Proof NO ONE is safe from the woke war on free speech: SUE REID investigates the pensioner publicly shamed by a drinks giant and an Asda worker who lost his job sharing a Billy Connolly skit
The police phone call to Margaret Nelson came one Monday morning around breakfast time. It was as unexpected as it was unwelcome.
An officer from Suffolk police was investigating an anonymous tip that the pensioner had committed a hate crime by posting on Twitter her personal view that you die the same sex as you are born.
The force later dropped their inquiries — apologising and saying they ‘got it wrong’.
Yet controversy surrounding this 76-year-old former teacher did not end with that police call two years ago.
An officer from Suffolk police was investigating an anonymous tip that the pensioner had committed a hate crime by posting on Twitter her personal view that you die the same sex as you are born
She is at the centre of a fresh Twitter brouhaha because British soft drinks giant Innocent took umbrage over her tweets too.
The new complaint against Margaret originated from an anonymous person — just as the original one did: a Twitter user called only Andrew?, and using the tagline @leftist_rage. Andrew? had asked Innocent why it followed her account — she is something of a Twitter star with more than 9,000 followers — when it was run by a ‘clear transphobe’.
Innocent, a company majority-owned by Coca-Cola, thanked Andrew? ‘for the heads up’, then made a public statement apologising. A formal announcement from the company under a headline ‘We stand against discrimination’ declared that Margaret’s comments on trans people were out of line with ‘our values on inclusivity and respect’.
Innocent said there was a duty ‘on all of us’ to make sure ‘everyone can live happy, free lives in a world where that is a reality’. And who wouldn’t dream of this utopia?
Andrew? — who has just 45 followers — later boasted on Twitter of persuading Innocent to castigate Margaret publicly: ‘Hehe! I did that’ said this shadowy character with obvious glee. This week he was back online wondering why Margaret wasn’t banned from Twitter.
Yet others were less impressed with Innocent’s dramatic response. Debbie Hayton, herself a trans woman, was incensed, writing in the Spectator magazine: ‘This, it seems is how the internet works. A false accusation of transphobia is made. And a person, an ordinary pensioner in this case, is condemned.
‘Non-entities on the internet make false accusations all the time: what’s astonishing — at least where ‘transphobia’ is cited — is the way corporations react. You might be forgiven for thinking Innocent ignored the allegation, or maybe even challenged it. But you’d be wrong.’
An officer from Suffolk police was investigating an anonymous tip that the pensioner had committed a hate crime by posting on Twitter her personal view that you die the same sex as you are born [File photo]
Margaret Nelson normally tweets about far-from-controversial subjects: her quiet life in a Suffolk village where she lives in a neat bungalow, her two cats, how lockdown has treated her (she is rather enjoying the peace), and how milk used to be delivered to the doorstep in bottles with foil tops that birds would peck into to get at the cream. Her quaint views and memories have been increasingly popular during the pandemic.
But, occasionally, she taps out a post on more contentious issues. A self-avowed feminist, she is also a humanist celebrant who conducts funerals and is, therefore, she says, interested in death. Which is what led to her brush with the police.
In response to what she calls a ‘transgender person’s’ tweet that ‘Trans women ARE women fact’, she reacted indignantly: ‘These absurd beliefs are nonsensical and deny the evidence to the contrary.’ In another post, she wrote: ‘Death doesn’t misgender. You die as you were born.’ And then the police phoned her.
This week she told the Mail she had got off lightly. ‘They [the police] act as conduits for complaints from trans activists who spend a lot of time trawling through the internet on the look-out for anything to complain about.’
As for being slapped down by Innocent, she brushed it off. ‘I am not transphobic,’ she said.
‘But I do regard the transgenderism ideology as destructive, negatively affecting . . . women whose rights are being ignored and everyone else who is expected to walk on eggshells. I don’t have to worry about losing my living over it as others have.’
If this seems like a Twitter storm in the proverbial teacup, think again. Such is the effect of the new culture war sweeping Britain — in which vigilantes like Andrew? scour people’s every comment to deem whether or not they are offensive — a new service, Counterweight, has been launched to support people caught out by it.
Led by British author and self-confessed Left-leaning liberal Helen Pluckrose, Counterweight has been described as a citizens’ advice bureau and anti-woke helpline.
The Oxford dictionary has described ‘woke’ as having an ‘awareness of current social, cultural and political issues’. On the face of it, no bad thing. But Ms Pluckrose is worried that woke culture has become so pervasive it is now damaging or intruding on people everywhere.
The new complaint against Margaret originated from an anonymous person — just as the original one did: a Twitter user called only Andrew?, and using the tagline @leftist_rage. Andrew? had asked Innocent why it followed her account — she is something of a Twitter star with more than 9,000 followers — when it was run by a ‘clear transphobe’
Her small team, based in London and the U.S., has advised 300 or more tripped up by the woke gospel.
‘They come from every walk of life and it is happening to people every day.’
She tells of a BAME (black, Asian, minority and ethnic) man frustrated by emails from white colleagues at work in which they apologise to him for their ‘privilege’ and lamenting his ‘oppression’ as a person of colour.
Another worker, she says, faced disciplinary action from a firm after refusing to take part in a training course to root out ‘unconscious bias’. She cites the story of a supermarket checkout assistant who found herself, unwittingly, in trouble with her employers as a suspected transphobe. The woman made a mistake. She said ‘Thank you, sir’ to a customer who had transitioned to be a woman. ‘Do I look like a man?’ asked the customer angrily to which she answered, innocently, ‘yes’.
