Would you rather have Prince Andrew or free speech?
The British are not entirely sure
Several events were easy to predict after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. We knew that the late monarch’s face would miraculously appear to her subjects in a piece of toast, or a pancake — or as it turned out, in banks of clouds. We knew that Prince Charles would wave a wand and make the Duchess of Cornwall the Queen Consort. And we knew that somebody, somewhere, with absolutely no respect for this sombre occasion, or the common decency that ought to attend it, would shout abuse at Prince Andrew.
He was following his mother’s hearse through the streets of Edinburgh when a 22-year-old man called Rory screamed: “Andrew you’re a sick old man”. (Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied being a sick old man.) Rory was then dragged away, filmed explaining himself on Twitter, and “arrested in connection with a breach of the peace”.
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Rory joins a small, marginal collection of anti-Royal shouters and placard-holders this week, arrested in similar circumstances. The Met police said people in London “have a right to protest” — yet they also escorted a protester away from parliament. He was holding up a blank sheet of paper.
The protestors have found themselves defended by Zarah Sultana MP, Zoe Williams, and others whose swords do not exactly fly from their scabbards when freedom of speech is at stake. William Hazlitt’s test for a political progressive was whether they could admit that Edmund Burke, the godfather of British conservatism, was a great man. A fairer test in today’s climate is whether those currently defending these republicans would do so in more… difficult cases.
The protestors — inappropriate, indecorous, wasp-at-a-picnic irritating — belong to a larger pattern. A teenager jailed for sending a racist tweet to Marcus Rashford. The man handed 150 hours of community service for posting “grossly offensive” words about Captain Sir Tom Moore during the pandemic. A police officer jailed over racist jokes in a WhatsApp group. The gender-critical feminist charged over allegedly transphobic tweets in Scotland.
None of these people are necessarily sympathetic. All of them have been dragged by the law for offences that are relatively lightweight — particularly when you consider that rapes are barely prosecuted, and 5% of burglaries are solved. Tweets and placards are more visible though.
“It’s a privilege to see how we all behave”, Naga Munchetty said on BBC Breakfast earlier in the week. Well, quite. Some behaviour is acceptable. Some will put you in prison. People do not have a “right to protest” as the Met claims. They do not have a right to say stupid things, rude things, and poorly-timed things. Especially not after the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act came into force at the end of June. The British have Prince Andrew. They don’t have free speech.
Is it a legitimate form of protest to scream abuse at someone walking behind their mother’s hearse?
It seems to me that the laws that govern free speech in this country are completely backwards, with abusing someone in public, harassing them at their home or blocking their freedom of movement, all permitted under the right of free speech and protest (providing it’s for an establishment approved cause) but private conversations and opinions expressed online cracked down on.
It may or may not be legitimate, but it should be allowed in a free country. If you don’t want the public to voice their opinions, don’t have a public ceremony. A Royal is a public figure.
The fact that what the guy yelled is almost certainly true, makes the case even stronger.
As the years go on, and I see how other Western nations treat some freedoms, I become more and more grateful for the Bill of Rights.
The court of public opinion agrees with your 2nd paragraph, but it’s a US legal matter that was resolved with no admission of guilt. So you are left with “Rory” shouting at the relative of the deceased, and the police moving him on. As you say, a public ceremony and I’d be amazed if anything comes of it. Hardly a hill to die on.
Will’s argument doesn’t work for me because of the above and that it binds itself to a James O’Brien comment that feels more aimed at the incidents in London.
The police actions in the London incidents have drawn criticism across the board for their potential implications. Social media of course inflames the situation as it draws into the debate people who want the passing of a monarch to be all about their strongly felt opinions. Not straightforward at all and legislating / accommodating all the nuances of British custom and practice feels an impossible task in the modern world.
Sadiq Khan is generally responsible for police priorities in London and should ensure a statement is issued so consistency can be maintained when it comes to buildings of national sensitivity. Or, if it isn’t him (and when is it?) make sure we know who made the call in this case.
I think the important element of freedom of speech is something that has been forgotten. It is one thing to say or write something that others might find offensive, it is entirely another thing to shout or bellow to disturb a peaceful event. I am entirely content for Rory to have been arrested for shouting just as I consider those shouting and harassing Kathleen Stock or a lecture by Jordan Peterson should have been arrested but weren’t. The police should be much more active in arresting those who seek to disturb the peace under the pretence of freedom of protest or freedom of speech.
