This week, Rishi Sunak has expressed an intention to treat as extremists people who ‘vilify Britain’. It’s an attack on the right to free speech, which is explicitly the right not to be mistreated by your government over airing an opinion. It’s also disturbingly vague, which makes it more dangerous. What does it mean to vilify Britain?
Could it, for example, mean discussing the history of the bloody awful things that British people, British companies and British leaders have done to people around the world? You can’t talk about the British in Ireland, or India for example, without it rapidly becoming obvious that the British were acting villainously. You can’t talk about how British people profited from the slave trade without making us look pretty bad. I could go on at length, because the list is huge.
Do I vilify Britain when I point out that we are living with policies that kill vulnerable people in the UK? What about if I suggest that policies around care homes during the covid pandemic were murderous? What happens if I talk about the Leave campaign and how that was probably interfered with by Russian interests? Or the utter madness of going ahead with leaving the EU and the massive harm we’ve done to ourselves. I’m certainly not making us look good as a country if I talk about things that are happening, and have happened. That’s awkward, isn’t it? Does that make me an extremist?
Then there’s the issue of who isn’t affected by this. It’s the flag shaggers. Right wing nationalistic groups are all passionatley and vocally pro-Britain. We have every reason to think that in terms of safety and risk, right wing extremists are the people we should all be concerned about. They won’t say mean things about British history, though. They won’t pull down statues of slave traders. It looks awfully like being an actual villain is going to be fine, and making a fuss about villainy is going to be suspect, if we’re really going this way.
I’m no fan of imperialism, or colonialism, or fascism, and I’m going to keep saying so. We’re not a great nation. We’re a horrible mess of a nation and we urgently need to get our shit together.