It has become an axiom in recent years that the Left has a problem with free speech. The practice of deplatforming, whereby an individual is denied a platform to express their beliefs, has metastasised into an all-encompassing ‘cancel culture’. No one, no matter how powerful, influential or well-connected, is safe from the censorious mobs on social media. If you speak out against left-wing dogma, you risk losing your platform, maybe even your career. Thank god for the Right, the champions of free speech. But are they, really?

The above assumption is held by an increasing number of otherwise sane people today. Yes, certain elements of the Left have moved a long way from the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s. True, university campuses — particularly in the States — have witnessed some pretty deranged outbreaks of mass hysteria, particularly amongst our blue-haired brothers and sisters. Some young people are probably too easily offended and no, speech, by default, is not violence. That said, out of all the people that claim to have been ‘cancelled’, how many actually have?

I can’t think of very many. It’s probably about time to let Louis C.K. back on Netflix, but who thinks R. Kelly or Harvey Weinstein deserve a second chance? What I can think of is a whole host of very public figures who like nothing better than to moan on their massive platforms about how they’ve been censored by the ‘woke‘ Left. Andrew Neil tried to blame ‘woke-warriors’ for the lack of advertising on his unwatched TV channel, GB News, whilst actor Laurence Fox regularly gets booked on major TV shows to, quite unironically, tell us all about how he’s been cancelled.

As someone very much on the left, I have bemoaned the censorious tendencies of some of our comrades as much as anyone. However, there is simply no room on this bandwagon for hypocrites. This being the case, I’m afraid a lot of my conservative friends are going to be making the trip on foot. If you think the Right is a bastion of free speech, I’ve got an ice wall to sell you.

Whilst sections of the Left have been making a noisy but generally inconsequential nuisance of themselves outside the Oxford Union, conservatives in Britain and America have been legislating away our rights to free speech. The new crime bill gives the police the ability to arbitrarily deem a protest too loud and shut it down. If a protest disrupts the ‘activities of an organisation’ or, get this, has an ‘impact on persons in the vicinity’, then the riot police can rock up and roll in. These are the kinds of reasons that authoritarian regimes give for arresting protestors.

Fresh from cancelling a B-list celebrity, it was the Left that tried to fight this bill. The same cannot be said of the free speech warriors on the right. They were also conspicuously silent when the Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, signed a law guaranteeing legal protections for people that kill protestors with their vehicle. Being called mean names on Twitter definitely sucks, but I personally think that being hit with a car for expressing your opinion is worse. What can I say? I’m old school like that.

Let’s take another example, and try to remember whether any of our favourite free speech warriors, be it Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Douglas Murray, or a single Republican representative, has ever called it out. In 27 US states, there are now laws that penalise individuals for supporting the Boycott, Disinvest, and Sanction movement (BDS). This is a movement that calls for a boycott of Israel and the occupied territories. In many of these states, a person cannot get a government job unless they sign a document stipulating that they will not ‘engage in boycott activity’. This includes sharing BDS material on social media, even if it pertains to illegal settlements. As such, 250 million Americans live in states where they can be denied a job for holding an opinion shared by the UN.

This is what a real threat to freedom of expression looks like. Criminalised demonstrations; carte blanche to kill protestors; the denial of a government job for holding a mainstream view. In every instance, these anti-speech laws are coming not from the Left, but from the Right. Cancel culture and political correctness can be annoying, and there are sections of the Left with an unhealthy attitude to freedom of expression. However, there simply is no equivalence between calling for Midget Gems to be renamed Mini Gems, and criminalising our fundamental human rights.

Whilst it’s okay to be worried by both cancel culture and anti-free speech laws, one is inarguably more repressive than the other. If you still think that its cancel culture, then you’re more interested in the culture war than you are in fighting for freedom of speech.

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