Free speech and censorship

The danger of being cheery, how we should deal with unruly commentors, and some of the exciting thin

Let me take a few minutes to put the boot into the Cheery Digest. A confirmed miserablist, I'm clearly not the target audience for this sort of thing.

Nor have I any idea who is behind this blog so why not read this and draw your own conclusions...

NEWS: Why we love the Queen ...

There's no two ways about it, our dear old Queen has a twinkle in her eye - apparently she has revealed (we're not sure who to) that whenever she hears Abba's Dancing Queen come on the radio, she "always tries to dance, because I am the Queen and I like to dance".

That's rather charmed us.

Staying on the regal theme, we were also amused to hear Nelson Mandela's reasoning behind simply calling our monarch 'Elizabeth' when they speak on the phone: "Why not? After all, she calls me Nelson."

Possibly the most nauseating outpouring since Violet Elizabeth Bott had a good scream.

Moving on to the knotty issue of commenting, censorship and what lines should be drawn.

This is an increasingly vexed issue on newstatesman.com. First of all, there are some contributors who use this website - and others - to propound a particular world view. Some of the right, some of the left. Others use it as a place to insult people, belittle their intelligence. Somewhere in between the two there are the humourists who are often funny but occasionally cross the line. Most people are interested in the articles and fire off our content and off each other. They manage to disagree without being personal.

Ultimately the decision on when things should be removed falls to me and up until recently the decision to unpublish comments has been taken only because there's been some pretty extreme unpleasantness such as racism or homophobia or something that is likely to cause great offense. That's partly because I don't believe in censorship.

However, we've had to toughen up the stance in recent weeks. In particular we've focused on those who are just tediously rude and who put off other commentors but also on those with views which most right-thinking people will find offensive. We're also being tougher on some of the nastier personal attacks that occur - thankfully rarely - on some of our writers.

By enlarge, I'm grateful that so many people wish to hold intelligent debates about important issues. One good example of debate, I think, was this thoughtful exchange on homosexuality and Christian notions of marriage.

Coming up on newstatesman.com...

Unison boss Dave Prentis writes on why his members would be right to strike over a 2.45 per cent pay offer. As many as 800,000 workers from dinner ladies to binmen are set to walk out next month having rejected the rise.

Look out for criminologist Mary Lynn Young on the severed feet that keep floating into shore in British Columbia.

Heard the one about the obscenity trial judge caught with smutty images on his website? Alex Kozinski, said he wasn't sure whether he or some other family member had intentionally stored the sexually explicit images. Log on to find out more about how he caused a mistrial.

Jonathan Calder ponders the strange link between a cult children's TV show and New Labour. “The Roman Emperors used to keep a slave to whisper “remember thou art mortal” when they got above themselves. Tony Blair would have done well to have an aide close at hand to say “remember you’re a Womble” now and then.”

All this plus our new column on gaming – CultureTech
– and much, much more.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.