When is a ‘libertarian’ not a libertarian?

…when it’s a Kipper?

A couple of days ago, blogger Michael Abberton  got a visit from the police. As reported in the Guardian:

“He was told he had not committed any crimes and no action was taken against him, but he was asked to delete some of his tweets, particularly a tongue-in-cheek one on 10 reasons to vote for Ukip, such as scrapping paid maternity leave and raising income tax for the poorest 88% of Britons.”

This is the poster Michael tweeted:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 14.39.13

Michael described his experience in his own blog here. As he put it:

“…they said this was in relation to a complaint that had been made by a certain political party in relation to tweets I had published about them and one tweet in particular which talked about ten reasons to vote for them. The PC wanted to know if I had made that poster.”

The police were polite and concluded that there was no charge to answer and that it was not a police matter – but they still asked him to delete the relevant tweets, and suggested that he not tweet about their visit. I, for one, am glad that he did. There are a number of questions for the police – why they couldn’t work out what was going on just by reading the tweets and blogs, for example, and why they couldn’t see that a visit from the police would look very bad. Do the police not realise that people don’t like having a knock on their door from them? And if they do realise it, why not find another way to deal with something like this – a phone call, for example? If the police were a bit more ‘savvy’ they could have worked out what was going on pretty quickly and simply – and come to the conclusion that they finally did, that this was not a police matter at all. Michael is a scrupulous and intelligent blogger – what he was actually doing was fact-checking a parody UKIP poster that had been doing the rounds for a while.

The police have a lot to learn about this – but I think they are beginning to learn. What is more interesting to me is the role of UKIP. As confirmed by the police, it was a UKIP councillor that made the original complaint. Some UKIP supporters have suggested that the poster was a breach of the somewhat notorious S.127(1) of the Communications Act 2003, the section under which Paul Chambers was prosecuted in the farcical ‘Twitter Joke Trial”. Here’s Marty Caine, for example:

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 14.44.54

Now S.127(1) of the Communications Act 2003 is notoriously broad, but even if it could be stretched to cover Michael Abberton’s tweet (which the police concluded it couldn’t), why would UKIP, a party that fairly often puts itself forward as ‘libertarian’, try to use it? One of the basic tenets of libertarianism is a strong belief in freedom of speech. To a ‘real’ libertarian, the law should be used as little as possible. Freedom matters – and freedom of speech in particular. When someone says something bad about you, you should argue with them. Win the battle of wits. Compete in the marketplace of ideas – not try to find a way to silence your opponents, using the law – and the police – to try to stop them arguing against you.

Personally I detest UKIP – as my various blog posts on the subject over the last few months should make pretty clear – but I wouldn’t use the law to try to shut them up. I argue against them, tease them, parody them, try to persuade them – and yes, sometimes even shout at them – but I don’t try to silence them. Am I more of a libertarian than UKIP? It seems so – but then again, no party with pretentions of libertarianism would have as their central policy the control of immigration.

These kinds of tactics should be taken seriously. Visits from the police are disturbing to anyone – and interference in the political debate, particularly this close to an election, should be taken very seriously indeed. Michael Abberton’s blog was very much part of the debate, looking precisely at the policies of UKIP. As Michael put it in his blog:

“Why would a political party, so close to an election, seek to stop people finding out what their policies are or their past voting record? And is it not a matter for concern that a political party would seek to silence dissent and debate in such a manner?”

Yes, it absolutely is.



It turns out that the UKIP councillor that reported Michael’s tweet was Peter Reeve – and that the reason for the complaint seems to have been that as Michael was a Green Party supporter, his tweet should have been labelled as official Green Party electoral material. To say that this is unconvincing is putting it mildly – and Michael’s Twitter avi has a Green Party twibbon, just to make it clear even on a tweet. What’s more, this doesn’t in any way alter the overall freedom of speech argument – trying to silence political opponents by bringing in the police should be anathema….

30 thoughts on “When is a ‘libertarian’ not a libertarian?

  1. Deliberately posting misleading information is hardly what you can call informing the public it is anti ukip propaganda and part of a concerted smear campaign. using UKIP’s imagery clearly does that. why should it be ok to lie to the public?

    1. Did I say it was OK? What I said was that a libertarian approach to speech like that, even if it’s not ‘OK’, is to argue with it, not to get the police involved and try to silence the person concerned…. In your case, for example, I support your right to comment on my blog – commenting and arguing is good! If you tried to have my blog shut down, on the other hand…..

