Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Monday, 7 February 2011

Should this chap be banned?

There's a chap who phones me every so often, usually just after we've delivered our Focus newsletter. The purpose of his call is to have a ten minute rant at me. I just listen for the most part, and occasionally interject. At the end of his rant, he's very polite and thanks me for listening.

While he's ranting I get this picture in my mind. He's in his kitchen. At one end is his phone on 'speaker', and he's at the other end, standing on a soap box. He's a slight figure well into his seventies, stooped and gripping an enormous megaphone through which he rants at me. I can't see his face but I'm sure it's bright red and craggy.

So what does he rant about? Well apart from passing jibes at 'foreigners' and 'immigrants', it's usually the same topics: Clegg is Cameron's puppet, Blair's a mass murderer and American Jewish financiers masterminded the banking crisis. Well we know two of those are wrong for a start.

Should this chap be banned? Certainly some of his comments are racist, and others defamatory (especially those aimed at Cleggy). If he stood in Crosby Village with his megaphone and started ranting at shoppers, he would probably be arrested by The Thought Police.

Personally I wouldn't have a problem with him doing it, but then I'm not Jewish, I'm not black and I'm not Tony Blair. Freedom of speech walks a fine line, but people like this chap make me question how the state in recent years has curtailed it. 

The logic seems to be that you can eradicate racism by passing a law against it, stopping people openly expressing their racist views. It seems to me that you don't change behaviour by passing a law, you only suppress it. You have to change people from the inside - although some people with such firmly held beliefs are beyond that.

Should we consider a Speakers' Corner in every community? It could be well away from the mainstream, so you would only go there if you wanted to be exposed to ideas and views that you might find unsettling and offensive.

Perhaps this would be a better platform for the chap who rants at me - and it might even remove some of his frustration.

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