If you’re reading this you probably already know of the case of Tommy Robinson’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment but briefly, for the benefit of those who genuinely aren’t aware of the bare bone facts of what went on I’ll summarise. The essence of it is that Tommy Robinson was arrested outside the court for breach of the peace where he was live-streaming his views on the details of a trial being conducted inside the court. He was then charged with and pleaded guilty to contempt of court and taken to prison. The anger this has generated amongst sympathisers of Tommy Robinson has burst aneurysms, ruptured rectums, swelled tumours, caused heart attacks, hernias and internal bleeding as a result of the stressful contractions which substitute for an ability to vent or sufficiently express the anger felt as a consequence of his arrest. I think people should calm down, for the good of their own health and sanity if nothing else.
Firstly, society at large is dealing with the problem as evidenced by the presence of defendants in court. Secondly, society knows about the problem, as evidenced by the presence of defendants in court. So doesn’t that rather diminish the value in the actions of the man who is only exercising his rights outside the court to tell us something we already know? You’ll notice, since his incarceration the trial has continued and the perpetrators are still being prosecuted even though he’s not there to live-stream it.
The question should be whether or not free speech has limits. I’d argue that it does. For the most part those limitations are the soft limits that normal people respect out of courtesy to others as part of being a good citizen. They are easy to overcome if a person feels that there is greater value in what they have to say than there is in maintaining a peaceful and civil shared public space. To reach the hard limits of free speech you have to combine the action of saying something objectionable with a secondary violation. The simple act of exercising your right to free speech in itself would never lead to action against you. For instance, if Tommy had been sitting in a car overlooking the courthouse or standing in the window of a building with a view of it while he was broadcasting he wouldn’t have been arrested.
Sometimes THE TRUTH is very hard for some people to deal with, often it is when their primary concerns are not the matter at hand but something they don’t really want to talk about. If you think the arrest of Tommy Robinson was unfair you should look at the arrest of sitting MP Caroline Lucas in 2013 at a climate protest in 2013. There is one perfect example of many of the system of civil society working properly. Are the authorities secretly pro global warming and pro FGM? Is that why Caroline, Tommy and countless other rabble rousers had their collar felt? Of course not.
With the subject matter removed the claims that the action is a cover allowing the authorities to carry on falters and crashes. There is a sense implied within the FREE TOMMY movement that anybody who has any power in this country secretly wants grooming gangs and if it wasn’t for people writing on FACEBOOK in CAPITAL letters and Tommy Robinson going down to the court house then these sorts of crimes would continue unabated. Furthermore, and rather ironically, in much the same way that you mustn’t criticise Muhammad, you mustn’t criticise Tommy Robinson either, for fear of drowning under a tipper-truck load of CAPITAL LETTERS and angry-face emojies.
So tell me, is it the case now that we’re standing on the edge of a precipice where the concept of liberty to exercise free speech is doomed and we’re living in an authoritarian state where you can’t say what you really want to say? I’d argue that idea isn’t even admissible as food for thought. It’s very common for people to fail to fully understand liberty when invoking liberty in this sort of context. True liberty cuts both ways. As much as Tommy Robinson should be allowed to speak his mind, so people are entitled to a quiet life, if that is what they want. Real liberty is summed up thusly: “Cause no harm and cause no cost”.
Tommy has violated on both counts. Harmful to the peace and costly to deal with. His little rant outside the courthouse will probably cost tax payers more than a million pounds once all said and done. To dumb this down for you (pretend you are watching the BBC) a million pounds at today’s prices is roughly equivalent to the entire life’s work of two men. Two lives in exchange for Tommy’s 15 minutes of fame. As with any ‘public’ money you must ask yourself: If Tommy Robinson came to you and asked whether you would be perfectly happy to give him your own money which you (may) have earmarked for healthcare and education for you and your family because he wanted to go and cause a raucous in a public place would you be prepared to give it to him? It is your own money, even if doled out by public servants it is still your money. You paid the price for what he did.
Lastly, I think it is worth mentioning the counter argument people come up with when you criticise the prophet Tommy Robinson which is: “oh well, how would you like it if it was your daughter. You must be pro-grooming gangs and pro-FGM.” – It is incredibly insulting to anybody to suggest that this is what their view must be just because they don’t want to go and rattle the gates at Downing Street. No doubt there will be extremists out there who sympathise with the actions of these criminals… but they certainly aren’t the ordinary folk of this country or anyone in authority. This has been tested in court in the case of the so-called Jane Collins Libels where Jane Collins MEP accused the officials of Rotherham of knowingly allowing criminal activity to take place in the town. I genuinely believe they didn’t know. Would they have allowed it to happen if they had known… of course not. That doesn’t excuse their poor management of the town and support for government policies which inadvertently enabled these problems to arise. In the end a lot of compensation had to be paid to the individual victims of that slur. People still banding this about and hanging it on the necks of ordinary people who refuse to engage in hysterical behaviour on this (admittedly very serious) issue and they shouldn’t have to defend themselves against those sorts of accusations.
Tommy Robinson should be freed because I don’t believe in punishing people so harshly for acts of this sort. But it would have to be on condition that he takes a more reasoned approach to the cause he is fighting or else on strike three he would deserve to go back for a longer stretch. He’s no moral hero, not at all.