Sir David Davis comments on how the ‘cancel culture’ threatens to obliterate free speech


As published by the I:

David Davis said: “Freedom of speech only matters when it’s controversial, when it’s challenging”.

A “cancel culture movement” on campuses threatens to “obliterate” free speech at the UK’s universities, a former Cabinet minister has said.

Veteran Conservative MP David Davis introduced a private member’s bill in Parliament on Tuesday which would put a duty on universities to “promote freedom of speech”, with institutions which failed to comply liable to fines.

Mr Davis said that free speech was “under threat in the very institutions where it should be most treasured – our universities.”

He said that “freedom of speech only matters when it’s controversial, when it’s challenging”.

“Today the cancel culture movement think that it is reasonable to obliterate the views of people they disagree with, rather than challenging them in open debate.”

Mr Davis referred to a number of high profile cases in which public figures had been “no platformed” – or threatened with it – at universities, including the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the feminist Germaine Greer, the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and the columnist Peter Hitchens.

He said that an “unwillingness to hear uncomfortable opinion” and “the refusal of platforms to people you disagree with is damaging to us all”.

“There is a corrosive trend in our universities that aims to prevent anybody airing ideas that groups disagree with, or would be offended be,” he added.

If his bill was put into law, it would make sure “speech that is merely unpopular with any section of the university, would not be proscribed,” he said.

Concerns about freedom of speech on university campuses have grown in recent years, although some commentators have said the problem is exaggerated.

The 2019 Conservative manifesto pledged to “strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities”.

Last summer the Government said that any university which gets into financial trouble because of the pandemic would have to “demonstrate their commitment” to freedom of speech in order to be eligible for bailout funds.