My following article was published last week by Kipper Central. Although it is primarily about the gagging of a UKIP elected representative, the freedom of speech issue it addresses is of course much wider than the party:
When UKIP’s National Executive Committee meets on 8th January there is one issue that should be top of the agenda: the shameful decision by the Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones, to ban Gareth Bennett from speaking during Senedd debates in 2018.
Gareth is UKIP’s Assembly Member for South Wales Central.
During an Assembly debate about an Equalities and Human Rights report, Gareth made an excellent call for a grown-up conversation about minority rights and made the unarguable point that the increasing focus on the rights of minorities must ultimately impact negatively on the rights of the majority population.
By way of illustration he referred to the Westminster Tory government’s proposed amendments to the Gender Recognition Act which liberalise the process of changing gender, and he made these observations (here at 17.35 hours):
“There is only so much deviation from the norm that any society can take before that society completely implodes, and if we carry on down this road of appeasing the nuttiest elements of the transgender movement, then what we will face as a society, within a very short space of time, is total implosion.”
You’d have thought these remarks were mere common sense: Gareth was rightly cautioning against too much accommodation to the demands of transgender extremists or, he predicted, society will suffer.
But for the biased and hostile Presiding Officer, Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, political correctness trumps common sense. The following day, and at the prompting of a muddled Labour AM who accused Gareth of “homophobic rhetoric” even though he hadn’t mentioned gays or lesbians let alone been hostile to them, Ms Jones demanded that Gareth withdraw his comments. She claimed his views were “particularly hateful to the transgender community” and insisted that he apologise.
When he refused, she informed him he was barred from speaking in Senedd debates in 2018. He walked out of the chamber.
Although by all accounts Gareth remains personally relaxed and upbeat, his ban is a serious issue and an ominous threat to democracy and free speech.
Journalist Arwyn Jones pointed out on BBC Wales Live that banning an elected representative from speaking indefinitely in Senedd until they apologise is completely unprecedented.
Also Welsh commentator and academic Carys Moseley wrote that Senedd is “the first legislature in the world to ban a politician for criticising transgender activism”.
She continued: “The Presiding Officer’s overreaction was subjective, disproportionate and all too typical of those who enforce the concept of hate speech.
“Her role is equivalent to that of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and as such banning a politician from debate sets a dangerous trend, and undermines free speech and democracy.
“It is also a snub to everyone else in Wales who has serious reservations about the direction that transgender policy has been taking in the UK. It is saying you cannot be a politician if you think transgenderism is abnormal, which probably rules out most of the population.
“This is a sinister state of affairs that is unprecedented and completely unacceptable.”
Sinister and unacceptable indeed, so what is to be done? First, all Kippers must support and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gareth.
But the matter is bigger than him and the implications are much wider than for just the Welsh Assembly.
So, second, Kippers must urge the NEC to take up the cause. The NEC should commit the party to supporting Gareth, confronting and challenging the Presiding Officer, and using all means possible in the UK to defeat this attack on freedom of speech. If you are a paid-up member of the party, you can contact the general secretary Paul Oakley at firstname.lastname@example.org and request that the issue is put on the NEC agenda and discussed at their meeting on 8th January. For information copy in the chairman Paul Oakden too, at email@example.com.
And, third, Kippers and other concerned individuals can write a polite but firm email to the Presiding Officer herself, reminding her that in the UK we live in a democracy which embraces freedom of speech, and proposing that she revokes her ban on Gareth with immediate effect. Ms Jones’ email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. If you email her, I suggest you copy in Gareth for his encouragement: firstname.lastname@example.org
A key issue of principle is at stake. We cannot simply sit on our hands.