Cameron is right not to censor Facebook

The government is right to resist populist calls to censor the Raoul Moat tribute page.

So Downing Street didn't order Facebook to take down the Raoul Moat tribute page after all. At a lobby briefing this morning, it emerged that, despite misleading press reports, No 10 simply called the social networking site to alert it to the page's presence.

The coalition is right to resist worrying calls from Tory MPs to censor the site. For a start, no government should be in the business of censorship -- so it was a relief to hear David Cameron's official spokesman state this morning: "I don't think we're in favour of censorship."

In addition, as regular users of Facebook will know, there are equally appalling pages elsewhere on the site. Are we to censor those, too?

Finally, it's worth remembering that Facebook didn't create such views; it merely reflects them. As the social media thinker Clay Shirkey recently pointed out when asked about online comments:

[T]hose conversations were always happening. People were saying those nasty things to one another in the pub or whatever. You just couldn't hear them before. So it's a change in our awareness of truth, not a change in the truth.

A refusal to censor provides us with the opportunity to confront society as it is, not as we wish it were. Calls to censor the Raoul Moat page are a confused attempt to tackle the symptoms, rather than the causes, of this discontent.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.