The free speech panic: how the right concocted a crisis - 2018-07-26
Some feel so strongly about this issue that facts are discarded altogether. At a speech at the Festival of Higher Education in June, Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, told an anecdote about a student at King's College London making a formal complaint of "hate speech" against a history lecturer, who had allegedly taken the British side in a class about the Berlin Blockade. In an interview with the Times a few days later, Gyimah claimed that "at one institution when I turned up to speak to students they read the safe-space policy and it took 20 minutes". The academic news website Research examined both of these claims, following up with the institutions concerned, and found no evidence that either was true.
The plea that conservatives have become an oppressed minority, especially on campuses, is reshaping politics across the west, with some frightening consequences in the form of the "alt-right" and resurgent nationalism. It draws energy from the sense that the left is uniquely intolerant of dissent, and is allowing its cultural and moral worldview to interfere with the pursuit of knowledge. The humanities are viewed as the worst culprits, having turned "truth" into a political issue that is ultimately a matter of perspective. For many free speech advocates, this sinister moral agenda is seeking to colonise other disciplines, including even the natural sciences.
But these emotive claims are often concealing something more prosaic though no less troubling for conservatives: demography is against them. In Britain, the way voting behaviour now correlates with age is quite startling: in the 2017 general election, Labour beat Conservatives by 66% to 19% among 18-19 year-olds, while these numbers were roughly reversed among the over-70s. The age at which someone becomes more likely to vote Conservative than Labour is 47 and rising. If this is a "cohort effect", as appears likely, this means that younger people will retain these political views as they grow older, rather than shift to the right.