3rd October 2022Monthly Newsletter Archives – The Free Speech Union
FSU launches campaign against politically motivated financial censorship
On 15th September, PayPal notified me that it was permanently closing my personal account, as well as the accounts of the Daily Sceptic – a news publishing site I run – and the Free Speech Union. The reason cited in all three cases was that the accounts had violated PayPal’s ‘Acceptable Use Policy’. Not that that really gave any clue as to the specifics of the alleged misdemeanour, because the policy contains numerous prohibited activities including transactions involving illegal drugs and stolen goods.
PayPal told me it had permanently closed all three accounts and appeals in all three cases had been unsuccessful. It couldn’t quite decide why it had closed the accounts – it alternated between telling me I’d breached its policy about not promoting “hate, violence or racial intolerance” and telling newspapers my accounts had been closed because I was spreading “Covid-19 misinformation”. But it had definitely decided to close them.
My suspicion is that someone at PayPal simply doesn’t like my politics and had my accounts removed for that reason, without bothering to create a proper alibi. In other words, this was a prime example of someone being punished by a financial-services company for expressing non-conformist views and, in the case of the FSU, defending people for expressing such views.
That is completely unacceptable, obviously. And I’m not the only one. PayPal has closed numerous accounts because it dislikes the politics of the individuals or organisations linked to them, from Colin Wright, an evolutionary biologist who challenges trans rights dogma, to UsForThem, a group of mums that campaigned against school closures during the lockdowns. So I went to war with PayPal, appearing on GB News virtually every day to tell its viewers what had happened, writing about it in the Spectator, the Telegraph and Spiked, and encouraging MPs and peers to write to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary, and Mel Stride, the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, urging them to hold PayPal to account.
Then, on 27th September, PayPal notified me it had restored all of my accounts. After ‘input’ from its ‘customers and stakeholders’– by which I suspect it meant all the people that had cancelled their PayPal accounts in solidarity with the Free Speech Union and the Daily Sceptic – it has decided I’m kosher after all.
It goes without saying that I won’t be using PayPal’s services again. I made the mistake of trusting PayPal when I set up the FSU, embedding its software into our payment processing systems. Given what I know now – that it can demonetise you on a whim, seemingly without any proper justification – I’m not going to make that mistake again.
The US company’s behaviour wasn’t some brief moment of madness — an inexplicable yet temporary deviation from standard financial practice. As we hurtle towards a cashless economy, it’s part of a global trend towards weaponising Big Tech and financial services systems to suppress dissent of every kind. We saw it most obviously in the case of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shutting down the Freedom Convoy earlier this year. But there are numerous examples of organisations with dissenting views being deplatformed by financial services companies, such as the U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance, an organisation that raises perfectly lawful questions about the Covid vaccines.
That’s why the FSU will now lobby the Government to develop a legislative mechanism capable of preventing Big Tech companies headquartered outside the U.K. from censoring people or groups in this country for the expression of legal but dissenting views (or, as in the case of the FSU, for simply defending those who express legal but dissenting views).
If there’s a positive to come out of this unseemly episode, it’s that the publicity generated by PayPal’s actions has brought the wider issue of financial censorship to the attention of both Houses of Parliament. The Telegraph reported that financial services companies could soon “be banned from blocking the accounts of campaign groups for political reasons”. That’s because Conservative backbenchers are apparently “considering launching an amendment” to a Parliamentary bill that would effectively ban companies from freezing campaigners’ accounts. One source quoted in that Telegraph article said that ministers are likely to accept an amendment. If that’s true, then this could be a big moment in the fightback against financial censorship. Needless to say, the FSU will be at the forefront of campaigning for that amendment.
But legislative work takes time, which means that we need to keep that pressure up, mobilising the extraordinary public opposition to PayPal’s recent behaviour to tell our politicians that we don’t want a Chinese-style social credit system to be rolled out across the West (the only difference being that instead of the Chinese Communist Party enforcing ideological dogma, it’s woke capitalist corporations based in California).
Use the FSU’s campaigning tool to write to your MP to remind him or her that there are strong feeling on this issue among the public. If you’re as outraged as we are by PayPal’s attempt to cancel the FSU and other groups, please use this tool to send a template email to your MP, telling him or her that we need a change to the law to make this kind of financial censorship illegal. The process only takes two minutes and the link is here.
If you’re not a member yet, please join the fight against these censorious financial services companies.
If you’re already a member, make a donation so we can devote the time and resources we need to win this battle. This the new front in the ongoing war against free speech and if we lose this one then free speech as we know will effectively be dead.
