, however because we are a democracy they have the right to continue to wave their prejudices in our face and to demand support for their increasingly irrelevant views. As a Liberal I will defend that right even if I have to hold my nose whilst doing so.

As these random links show, here, here and here my record on transgender rights is second to none. In stating my opinion on the decision by the Presiding Officer to no-platform a UKIP AM in Plenary for expressing his view on this issue, I do not endorse what he said. In fact I find his view as illiberal and offensive as she does. The issue is the best way to respond to him.

The Presiding Officer's role is to keep order in the Senedd. That includes ruling on unparliamentary language. However, there is a difference between throwing out an AM for a throwaway remark about the royal family and effectively censoring an argument which has offended others.

I have argued in the past that freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend. Once people are allowed to apply their own subjective values to others then we are on a slippery slope to censorship and dictatorship.

It is for this reason that I struggle with the Presiding Officer's decision to ask Gareth Bennett to apologise or withdraw his remarks about transgender rights, and then to ban him from speaking for a year because he refused. I disagree with what he said but will defend his right to say it.

Yes, he has offended a lot of people and upset the cosy consensus in the chamber on these issues, but the purpose of debate is to show up mistaken and flawed arguments for what they are and to rebut them. Surely the correct response would have been to let other AMs do exactly that and then to ignore him for the irrelevance he is.

The Assembly chamber should embrace the principle of free speech where members can stand up and say what they believe and be challenged on it. The Presiding Officer job is to preserve the free flow of ideas not to censor it.

For now, my fear, as expressed by one of my Twitter followers, is that this particular UKIP AM has unwittingly taken a leaf straight out of the Trump playbook and that by banning him the PO has played into his hands. She has not so much upheld politically-correct views as created an alt-right martyr.
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