The outrage both online and in the media following the Metropolitan Police’s heavy-handed attempt to break up the Sarah Everard vigil highlights the double standards of the modern day liberal, but perhaps there is hope yet.
Following the disappearance, death and subsequent discovery of Sarah Everard’s body, a vigil was planned at Clapham Common to commemorate her life and death. However, due to the current Covid-19 restrictions in place in the UK, the Metropolitan Police informed the organisers that the event could not take place and that any gathering would be broken up if people did choose to attend. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened.
As men and women gathered to pay their respects to the life of Everard, and to highlight the egregious nature of her death at the hands of a police officer, the Metropolitan Police were ordered to remove the attendees of the protest. And naturally, the only way to remove people who refuse to vacate an area is through the use of physical force. Thankfully, the forceful removal of these protestors at the hands of the police was recorded by the multitude of mobile phones present and the footage is as appalling as expected.
Seeing the police of a democratic, Western nation removing protestors by physical force should send a chill down the spines of all those under the illusion that our democratic institutions are built on solid foundations, impregnable against abuses of power. Evidently this is not the case and additionally, this abuse of power becomes all the more striking when the police use physical force to dispel a crowd protesting the horrifying actions of one of their own uniformed officers.
However, I write this article not to highlight the fragile nature of our democratic institutions, but to draw attention to the hypocrisy of so many politically and culturally minded citizens out there. As I scroll mindlessly through the Twitter-sphere, I am struck by the sheer number of people out there, primarily liberal feminists, condemning the police’s unconstitutional attempt to prevent the vigil and protest.
As is to be expected, the usual emphatic statements and acronyms like ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards) garnered some online traction, alongside the idiotically imported defund the police policy idea. But more interesting to see was the feminist movement highlighting the importance of free speech alongside the right to gather freely and protest.
This is a welcomed change of tune coming from a movement that has done so much to stifle free speech and open discussion over the past decade, but it is a change that I can vociferously agree with as they are undoubtedly correct, albeit a little late to the game; free speech and the right to protest are vital for the maintenance of our democracy and our very way of life.
However, what I take issue with is their ideologically selective support of free speech and the right to protest. Where was their outrage when the police force of the UK, or globally for that matter, dispersed anti-lockdown protestors by force? Where were these allegedly liberal voices when citizens were protesting to have the economy reopened and the right to travel freely reinstated? Why was the liberal twitter-sphere not outraged and appalled when citizens were shamed into wearing a mask and coerced into putting their financial lives on perpetual hold? They were silent. And they were silent because of two distinct reasons.
Firstly, because they presumed that the power of the progressively authoritarian state would never be turned on them in an attempt to stifle their voices and concerns. They presumed that their opinions would never come into confrontation with a state that has a history of acquiescing to their every demand. Naïve, but unfortunately true.
The extent of this creeping authoritarianism disguised in the form of equality and safety was highlighted by Green Party Member of Parliament Jenny Jones who even went so far as to call for a 6pm curfew for all men, in an attempt to curb sexual discrimination and attacks. She stated, “I argue that, at the next opportunity for any Bill that is appropriate, I might put in an amendment to create a curfew for men on the streets after 6pm. I feel this would make women a lot safer, and discrimination of all kinds would be lessened.”
You would have to wonder is this the best that the Left can come up with? Blatantly calling for more stripping of fundamental rights in an attempt to make the world a safer environment? Creating discrimination to end discrimination? I certainly hope not, else we are in for a dystopian future.
But secondly, and more importantly, they were silent because it suited them to remain silent as the rights of their political opponents were stamped on and trampled. It seems that the contemporary liberal mind believes in the right to protest and speak freely ‘for me, but not for thee’, employing an ideologically selective approach when choosing who is deserving of support and constitutional rights and who is not. When the right to gather is politically undermined, it has become evident that the liberal is willing to defend their political companions, but never their political opponents.
This double standard, or fair weather support of free speech is only employed when it suits them best. To examine the reactions of the Left in our own country, Ruth Coppinger, a former TD and member of ROSA, the Socialist Feminist Movement, stated: “Myself and ROSA are planning some protests — actually now, more have been called in cities this week: in the five cities in the south and in Belfast tomorrow as well.”
She goes on to state that “Are people seriously suggesting that there should be no protests for the duration of COVID-19? I think protests should be considered essential, there should be a derogation for protests to take place that are essential”. One would have to wonder why she did not express this support for free speech and the right to protest following the media’s scramble to denounce and condemn the St. Stephen’s Green anti-lockdown protests at the end of last month.
It is for this reason that I feel the need to state loudly and definitively, I support the right of these individuals to commemorate and protest the death and murder of Sarah Everard in whatever peaceful manner they feel most appropriate. I support their right to do this in the streets, online and in any other manner they see fit. I believe their right to protest supersedes all health and safety concerns pertaining to the current virus.
They are free citizens and have the right to take any risks they may wish to. I may disagree with the cultural lens that they are deploying to analysis and understand the death of Sarah Everard, namely a feminist perspective, but I will defend to the death their right to express their opinions.
I simply lament the fact that they will not defend my right to express my opinions.
What the progressive camp has failed to realise over the past number of years, is that the growing spread of authoritarianism and the restrictions of free speech will naturally come for them at some point. Perhaps this will be a learning curve for the Left, that the power of the state can and will be used against them unconstitutionally if they do not comply with government policies, mandates and restrictions.
However, there is hope yet for both sides of the political aisle to meet in the middle. Through incredibly unfortunate and appalling circumstances, the progressive Left has been given an opportunity to understand and appreciate the value of free speech and the right to gather freely.
If this lesson can be learnt, and this vitally important aspect of our society be appreciated and preserved, perhaps a common ground can be found. A common ground that will oppose the spread of both left-wing authoritarianism, alongside right-wing authoritarianism with the same vigour and steadfastness that they have displayed over the past number of days.