Anne-Marie Waters, erstwhile Labour member and now leader of For Britain, is certainly a controversial figure. A lot of her statements are no doubt offensive and wrong. But when I see her described as “white supremacist, Islamophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic [and] far right”, I can’t help but think that the dialogue has lost control. The charge of anti-Semitism (more than factually incorrect) is borderline absurd. Praising Israel for its stance on gay rights, and criticising Islamism precisely because of its anti-Semitism, does not really scream Jew-hater to me.
The issue of ‘free speech on campus’ has been a stubborn one in recent years. Previously confined to the dense pages of sociology journals, such post-modern phrases as ‘safe spaces’, ‘microaggressions’ and ‘no-platforming’ have all become increasingly popular features of the political lexicon, including amongst our senior ministers. Warwick has not been an exception to this trend. In an unsurprising confirmation of its ‘red’ status for free speech, there’s been a rather spirited response to her invitation.
Another phrase that jumps out is ‘far-right’. Whilst it’s good that our culture is so resistant to fascism, I think it risks being self-defeating. Indeed, when peaceful, conservatively-minded thinkers get called ‘far-right’, it simply cheapens the term. When the actual, bona fide far-right really comes to the UK – as it has across the European continent – what are we to say? If Waters, someone for whom freedom, rule of law and women’s rights are fundamental, is ‘far-right’, then we’re left disarmed when the black-shirts and the torch-wielders start marching.
I don’t think that this kind of guilt-by-association attack suffices
Moreover, it’s worth noting that a lot of the real far-right isn’t much of a fan of Waters at all. The Occidental Observer, for example, has described Waters as an “ardent Marxist” backed by “Jewish nationalists”, who’s set on undermining “traditional mores, Christian faith, and British values.” Or consider the comments on her YouTube video about anti-Semitism, where friendly figures like “John H” have called her a “dumb Goy”.
Maybe I’m being too kind to Waters. Her party, For Britain, has been home to some rather unpalatable figures. But I don’t think that this kind of guilt-by-association attack suffices, either. Indeed, it could be used towards the Labour Party’s own leader (who I don’t believe is anti-Semitic, by the way). Sharing platforms with members of terrorist groups? Being a long-time supporter of the DYR, a group overrun by Holocaust deniers? Intimating that “the hand of Israel” is behind atrocities in Egypt? Creating comparisons to Enoch Powell by the ex-Chief Rabbi? If Warwick Labour wants to use that line of attack, they should beware it doesn’t affect them, too.
And even if Waters were as sinister as her detractors make her out to be, the question of ‘no-platforming’ is one that has an obvious answer
And even if Waters were as sinister as her detractors make her out to be, the question of ‘no-platforming’ is one that has an obvious answer. So long as she is not creating direct incitement to hatred and violence, it is her legal and civil right to speak and convey her message. And on a practical basis, what better way to expose and challenge her bad ideas than a speech and a Q and A?
Perhaps above all else, though, the trend of ‘no-platforming’ has worked to divorce the left from free speech. Across the right-leaning media, from respectable Conservatives to the alt-right, platforms like Spiked, Rebel Media and InfoWars have all made free speech their defining issues. Denying Waters a platform would not therefore deprive the far-right – it would legitimise it. It would bolster their adopted victim status and, most importantly, keep the conversation away from their real ideas.