In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

On Free Speech and Political Parties


Is being suspended a suspension of your free speech? (Edited: Eat More Cake)

Freedom of speech is considered a high principle in Britain, and as I have pointed out on previous occasions [1, 2, 3], it is cited erroneously.

After the suspensions of Ken Livingstone and Naz Shah MP [4], George Galloway, a London Mayoral candidate and former Respect MP, suggested that this was an attack on Ken Livingstone’s freedom to speak:

Btw where are all the “Je suis Charlie” brigade when it comes to Ken Livingstone right to “freedom of speech”?

In the attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, two men forced their way into the offices and fired assault rifles and other weapons, killing 11 people and injuring 11 more [5]. This is not comparable to being suspended from a political party, pending an internal process.

Criminal prosecution, nor violent retribution

Freedom of speech means speaking or publishing an opinion should not induce criminal prosecution nor violent retribution. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo, it was clearly the latter.

Whether you agree with Mr Livingstone’s statements or his suspension, his freedom of speech has not been suspended.

Political parties have a qualified freedom of association. For instance, the British National Party were banned from having white British ethnicity as a membership criterion [6].

Nevertheless, political parties can suspend and expel members, if they have said things that do not accord with that party’s values or beliefs. To use another smaller, digital example, a feminist Facebook group has no obligation to maintain the membership of an anti-feminist.

This debate is already heightened, without one side wrongly accusing the other of hypocrisy or double standards.


[1] Masters, A., 2016. On Free Speech and ‘Rhodes Must Fall’. In Defence of Liberty. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]

[2] Masters, A., 2016. On Free Speech and Twitter. In Defence of Liberty. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]

[3] Masters, A., 2016. On Free Speech and Platforms. In Defence of Liberty. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]

[3] Cohen, T., 2016. Livingstone Says Labour Should Reinstate Him. Sky News. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]

[4] BBC, 2015. Charlie Hebdo attack: Three days of terror. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]

[5] Walker, P., 2010. BNP ‘whites-only’ membership rules outlawed. The Guardian. Available from: [Accessed: 4th May 2016]


2 comments on “On Free Speech and Political Parties

  1. Afeef
    June 10, 2016

    His expulsion from the party goes against the much touted type of ‘freedom’ of expression in the West. In the West, freedom of speech MEANS to say whatever you want AND expect no consequence as a result of that. Clearly that didn’t happen with Ken Livingstone.

    • Anthony Masters
      June 10, 2016

      No, it does not. Freedom of speech does not, and has never meant, freedom from consequence.

      Do you believe a person should remain a member of an organisation even if they espouse beliefs antithetical to it?

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This entry was posted on June 9, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , .
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