It’s sometimes (erroneously) referred to as “The Mother of All Parliaments”, can claim to date back to the late 1200’s and it’s the model for parliamentary democracy in large portions of the world (primarily the Commonwealth countries that gained independence from the British Empire). But today, at around 4:30pm, The House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster, became The Mother of all Laughing Stocks.Why? Because today a debate took place in which the elected Members discussed if the United Kingdom should ban a US Presidential candidate from entering the country.
And regardless of what you think of his politics or some of the frankly outrageous things he’s said in the campaign so far, banning Donald J. Trump would be the most ridiculous thing this government could do. I mean, we’re talking about debating whether or not to allow the man who could end up being the leader of one of our major allies—some would say our biggest and most important ally—to set foot on these shores. Shores which, I should add, he owns a big chunk of and has invested heavily in.
Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the policies that DJT is espousing. And let’s be honest, the one that prompted the petition that has led to today’s debate is not only inflammatory, it’s completely unworkable. I mean, his policy is to ask people if they are Muslim before they enter the country and turn them away if they say yes.
Because Islamic terrorists are not going to lie in order to get past the security on the way to blow themselves (and hundreds of innocents) up. Yeah, they are clearly too stupid to think of not telling the truth as a way of avoiding detection.
But DJT’s policies are not the issue here. Nor is my opinion of them (on that I shall keep my own counsel—mostly). Who the citizens of the United States elect as their President is no more my business than who we elect as PM is theirs.
The issue I’m concerned about is that one of the most respected debating chambers in the world, the chamber on which so much of the world modelled their own governance, is actually stooping so low as to debate banning this man—or indeed any man, woman or child—one the strength of an online petition.
In case you didn’t know, the debate has come about because of the change.org e-petitions we have in the UK. If 100,000 people sign a petition on any topic, the subject has to be debated in Parliament. Which sounds like a good idea. It sounds like it’s increasing ‘access to democracy’ and ‘engagement in politics’, which can all agree is a good thing I’m quite sure.
But, frankly, it’s crazy. Just think about the possibilities for a second.
If 100,000 people signed a petition to make “The Way of the Jedi” a religion officially recognised by the state, it would have to be debated in parliament.
If 100,000 people signed a petition insisting that the Muggle Prime Minister give way to the Minister for Magic at PMQs once a month, this would have to be debated in Parliament.
Or if 100,000 people wanted to ban the potential President of the most powerful country in the world from getting off the plane at Heathrow, it would have to be debated in Parliament.
As it happens, it wasn’t 100,000. It was 570,000. But that doesn’t make it any less stupid to debate this issue in parliament. It’s a waste of parliamentary time when there are so many other, more important issues, to be debated.
Like solving the junior doctors strike, for example.
Okay, so 570,000 sounds like a lot. But the population of the UK is 64.1 million, so it’s not even 1%. (It’s about 0.89%)
And in any case, the 570,000 figure spread across two petitions, so it’s possible, if not highly likely, that the same people signed both petitions. And since all you need to sign one of these e-petitions is an e-mail address, and one person can claim as many of those as they like, there’s no way of knowing if people have ‘signed’ each petition multiple times or, indeed, how many times.
And there’s no way of knowing if the people signing this are 14 year olds who seen it on Facebook and are doing it “for a laugh”.
Or if the people signing it are doing so while living in Outer Mongolia or Darkest Peru.
I’d be surprised if the actual number of actual real people, with an actual real vote in the UK General Election, who signed this thing was a lot, lot less than the 570,000 being quoted.
But even that’s not massively important in the grand scheme of things.
The real issue here is that this debate is symptomatic of a worrying trend in Britain, which is most evident on university campuses right now.
As a firm believer in free speech—in that old notion that I don’t have to agree with what you’re saying to defend your right to say it—I’ve always thought that the best way to show up a ridiculous idea, is to allow it to be heard and subjected to the harsh glare of public scrutiny and debate. But increasingly people in this country—or, at least, a small, but very vocal, sub-section of people—seem to think that the best way to deal with ‘wrong-headed’ views, is to ban them from being heard altogether.
Can anyone think of any societies that banned views that the ‘ruling elite’ didn’t agree with? What happened to those I wonder?
Look, the best way to deal with someone talking utter bollocks, isn’t to not allow them to talk. It’s the exact opposite. You allow them to talk bollocks, then point out to those listening just what utter bollocks it is using reasoned debate and argument. You make the bollocks-talker look stupid for talking bollocks. You make people want to point and laugh and shout, “what utter bollocks”.
That’s the reason we haven’t banned UKIP.
Just look again at the DJT policy that triggered all this. Whether you agree with it or not, you have to agree that it quite simply doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny as a practical, workable way to run a county. It’s nonsense, and as soon as you start to ask questions about it, you can see that it’s nonsense.
And yet, the number of people being banned from having their views heard on the campuses of British universities has sky-rocketed this past year. Maryam Manazie, Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and that @nero bloke, who even triggered a trending twitter hastag, #jesuismilo, after twitter “de-verified” him.
I’ve always thought that the only people who want to ban opposing views rather than defeat them in debate, are those people who couldn’t debate their way out of a paper bag and know their deeply held views are utter bollocks that hold no water.
Yet these type of people now seem to be infesting our university system. And after that it’ll be in our parliament and quangos. It has to stop. And it has to stop NOW.
Or before you know it we’ll be living in some horrendous Orwellian nightmare where Thought-Crime becomes and Actual-Crime.
If I was a MP today, I’d have said that the way to deal with Donald Trump isn’t to ban him from the country, it’s to invite him to the country. It’s to debate him. It’s to show him how well muslims can integrate into a country like the UK given the opportunity. I grew up in the West Midlands and some of the nicest people I knew were Muslims. Or were they Sikhs? Or Hindus? Or something else? Honestly, I don’t know because it never mattered to me because first and foremost they were my friends. And we didn’t discuss religion when were were teenagers any more than we discussed the economy or the defence of the realm. We tended to discuss football instead.
I hope, I really, really hope, that this trend away from ‘free speech’ is temporary. That the sane and rational people in the country will reject it. That they will subject this attitude to the harsh glare of public debate and scrutiny.
Universities should be a place where you are taught how to think critically and question everything and have your personal views challenged and be able to challenge other views. Not a place you are taught what to think, never to question and be protected from ‘offensive opinions’.
After all, it’s that questioning attitude that has led us to be the great nation that we are today, at the forefront of so many industrial, technological, and cultural advances.
And that is what’s really at stake. Today’s debate wasn’t about Donald Trump. It was about Britain and ‘British Values’. I just hope that the MPs remembered that.