Of Andrew Bridgen, Covid, and Free Speech

Andrew Bridgen now sits as an Independent having been suspended from the parliamentary Conservative party, a decision I entirely support.

As I wrote here in another context, I strongly disapprove of anyone who uses inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust to describe something they disagree with, and that applies whoever the person doing it is, whether in the Labour party or on the political left, or whether they are Conservatives or on the right. If somebody making that kind of grotesque and offensive comparison, and repeating ridiculous conspiracy theories put out by Kremlin propagandists, the Conservative party is entitled to say, if you are spouting things like that, you cannot represent us. Penny Mordaunt said of some of the conspiracy theories he has repeated "If he believes them, I pity him" and I agree with Penny.

However, Bridgen remains an elected MP, and things he says in parliament are a matter of public interest. They should not be censored.

The latest edition of "Anti-Social" on BBC Radio 4 discussed the issues around a speech in parliament which Bridgen made and published on YouTube, a post which included the reply by a government minister putting the other point of view. YouTube took down that video - and then put it back.

Bridgen had posted some seriously misleading things. Specifically, he conflated figures about the additional protection provided today when further booster vaccines are given to people today who are not in the most vulnerable groups and most of whom have already had several jabs, in the context of the current COVID-19 variants which are even more infection but less likely to be fatal, with statistics relevant to initial vaccine doses given to the everyone but especially the most vulnerable a year into the pandemic. If you mix statistics which are not comparable and apply to different circumstances, you risk getting answers which are at best useless and at worst seriously misleading and that is what Andrew Bridgen did.

The right thing to, do, however, when dealing with that kind of nonsense is to reply with the facts and explain why the arguments presented are wrong. When Bridgen suggested that we should look carefully at the benefits and risks of giving particular groups of people any specific vaccine, he was right - indeed, it is precisely because the government and the vaccines authority already has done precisely this kind of analysis that they are not giving further booster vaccines to people who don't need them and, instead, are concentrating on those who do.

When Bridgen made inflammatory suggestions about the vaccine programme, the net effect of which has been to save tens of thousands of lives and enable us to end lockdowns which did massive damage to our economy and people's health, he was talking nonsense.

The trouble with applying censorship to people like Bridgen, is that you put the same weapon in the hands of people who will use it to suppress the truth.

As Nick Cohen once wrote,


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