This is a sensitive area. But the fact is that the woke credo is spreading like wildfire through British life.
Originally a slang term used in black America in the 1940s, a shorthand that warned people to ‘stay awake’ in the face of police brutality, racial injustice and unwarranted street attacks.
It was adopted by students in university campuses where it morphed into something that covers almost any perceived injustice, leading to people being humiliated, ostracised and censored through the so-called ‘cancel culture’ simply for expressing their views.
Now, it has moved into private companies, public bodies, the civil service and the Government’s corridors of power. And critics such as Counterweight warn it is curbing freedom of speech in the street, at meeting places, on internet forums, even in High Street stores
Only this week in Melbourne, Australia, a bookshop apologised for hosting British writer Julie Bindel three years ago. Ms Bindel, who has spent much of her life campaigning against male violence, was one of the very first feminists to speak out against extreme transgender ideology. She says the bookshop issued a public apology because it had invited a transgender author to give a talk later this month.
But not all victims of the woke wars are high-profile campaigners like Ms Bindel. I have talked to council employees, shop workers, firefighters, teachers and successful businesspeople who have broken the woke rules and found their jobs threatened, their livelihoods at risk, and personal worlds turned upside down. Often after a word was uttered out of place and by mistake.
Increasingly, woke-aware employers are sacking workers after receiving a complaint about what they have said or written.
Brian Leach, a 55-year-old disabled grandfather, was removed from his job at Asda for sharing a Billy Connolly video on his private Facebook page.
In his filmed skit, Connolly made jokes about religion, including Christianity and Islam. A more senior Asian employee of Brian’s informed the management and he was dismissed. Asda said the video had ‘potential to bring the company into disrepute’.
Brian, who was reinstated after protests against Asda from his colleagues, told us from his home in West Yorkshire: ‘I am not a racist, but I have been told not to say any more on this.’ He has, effectively, been silenced — like many others.
Take 55-year-old school social worker Kate, whose identity we have changed at her request because she is terrified of a backlash. She nearly lost her job at her local authority near the Midlands.
Her crime? Last year she joined a debate, in her private time but using her own name, on an open internet forum where the rights and wrongs of Brexit, the impact of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) marches in London and other political issues were discussed.
She posted a comment that Brexit might be a good thing and later queried if the BLM protests had become too violent. These posts were spotted by a school colleague, who saw her name and reported Kate to her bosses.
After a gross misconduct hearing, she has been ordered to wipe her Facebook account and delete messages sent from it. She must now attend a diversity course to ‘change her thinking’ — a term used by her local authority.
She says: ‘My husband says that most people would have ‘gone under’ after what happened to me. I am just relieved I have kept my job. I have been silenced because of the rise of woke. I now want to take early retirement.’
Another caught in the crossfire is entrepreneur Roger Tarrant. He was ‘cancelled’ as a national councillor of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) for his messages on its internal WhatsApp group.
His words, said the chairman, amounted to ‘conduct likely to bring the FSB into disrepute’.
So what did this happily married 62-year-old, who runs a specialised care home in Cornwall for adults with learning disabilities, say that was so despicable?
In response to the London BLM protests last June, he pointed out on the WhatsApp group that disadvantaged white boys in England were less likely to go into further education than disadvantaged black boys.
He added that more white people had died in police custody over the previous ten years than black and other ethnicities. ‘Does only BLM or should all lives matter?’ Roger asked on the WhatsApp group. ‘Are only white people racist?’ It is a controversial statement. But is it really a sacking offence?
He was accused by another senior member of the federation on the WhatsApp group of being racist. The middle-aged white man put in a formal complaint. It led to a request for Roger to resign from the council and, when he refused, he was shown the door.
Rightly or wrongly, Roger blames a ‘woke cult’ at the top of the federation. Approached by the Mail, the organisation refused to comment on his case.
But what of so-called Andrew? who launched this particular woke wrecking ball? We know little about this troll beyond a claim on the Twitter account that Andrew? is bisexual, hails from Scotland, likes long walks, dogs, and is now getting bored during lockdown
As Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union, which has helped hundreds of people caught out by the new woke world order, points out: ‘They are punished for casual remarks they have made in the pub or on social media.
‘We have one member who lost his job because of a WhatsApp message to his now ex-lover. The Big Brother that George Orwell warned about in 1984 is a reality. It is not the state watching everything you say, it’s a troll-army of activists.
‘This madness, which once only infected university campuses, is seeping into the human resources departments . . .
‘Anyone who challenges the orthodoxy endangers a promotion and risks being fired.’
A s for Margaret Nelson, Twitter was abuzz this week over her treatment by Innocent. Some supporters promised not to buy the company’s products again.
Her Twitter critics accused her of horrendous behaviour. One troll put up a message saying: ‘If only every other bigot was as close to death as you are Margaret we’d have a perfect world within a decade.’
But what of so-called Andrew? who launched this particular woke wrecking ball? We know little about this troll beyond a claim on the Twitter account that Andrew? is bisexual, hails from Scotland, likes long walks, dogs, and is now getting bored during lockdown.
However, this anonymous character seems satisfied. As the row broke, another Twitter user supporting Margaret asked if Andrew? was ‘liking the attention’? ‘Absolutely, I’m loving this,’ was the response.
Innocent? Doesn’t sound like it.
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