I’m quite torn on this one. David Allen Green (formerly ‘Jack of Kent’) asks in the New Statesman whether it’s correct that Tony Blair’s PR events supporting his book launch are being cancelled:
A retired politician is promoting a publication to those who may wish to purchase it.
This is not some extremist politician, but a former mainstream democratic politician.
And this is not just any former mainstream democratic politician, but the only UK party leader to have won a decisive general election with a sustainable majority since 1987.
But that politician cannot do any events. The events are being cancelled. Is this a cause for concern?
I don’t think it’s an immediate cause for concern because noone is forcing Blair to cancel the promotional events. Stop the War promised to conduct non-violent protests against him at the book signings and the (now-cancelled) event at the Tate Modern, but it was his choice to cancel them. Was he worried about the cost of policing or about the damage to his already destroyed reputation? And should people not be able to protest against a former Prime Minister who many believe to be a war criminal? Green continues:
[Padraig ] Reidy is the news editor for Index on Censorship and is establishing himself as one of the most thoughtful and intellectually-consistent commentators on free expression issues. Reidy says that this raises censorship concerns, even though the politician in question is Tony Blair.
This surely must be correct, if the situation is approached from a principle-based approach. The defence of free expression is often most important when the beneficiary is unpopular.
So, if this is this a case where free expression is threatened, should all people of goodwill now shout out: For Tony Blair and Free Speech?
As comments under the article point out it’s seriously ironic that we should be discussing the protection of free speech of a man who’s done so much to undermine it in this country. And it’s also not true that his free speech is being curtailed – tried to read a single newspaper or look anywhere on the television without him putting his story forward, still with barely any critical evaluation of what he’s saying? The article reeks of bias against Stop the War. Just because Padraig Reidy is a thoughtful commentator on free expression issues doesn’t mean he’s right in this instance.