Wednesday, 17 November 2010


This week I, along with two fellow MSc students and Nic went to the Cardiff Skeptics in the Pub meeting. We were all Cardiff SITP virgins, but after a couple of bottles of wine, we felt like we fitted right in.

The speaker was Councillor John Dixon and his topic was the maelstrom that followed his flippant tweet "I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

In case you don't know, Cllr Dixon faced disciplinary action when an ombudsman decided that a complaint submitted by a slighted Scientologist was valid and required further investigation.

The Ombudsman's decision provoked a twitter storm with many people voicing support for Cllr Dixon. What had started as a throw-away comment, developed into a news story that saw Cllr Dixon appear on news night being interviewed by Kirsty Wark.

In the end, he won the argument, when it was agreed that despite his twitter handle suggesting it was a professional tweeter account, his comment was of a personal nature.

Cllr Dixon's talk highlighted the contradicting nature of politics; we want our representatives to be honest so we can vote for someone who we feel we can agree with or at the very least put up with, but at the same time they are expected to not express any personal opinions that could be deemed offensive.

This is a question of freedom of speech. Just because a person becomes an elected representative does not strip them of the right to express their opinion, whether we agree with it or not.

Cllr Dixon quoted Voltaire "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This is something that I agree with completely.

I would fight for the right for Dr Sheila Matthews to express her doubts about gay parents, though I disagree. I would fight for anti-vaxers to say what they want, though I disagree.

Why? Because as Cllr Dixon suggested in his talk, no-platform policies are a bad idea. They drive dangerous ideas out of the harsh light of public scrutiny. When everyone can express themselves publicly, debate can weed out the bad, dangerous, wrong or downright stupid ideas.

Freedom of speech means freedom of speech for everyone, always. This includes our elected representatives.

From his talk, I got the impression that Cllr Dixon does not regret his tweet, his wording or even the sentiment. Scientology has much harsher critics, but Cllr Dixon was victim of a pedantic exercise by a powerful and maleficent organisation trying to silence criticism and debate by stifling freedom of speech.

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