In contrast the chap peacefully holding up a sign saying “Not my King” should not have been arrested. His protest was entirely peaceful and disturbed no one. Equally offensive tweets or other social media messages should not be the concern of the police providing they are not threatening or promoting violence.
“In contrast the chap peacefully holding up a sign saying “Not my King” should not have been arrested.”
Not arrested certainly, but someone at least ought to have pointed out to him that assuming he has a British passport, what he’s claiming is not a matter of opinion but fact. A fact that he has got wrong.
95% of burglaries, you no doubt mean.
We do have a a limited right to free speech, reducing all the time. What we do not have, or ever had, is the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, or to hurl common abuse on a solemn occasion in front of a hostile crowd; both of which could result in violence or injury.
I do agree that hurling common abuse on a solemn occasion is unpleasant and possibly illegal.
Would you agree that it is, however, appropriate and legal to silently protest the investiture of an unelected monarch on the occasion of his accession? If not then, then when?
Can we please drop that old chestnut. You absolutely have the right to shout fire in a theatre if it is, in fact, on fire. Likewise the truth is an absolute defense against slander (and libel).
If there is a fire in a crowded theatre, we who are there, and at risk, will thank the person who loudly points it out – if we are not aware.
The onus is on us (geddit?) to behave properly when the cry goes up.
I think we have always had this right (to raise the alarm) and this responsibility (not to respond like idiots), and using this tired old cliche is usually a sign that the point has been missed.
You definitely don’t mean “5% of burglaries go unpunished“. the link actually states that only 5% of burglaries are ‘solved’.
I am curious as to why the author thinks that holding up a sign saying “Not my King” at the accession of a new and unelected monarch should be considered stupid, rude or untimely. If it is untimely to protest against a new King as the King is being invested, what would be the appropriate time?
It’s not. But it is behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace, both legally and in practice, and the police may think it best to remove such a protestor for their own safety and the safety of the crowd.
James O’Brien proposed the counterfactual this morning. What if it were a gathering of republicans and a monarchist showed up with a sign saying “God save the King”?
Should the monarchist be arrested?
What if someone at a football match held up a sign saying that the opposing team is not very good? Would the police be entitled to arrest him for his own safety?
Are the police allowed to arrest anyone who expresses an opinion that they disagree with? Are there circumstances when they are not allowed to arrest someone who disagrees with the majority?
The investiture of a King is a ceremonial occasion, much like a wedding or a funeral. As such it may deserve special protection. A ‘gathering of republicans’ is not. No one is being harassed for saying Britain should become a republic (just read the Guardian if you want to check) – whereas people are being harassed etc. for using the word ‘black’ in the wrong context or saying that there is more to being a woman than feeling you are one.
What’s an example of people being harassed for using the word ‘black’ in the wrong context?
A nationally famous footballer engaged in a sledging match described his (black) opponent as a f****ng c**t. Nothing wrong with that, apparently. But since he put the word ‘black’ in between the two swearwords, he was accused (and I think, actually put on trial) for some kind of hate speech.
Which one of those words is “black”?
Didn’t you read the whole post? I mean – it was not very long 😉
The point is that calling someone a ‘f****ng c**t’ is apparently OK; calling someone ‘black’ is fine; but calling someone a ‘f****ng black c**t’ (which was the complete phrase) is courtroom stuff. See what I mean about context?
Why do think it’s ok to call someone those names?
I do not, as it happens. But I know that they will not take you to court for it, it is rude but not considered illegal. Add the word ‘black’, though, and that changes.
I’d also point out that people most definitely have been harassed for saying that Britain should become a republic.
One woman was arrested for holding up a sign that said: “Not My King” and a barrister was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of paper. The police officer said that he would be arrested if he wrote “Not My King”.
I don’t believe that people should be arrested or harrassed for silent protests like this. Do you agree?
Come on. The arrest is not for saying a wrong opinion as such, but for making a protest demonstration at a particular time and place. You know that.
At the accession of a new ruler.
You appear to think you or others have a choice over Charles III being your King and should be allowed to impose it on everyone else, willing or not. You and they do not, and should not. That is what the Constitution of a country means. If you don’t like it, move elsewhere. No-one will stop you.
I’m afraid your assumptions are mistaken. I don’t want to impose my choice on others.
I do, however, believe that in a democracy I am entitled to share my views and to advocate for constitutional change to make the country better for all of us.
There has been a significant constitutional change in the recent past. It was initially advocated for by a small minority but the campaigners eventually managed to persuade 37% of the country to vote for it. I didn’t agree with it and, in your words, it was imposed on me. That’s how democracy works.
