Who likes to be told what to do or what to think? There’s a strong libertarian tradition, inspired by John Stuart Mill and others, that maintains the individual is generally the best judge of his or her own interest. That includes the licence to do things, which, by one’s own admission one may live to regret. Making mistakes, and having the liberty to do so, is an essential ingredient in learning to do better and getting to do better in the long run.
Authoritarians think they know best. They are not just unflinching in their promotion of certain causes, but determined to get you and me to act and think like them. Quite independently of the merits or otherwise of what they might be selling, these authoritarians despise any kind of challenge to their worldview. By diminishing your autonomy, they undermine one of the preconditions of human flourishing. Freedom, as George W. Bush said, is a wonderful thing.
The tradition of scepticism, properly understood, is not an invitation to be contrary for the sake of it. It’s an appeal to critical reason, coupled with the investigation of evidence, to establish the best grounds for explanation and belief. The trouble with authoritarians is they act as if they’re infallible, that their beliefs are not subject to correction or review. Therein lies the road to hell; none of us is infallible.
Freedom versus authoritarianism is at the heart of my Gender Critical discrimination case against the Green Party of England and Wales. In February 2022, I was removed as a national spokesperson for the Party following my reappointment in June 2021. A coordinated campaign of harassment and online abuse, perpetrated or facilitated by members, officers and elected politicians at all levels of the Party, followed by the arbitrary construction of additional review processes, were used to remove me from the post. These were ideological extremists in all but name, or those prepared to facilitate the same, who would brook no reasonable disagreement to their way of thinking.
It’s often boasted that Greens do politics differently. By God, we do; but not in a good way. I survived multiple attempts to silence me after fake allegations of transphobia were filed against me and defeated. I stood up to this network of bullies and several members were suspended from the Party as a result of their smear campaigns against me.
As a national spokesperson, I adhered to the Speakers’ Code of Conduct and was duly reappointed following an application process. Imagine having a change in job role or even a new job, then, within weeks of already signing a contract, being required to sign up to a new one, being made to participate in a sort of retrospective probation process, then hauled before a specially convened committee designed to grant a hearing to your detractors. A number of executive board members raised the alarm about the treatment of me and one even resigned ahead of the meeting at which they correctly predicted I would be unjustly removed from the post.
This case will provide insight into how the authoritarian mob was unleashed upon me for daring to express my gender critical beliefs. It will also reveal just how hostile the environment had become inside a political party which claimed to want to speak truth to power.
I stand for human rights for all – equal rights and equal treatment. That did not require me to turn a blind eye when female prisoners were being subjected to the risk of sexual assault after being housed with rapists in the name of inclusivity, which then happened. Nor would it have required me to campaign against an amendment in the Scottish Parliament (as happened to Andy Wightman, former Green MSP, against his conscience) which would have guaranteed that a victim of domestic violence or rape should have had the right to be examined by a clinician that matched their sex.
In 2021, Maya Forstater’s appeal ruling demonstrated that the belief that sex is immutable is a belief ‘Worthy of Respect in a Democratic Society’, as is its reasonable expression. It’s a fact known by us all, on which much legislation relies.
Mine is the first case of its kind to reach the courts to uphold the principle that these are beliefs ‘Worthy of Respect in A Political Party’, too, which would be a clear implication of my winning this case. Party representatives or spokespeople, such as the Labour MP Rosie Duffield, should not be discriminated against by their parties for the reasonable expression of such beliefs. There are other gender critical court cases in the pipeline, including within my own party.
This case has taken a lot out of me, but I would not have been able to take this stand were it not for the hundreds and thousands of citizens, across the political spectrum, who were prepared to support me, often publicly.
As I head for trial next week, I have to make an urgent appeal for more funds. £95,000 has already been raised through two successive crowdfunders and I need to raise another £10,000 over the next few days to make sure all the costs that have already been incurred in preparation for the trial can be paid.
I have put all my life savings into this case and I assure you that your hard-earned money will be spent wisely and effectively in this just cause to defend our political institutions from authoritarian subversion.
Please donate here: Worthy of Respect in A Political Party (crowdjustice.com). I am represented by the exceptional Didlaw law firm.
Dr Shahrar Ali is a British politician and academic who served as Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales from 2014 to 2016.