    2. why should it be ok to lie to the public?

      Perhaps we could ask St Farage that or in fact any of the other establishment parties. It really is pathetic how often UKIP cry smear, we all know what happened to the boy who cried wolf, in the end no one came.

    3. How ironic. Didn’t UKIP tell us that hundreds of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians were going to “flood” into this country? Then there’s the manifesto your leader apparently disowned on live television. How about your leader’s accusation that Hope Not Hate and United Against Fascism were “Labour fronts” or words to that effect? Get your own house in order before you accuse others of lying.

      1. I understand the logice is that with Maternity pay, there is a disprortionate burden on small business compared to large corporations who, are of course better able to arrange cover etc. UKIP’s policy then (not sure about now), is that businesses are better able to arrange with their employees arrangements for maternity etc than of Government. The difficulty with current maternity legislation, is that an employer is not able to ask when an employee is going to return to work, this of course prevents uncertainty which many smaller companies find difficult to adjust for. The consequence of forced upon rights and uncertainty is that businesses are tempted to not then recruit women of which another consequence is yet another circle of employment and discrimination law.

        2008 but appropropriate to the date of the policy http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2674131/Bosses-may-stop-employing-women-as-maternity-rights-increase.html


        Under the older policy, The maternity pay that is reclaimed by businesses through PAYE exemptions would be paid through a single welfare payment instead, the intention was to limit the administrative burden on small businesses.

    4. Every single claim on that meme is given a source. Could you point out to us which bits are misleading and why, because all you have done so far is to make a very general, roundabout accusation that it is a lie? You need to put some flesh on that, otherwise readers will be given to suspect that you have no information of your own and are just engaged in ‘special pleading’ of a sort.

      1. If you read it, not every single claim on the meme was err, given a source.

    1. You’re entitled to make that assumption but in return I am able to say that it is complete and utter rubbish

  2. Just wondering, will the CPS now charge the councillor with wasting police time?
    “The offence of wasting police time is committed when a person causes any wasteful employment of the police by knowingly making to any person a false report orally or in writing tending to:
    show that an offence has been committed; or,
    give rise to apprehension for the safety of any persons or property; or,
    show that he has information material to any police inquiry.
    It is a summary only offence carrying a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and/or a level 4 fine.”

    1. Peter Reeve is a bell-end, but it is not an offence to report a crime if you believe one has been committed. Judging by the online comments from outraged UKIPpers, they overwhelmingly believe that, if it isn’t a crime to criticise UKIP, then it jolly well should be.

      1. Some say that but most (like myself) believe in the fundamental freedom of speech. It was clearly in my opinion, an error of Judgement to use the tactics of the other political parties and call the police everytime one disagrees with a point-of-view.

  3. I was going to say this is shocking behaviour from UKIP, but in fact I have long since stopped being shocked by their antics. A short while on Twitter – or looking the comments on the Telegraph website – reveals a culture of bullying and intimidation of anyone who dares to disagree with them. Far from being libertarian, they reveal UKIP’s ingrained authoritarianism.

    Where are the UKIP members denouncing that bullying? Where are the UKIP candidates condemning this waste of police time and public money? Nowhere to be seen. Proper politicians welcome public debate about their policies – a good opportunity to convince the undecided, if nothing else – but UKIP really are a pathetic excuse for a political party.

  4. Reblogged this on jaynelinney and commented:
    An important argument well made by Paul Bernal – Respecting Freedom of Speech is Essential and works for Everyone Equally – Politicians have NO Right to abuse this.

  5. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    More on the UKIP attempt to gag the blogger who posted the “10 reasons” meme. Apparently the police were called because Mr Abberton is a member of the Green Party and his Tweet/Blog should have been labelled as election material.
    Firstly, this excuse seems to have been cobbled together hastily, after the fact of the police visiting Mr Abberton. Secondly, it doesn’t work as Mr Abberton would have to be a Green Party candidate.

  6. To answer the question, a right-wing libertarian is not a libertarian when it comes to addressing the rights of anyone who disagrees with him in any way whatever.

  7. Reblogged this on TheCritique Archives and commented:
    The old idea that the left is in favour of statism and that the right is in favour of individual liberty is rhubarb. The left is in favour of significant state supervision of the rich. The right is in favour of far stricter state supervision of the poor only.

  8. Wasting police time was wrong, there is no doubting that.
    Ukip on the other hand, are wasting people’s votes and the kippers just can’t see it!

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