Being somewhat conventional, my parents brought me up with conventional views and being stuck in Norfolk, I have not got around to changing them. I was therefore a little surprised to discover I am now an extremist. The Home Office considers that 1950s opinions are “extremist” in 2015. Obviously most of us want to make life difficult for terrorists but the briefing for the new Counter-Extremism Bill goes far beyond terrorism. The Home Secretary says “we are determined to eliminate extremism in all its forms”. One has to wonder what kind of home the Home Secretary is living in if she imagines a parliamentary piece of paper will cause all terrorists to throw down their weapons and speak peace. And ensure the rest of us invariably use language that our neighbours, and the thought police, consider inoffensive.
What is normal for Norfolk might be considered extreme in Brighton and vice versa. Luckily for Mrs May, UK mental health care is so underfunded, the white coats are unlikely to call.
The ludicrous fantasy of the objective is only worrying insofar as it reflects the mental state of our leaders. The far greater concern is the scope being given to the police, Ofsted inspectors and all our other guardians to penalise us for a word out of place.
The Home Office spinmeisters will reassure us that the key words are “extreme” and “hatred”. Norfolk turnips can relax, we will be told, because we are not extreme in the meaning of the Bill, nor do we hate anyone. But of course that is not true. We hate terrorists and especially those who kill our neighbours on Tunisian beaches. We will have to reform. If we go on hating them, the coppers will be calling. This is the new policing: if you catch someone burgling your home, as someone did recently in Newmarket, and hold him down until the police arrive, you are the one prosecuted, not the burglar. Now one will be prosecuted for the hatred as well as common assault.
Much of this is political cant. Theresa May said (ibid) “As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation, and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.” This is nonsense because if we really only had just one set of values our culture could not develop, and no one could say anything beyond the established creed. Catholics would not be able to argue for marriage being heterosexual. The whole point of a civilised society is being able to promote one’s point of view in whatever way one wishes.
Yes, there should be some limits to that but not many. Overstating one’s position is counter-productive and that by itself brings moderation.
The truth of the matter is that the Home Office wants to draw the Counter-Extremism Bill as widely as possible to make prosecutions, however incompetent, stick. It should be cut back to the Counter-Terrorism Bill and properly thought through.