One of the most worrying trends in this country, and indeed throughout the world, is increasing intolerance. Intolerance of people who hold certain political views and religious beliefs, and intolerance of those who are simply different.
We see intolerance in its most extreme form with the barbaric actions of the so-called Islamic State and closer to home in Copenhagen and Paris where innocent people have lost their lives. We also witnessed intolerance when racist thugs, who purported to be supporters of Chelsea FC, abused a black man and refused to let him on a Metro train.
Intolerance is not of course a new phenomenon. History is littered with plenty of grotesque examples of this. Throughout Europe’s history, there has been a huge amount of anti-semitism for example. And let us never forget that the hallmark of Hitler’s Nazi Germany was intolerance. They were intolerant of opposing political views and intolerant of religious and ethnic minorities. They were also against the rights of disabled people and gays and lesbians.
In the face of rising intolerance, I believe it is essential that we do two things: Firstly, defend the rights of all people, irrespective of their creed, colour or sexuality. And secondly, uphold the right to free speech. We would do well to remember what Voltaire said ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’. That was right in the 18th Century when it was said and it is still right today.
In a couple of months’ time, we will be in the throes of a general election campaign. It is vital that that campaign is conducted in a civilised and respectful way. That is not to say that there should not be passion and straight talking, but it will be vital that the issues are debated, and differing views aired, in a way that reinforces our democratic process.
This article was written for Local View.