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 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

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.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.