At no point did I ask the people I disagreed with to leave the country. That doesn’t seem compatible with my idea of democracy. Is it compatible with yours? Who else would you ask to leave?
“ … don’t want to impose my choice on others.”
Actually, you do.
“I am entitled to share my views and to advocate for constitutional change to make the country better for all of us.”
”Better” by whose definition?
Although Charles is indeed his King, he should have the right to say that he is not – just like I should (and do) have the right to say something that is not true, as a form of protest, as long as there is no incitement to violence or rebellion.
“The Earth is flat.” OK, I said something that is not true. Arrest me.
If the crowd then turned on him though and gave him a good kicking, would he then complain the police didn’t protect him? The police can’t waste limited manpower at a huge event such as the procession to protect one contrarian, so while technically he’s not broken the law it’s much easier to remove him from the situation, much like when away fans buy tickets in the home end at the football.
The fact he went running to the media straight after the event implies to me that he’s got exactly the attention he wanted all along anyway
Interesting theory of policing!
Are there other situations where you think that peaceful protesters should be arrested when a crowd threatens them with violence?
Is that what usually happens in a democratic country?
As I say, it’s not the ideal scenario but with a limited number of outnumbered police, perhaps they felt they couldn’t guarantee his safety if they let him carry on. If so are they supposed to let him potentially be attached to protect his right to free speech, or do they remove him to prevent the situation getting out of hand?
In that situation the role of the police can be contradictory so they have to take the least worst option
covid created a bovine cretinous GestaPlod, an issue that must be a new Government priority- Their levels of arrogant stupidity is so clearly displayed by their continuing to abuse their powers, week in week out despite being filmed on smartfones and exposed to the media!
Such a bizarre (barely) article. What exactly is the point?
i don’t know either; I was hoping that someone in the comments section might enlighten me.
dont worry , these momentous situations
(i e the death of our queen) CAN BRING OUT THE BEST AND THE WORST OF OUR PEOPLE along with the usual dictators! bent on telling us what we should and shouldnt do ! we are adult enough to concine these opinions to the bin!!!!!! We each have our own memories of our late queen, lets not begrudge her a peaceful passage “home” SHE EARNED IT.
Do these dictators who tell us what we should and shouldn’t do include the people who say that it is inappropriate to protest an unelected king?
Whose opinions should be consigned to the bin? Is it the people whose opinions you disagree with? Or the people who arrest and beat protesters for having opinions they disagree with?
The author is suggesting that holding up a sign saying “Not my King” at the investiture of a new monarch is equivalent to sending racist taunts to a footballer or “grossly offensive” words about Captain Sir Tom Moore and that we should allow both or neither.
I think the author is mistaken. I can’t think of a more appropriate time to protest the investiture of a new, unelected monarch and I don’t think it is equivalent to racist taunts at all.
“An unelected monarch.” What exactly is that?
It’s a monarch that we did not get to vote for.
In a democracy, we usually get the opportunity to elect our leaders. In this case, the monarch was chosen based on an accident of his birth.
There are many people who we did not get to vote for and they have more influence on the policy and direction of government than the monarch does. I presume you are happy with this.
I’m not sure why you would presume this. If they were nominated through the democratic process then I support them.
I am opposed, however, to people who obtained their place in the House of Lords by an accident of their birth or as a result of a large donation to the governing party.
Who did you have in mind?
“I am opposed, however, to people who obtained their place in the House of Lords by an accident of their birth or as a result of a large donation to the governing party”.
Funnily enough so am I, I’m also opposed to unaccountable billionaire funded NGO’s and supranational bodies.
It sounds like we are in agreement on that issue. I’m not sure why you thought I would disagree.
Would you also agree that, in a democracy, it is inappropriate for an unaccountable monarch to inherit a vast fortune and immense power without a democratic vote?
No, it’s not ideal but on the whole I think a constitutional monarchy works but those who disagree should (naturally) have the right to protest.
As for the wealth I’m not particlarly bothered about it, just a personal thought.
Then we are almost entirely in agreement. A great result. Thank you for engaging!
I do disagree about the wealth though.
I think it’s inappropriate for the richest woman in the country to be excused from inheritance tax when the rest of us have to pay it.
Are you sure that E2R was the richest woman in the UK? Isn’t there at least one other who earns hundreds of millions running a “betting shop”
I’m not sure actually. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was worth about half a billion pounds. Is the other woman worth more than that?
The Queen does pay income tax and capital gains tax.
But not inheritance tax, right?
In regard to her wealth, don’t you mean The Crown?
Monarchs are not elected. That’s what they are.