FSU member Simon Isherwood’s remedy hearing begins – a case update
Earlier this year, FSU member Simon Isherwood won his Employment Tribunal case against West Midlands Trains (WMT). The rail conductor was dismissed for gross misconduct after asking his wife whether indigenous populations in African countries enjoy ‘black privilege’ following a training session on ‘white privilege’ with around 80 other staff members via Teams. He thought he’d disconnected but he hadn’t and one of his colleagues complained. Instead of dismissing the complaint, WMT suspended him, investigated him and dismissed him for ‘gross misconduct’.
Taking your employer to an Employment Tribunal is a lengthy and costly process (Allison Bailey had to raise more than £500,000 to fund her much publicised recent legal case, for instance). Thanks to our help, though, Simon was able to hold WMT to account for its actions, and his hearing took place before Judge Stephen Wyeth in the Watford Employment Tribunal. In addition to paying Simon’s legal fees, the FSU drafted in leading civil rights barrister Paul Diamond to represent him. Paul has fought landmark cases in the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, and as might be expected from someone of that calibre, was unrelenting in picking apart the other side’s evidence. He convinced the Judge that the freedom of speech issues in this case required close attention. Indeed, it was for that reason that the judge reserved judgment, rather than giving it extempore.
In a landmark victory, Judge Wyeth decided that Mr Isherwood had been unfairly dismissed. The judgement reasserted the fact that “freedom of expression, including a qualified right to offend when expressing views and beliefs (in this case on social issues), is a fundamental right in a democratic society”. Particularly important in terms of workers’ speech rights was the clear distinction the judgement drew between the public and the private sphere, noting that in Simon’s case, “the expression of his private view of the course to his wife in the confines of his own home was not blameworthy or culpable conduct that could amount to contributory conduct”.
This month, the remedy hearing to decide compensation began. Paul Diamond and our Chief Legal Counsel, Bryn Harris, are fighting hard on Simon’s behalf, and prospects are good that we’ll get a good settlement for Simon. That’s great news, but it’s a bittersweet victory. What we’re talking about here is an employee with an unblemished career track record who’s lost his livelihood simply because he voiced an entirely lawful opinion within the confines of his own home that woke activists just happen to regard as ‘offensive’.
No-one should ever be placed in that position, which is exactly why one strand of the FSU’s Parliamentary and lobbying work is now focused on persuading ministers and senior officials to amend the Employment Rights Act 1996 to make it impossible for companies to discipline staff for saying politically contentious things outside the workplace. You can watch me make the case for this amendment on GB News here. I’ve also written about it for the Mail here.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – amendments tabled
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will soon resume its journey through Parliament in the House of Lords, and I’m delighted to report that several amendments have now been tabled to make it even stronger. The Bill aims to strengthen protections for free speech and academic freedom in English universities by imposing more robust legal duties on higher education providers to protect the free speech of academic staff, non-academic staff, students and visitors to universities, as well as to actively promote freedom of speech.
The FSU wholeheartedly supports the legislation. We’ve intervened in many cases involving students or academics where those individuals would have been in a stronger position had this new law been in place.
That said, unless the Bill’s current free speech ‘protections’ are strengthened there’s a danger they will be undermined by the open-ended definition of “harassment” contained within the Equality Act 2010, which doesn’t make exceptions for discussions that take place for scientific or academic purposes. In other words the Bill as currently proposed won’t be able to prevent higher education institutions from continuing to place limits on academic freedom by invoking their public sector equality duty under section 26 of the Equality Act to protect members of the university with certain characteristics from “harassment”. While that duty might sound uncontroversial, some universities define “harassment” so broadly as to encompass allowing people to express perfectly lawful points of view that some members of protected groups find objectionable. Back in 2019, for instance, two law professors – Rosa Freedman and Jo Phoenix – were no-platformed by Essex University on the grounds that inviting them on campus to argue that transwomen shouldn’t be treated as if they were legally indistinguishable from biological women would have constituted “harassment” of trans students.
This is the context in which the FSU has been working with allies in the House of Lords to develop an amendment capable of ensuring that – in the amendment paper’s words – “the duties imposed by the Bill are consistent with, and not overridden by, the Equality Act public sector equality duty”. You can read that amendment here.
We’re also hoping two other amendments are made to the Bill, which you can read here and here. We’re hopeful that all of these amendments will be accepted, and that the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill that reaches the statute books really is a game-changer for academic freedom and freedom of speech at English universities.