You still get your elected leader. You’d need to prove that the Monarch interferes in politics to justify your position.
The unelected Head of State has a secret process – Queen’s Consent – that allows the Royal family to have bills amended before they are passed. This is the very definition of interfering with politics.
There are over 1000 ocassions of Her Majesty vetting bills that affect her interests and that of other royals and many examples of her having laws amended to her advantage.
The Queen’s estate is excluded from several farming bills as a result of lobbying by her private lawyer.
The Prince of Wales lobbied to exclude the Duchy of Cornwall from rules that protect leaseholders’ rights.
Note that Queen’s Consent is a very different process from Royal Assent which is a mere formality.
Do you agree that unelected leaders should not be allowed to excluded themselves from bills that affect the rest of us?
You’re constantly shifting goal posts. Now we have to debate whether your examples would be described as political. They are not political in the sense that most comments here are referring to.
To recap, you said “You’d need to prove that the Monarch interferes in politics to justify your position.” and I gave an example of the Queen changing the laws to suit her own interests, which is politics.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
“Do you agree that unelected leaders should not be allowed to excluded themselves from bills that affect the rest of us?”
Perhaps this could be worded a bit more honestly. Do I agree that anyone should be allowed to exclude themselves from bills that affect the rest of us?
This seems to me to be human nature. It’s done by many people in many different ways: tax avoidance, interpretation of law, loopholes. You’ve probably done it yourself. The amount involved does not change it. So, do I agree? I accept it as I do a lot of other things that take place. As someone once said (Catch-22 I think): if everyone was doing it then I’d be a fool not to.
The point is that the Queen changed the actual laws to benefit her own estate. The rest of us don’t get to do that.
“The unelected Head of State has a secret process – Queen’s Consent – that allows the Royal family to have bills amended before they are passed. This is the very definition of interfering with politics.”
You make a good point, except perhaps the use of ‘secret’ in the above. It is not secret if you – and, one imagines, many others know about it.
If you thought that your love rival was a piece of crap, would you say that his church marriage to your ex (or his mother’s funeral, for that matter) was an appropriate time to broadcast that opinion?
I would not. In fact, I said as much in my earlier post.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has my affection and gratitude and it is never appropriate to hurl abuse at a wedding or a funeral.
My claim is that silent protesters holding up signs to protest the accession of an unelected king should not be arrested.
It seems to me that legitimate protest should be allowed in a democracy. I think it is wrong to arrest protesters who are expressing an opinion. I thought it was wrong when it happened in Red Square. It’s wrong in Parliament Square too.
Do you think people should be arrested for sharing an opinion that you disagree with?
In general terms no. At specific ceremonial occasions? Maybe. In the specific case of holding up a ‘Not my king’ sign in that particular place? I am not sure, I’d have to check the context, but quite likely not.
But you are very much harming your own argument bu putting it as “silent protesters holding up signs to protest the accession of an unelected king”. WIth those words you are not defending the right of protest in general, but the right of your own obviously correct opinions to prevail against the obvious nonsense of those you are protesting against. At which point the other side can do exactly the same thing.
If we are agreed that silent protest against the monarchy is legal we can move on to their kinds of protest.
Are we agreed?
As the sentence stands – no. I do not know what conclusions you think that would legitimate. I would say that it is (obviously) not illegal to protest against the monarchy, silently or otherwise. We are not in Thailand. Specific actions might be deemed illegal (or inopportune enough to be stopped anyway).
Excellent! We are agreed that silent protests allowed.
Which other protests do you disagree with?
No, he did not agree with you. You twisted his thoughts.
The protestor is not holding up a sign during the investiture of the King alone. It’s also at the same time a period of mourning for the Queens. Which is obviously felt by many people. The whole idea of dignity and sensitivity is something only spoken of these days. The person does have a right to protest but the timing was not appropriate because it ignored the feelings of a vast majority of people. You can argue for the importance of freedom of speech in society, but there are other factors that contribute to a functioning and caring society. The person made their protest and was removed. It does not indicate anything about the infringement on free speech. You can argue about rights in this case but there are other issues that are not encompassed by law: the feelings of others, for instance, or dignity. There seems to be an unspoken general consensus about these thing that contributes to civilised behaviour, that in turn contributes to large populations living together. You’ve used all your talking points, but you’ve ignored this.
I think you are conflating the man who shouted abuse at Prince Andrew in a funeral procession with the people who quietly held signs protesting the accession of an unelected king 100 of miles away from the funeral proceedings.
I agree with you that it is indecorous and uncivilised to protest at a funeral. I disagree that it lacks dignity to protest when an unelected leader assumes great powers or that the timing is inappropriate. What would be a better time to protest?
I also disagree with your point regarding freedom of speech. If a person is arrested for holding a placard, it very much bears on their freedom. Arrest is a loss of freedom. I fail to see otherwise. Perhaps you could explain?
“I think you are conflating the man who shouted abuse at Prince Andrew in a funeral procession with the people who quietly held signs protesting the accession of an unelected king 100 of miles away from the funeral proceedings.”
Nope, that doesn’t work. The nation is in mourning. 100 miles is irrelevant.
“I disagree that it lacks dignity to protest when an unelected leader assumes great powers or that the timing is inappropriate.”
As usual you play a slippery game. You justify the lack of dignity because of the issue of an unelected leader. Unelected or not, the Monarchy is loved, respected and valued by many people. We know they are unelected. We’ve known that for a long time. But this is not viewed in the same sense as a tyrant.
What would be a better time? Anytime after this period of mourning. They can assemble outside Buckingham Palace.
“I also disagree with your point regarding freedom of speech. If a person is arrested for holding a placard, it very much bears on their freedom.”
Thats because you ignore my point about dignity and the feelings of others. Your pedantic points go around in circles. Let’s not say the person was arrested for holding a placard. The person was arrested for purposely ignoring the feelings of many people. It was not necessary to protest right then and there. We all know how protests work; to create disruption and get attention.
As I understand it, you think certain laws should be suspended for a period after someone you love and respect dies. I don’t think the laws should be suspended for that reason.
I think you misunderstand. I mean that certain behaviour should be suspended for a period after someone … dies. And in fact you will find that is the case in all cultures and epochs.
I think it was so the writer could have a go at Andrew, can’t see any other reason he would write it.
Every dog has its day, I guess.
I find it ironic that those suddenly protesting about free speech are those who go out of their way to have scientific fact about sexual dimorphism banned, and those who dare say what a women is punished.
Are you sure they are the same people?
Have you considered that the people who disagree with scientific facts are not the same people as the ones that think that peaceful protest should be allowed in a democracy?
Maybe it’s simpler.
I’m so used to people who share my view of the world having to self censor, or be subject to severe legal, societal or career damage for stating those beliefs, it seems free speech has already gone.
I’m sad about that but it’s happened. So when, once in a blue moon, it works the other way, I can only celebrate.
Did I get that right? You celebrate the constraint of free speech?
No, you got it wrong.
Martin says that he “can only celebrate” when the freedom to speak is taken away from people he disagrees with.
What did I get wrong?
“What did I get wrong?”
That he was being facetious.
To me the man protesting the Monarchy at the funeral procession of a beloved Queen, and somebody firing off nonsense on Twitter are two completely different situations, even if they do fall vaguely under the free speech banner.
The man protesting puts the police in an awkward situation, as during the procession they also have to control the crowd. Whilst the man technically broke no law, having him there has the potential to cause a very ugly altercation or crowd trouble, and no doubt he would be the first to complain that the police didn’t protect him if somebody in the crowd decided to give him a hiding. It’s much easier for the police to remove one man than to try and protect him from a mob, especially if it’s a situation entirely of his own making.
The arrests for stuff written on social media is different in that there’s no imminent danger of a situation getting out of control, and so as such the police shouldn’t be getting involved
You appear to be using the word “protect” as a synonym for “arrest”. Are there other situations where someone should be arrested when a crowd threatens them with violence?
I agree that people should not be arrested for stuff written on social media – unless they are inciting violence.
In this case they likely were placed under arrest (later de arrested) in order to prevent the situation getting out of hand. The police have a duty of care to everybody in that crowd, therefore the safety of the many temporarily takes precedence over one man’s right to protest in my eyes.
If the police had stood back and the situation turned violent, would many people being injured be a price worth paying simply so one person can hold up a provocative placard? Total ideological beliefs are incredibly dangerous in my eyes, I believe most people are more pragmatic and can see that sometimes rules have to be bent to avoid the worst possible outcomes
No, he’s using the word as protect. Your word games are inconsequential.
Silly article title. Heckling at a procession of the deceased is not freedom of speech, especially when it disturbs family members who have not been accused of anything indecent. Why should they have had to suffer that scrota?
Inconsequential action in public and inconsequential article.
Metropolitanazi gestaplod are out of control
What would any public spectacle be without its misbehaving fringe? Queen Elizabeth would have taken it all in stride without batting an eyelash.
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