Gillian Philips – case update
Thanks to the generous support of FSU members and supporters, and the sterling work of Gillian’s legal team (Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell and barrister David Mitchell), permission has now been granted for Gillian to bring her case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Gillian will now have the chance to persuade a superior court of record that in writing novels under the close control of her publishers she was a worker, entitled to the protections of the Equality Act 2010. This is a timely opportunity to secure protection from discrimination for precarious workers in an increasingly intolerant sector.
FSU members and supporters may remember Gillian’s case. Gillian is the author who brought an Employment Tribunal claim against her former publishers, Working Partners and HarperCollins, because they terminated her contract to write children’s books after she stood up for JK Rowling on Twitter. She alleges unlawful discrimination and the case is a landmark in the fight for the right of women to state biological facts without fear of losing their jobs. Gender critical writers such as Kate Clanchy, Julie Burchill and Jenny Lindsay have all faced threats to their livelihood as a result of expressing gender critical views.
An update on the FSU’s current caseload
Following our resounding victory against PayPal, we’ve seen an uptick in members of the public writing to alert us to similar cases. This includes Conservatives for Women, the campaign group we are currently assisting in their campaign to get their Ko-fi account reinstated after the fundraising service axed them because their gender critical views allegedly “target” and “undermine” trans people. This may well become a legal battle. If you or someone you know has been cut-off by a financial services company because of their views, do please get in touch (email@example.com).
The trans issue continues to take up about a quarter of the time of our case team, with victims silenced by advocates of gender ideology… unless we get there first. We have about 65 live cases open right now, of all kinds – and that doesn’t include the vast number of resolved cases where we’ve helped members in what are often extremely serious difficulties. Members seeking our assistance this month included teachers, civil servants, manual workers, academics and celebrities. The high number of cries for help our case team deals with makes a compelling argument for legislative change to protect free speech for employees and in universities. While most of our case work remains strictly confidential, we anticipate several cases becoming public this month. Be sure to read our weekly newsletter.
The start of the academic year typically brings a deluge of new cases, from students compelled to take ideological instruction disguised as diversity training, to academics chastised for a toe out of line in today’s intolerant academy. The FSU made major interventions last year to challenge these schemes (as here, for example), and we stand ready to assist any students currently resisting university administrators who haven’t yet got the message.
The FSU’s packed schedule of autumn events!
If you’re not yet a member of the FSU, we hope you’ll join the FSU so you can participate in our forthcoming Online Speakeasies. The first is with comedian, writer, actor and presenter Jack Dee on Wednesday 12th October and the second with historian, author and television presenter Neil Oliver on Wednesday 9th November. We also have our upcoming, members-only Christmas party at the Backyard Comedy Club. Members have been sent a separate email containing links to register for these events. If you have not received this, do check your inbox, including your junk folder, and get in touch if you can’t find it, using firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also see a calendar on our Events page. As that is a public page, you cannot book members-only events via that route, so do join the FSU today to access those invitations, along with all the other benefits of membership.
We have two excellent sessions at the Battle of Ideas Festival taking place in London on the weekend of the 15th and 16th of October. I will be speaking on a packed panel, debating Online Safety vs Free Speech on Saturday afternoon, and the Free Speech Champions will discuss Winning Young Hearts and Minds on Sunday afternoon, with panellists including Professor Alice Sullivan and Rod Liddle. Members can access special discount tickets (we’ll be sending you an email about that) and a link to register was also in last Friday’s newsletter. Do come and say hello to us at our stall, find out more about supporting the work we do and buy one of our new T-shirts, featuring the excellent work of cartoonist Bob Moran.
Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures – register for free tickets here!
Oxford University’s annual ‘Roger Scruton Memorial Lectures’ are fast approaching. All events are free to attend, although registration is required.
On 17th October, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission Katherine Birbalsingh CBE will be in conversation with the founder of the 30% club, Baroness Helena Morrissey, and Dr Marie Daouda (Oriel College, Oxford). Register here. On 19th October, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians, Andrew Roberts, will be in conversation with Professor Robert Tombs, now Professor Emeritus of French History at the University of Cambridge. Register here. On 24th October, journalist and writer Peter Hitchens will be in conversation with former Conservative MEP Lord Daniel Hannan and Professor Sir Noel Malcolm (All Souls College, Oxford). Register here. Finally, on 26th October, FSU Chairman Professor Nigel Biggar (Christ Church College, Oxford) will be in conversation with the Secretary of State for International Trade the Rt Hon Kemi Badenoch, and Professor Ali Ansari (University of St Andrews). Register here.
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