Cancel culture” is a trite and unhelpful descriptor suggesting that there is an organised movement to deny the past. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden used the phrase recently in his faux-patriotic “I am proud of my country’s history” article in The Times. It was pure populist bombast.
Like “Woke” the “Cancel Culture” phrase is used only abusively in an insulting context. It is largely meaningless because of its all-pervasive generality. The question is not “should the views of “X” (insert name of polemicist of your choice) be heard” but “ Is it legal to express these views in public”.
The film “Denial” about Holocaust denier David Irving was a masterpiece as a depiction of the strengths and weaknesses of Freedom of Speech. What Irving had said and written was in Britain not illegal. He had the legal right to express these views abhorrent though they were. Some other countries make Holocaust Denial a crime, we choose not to. Irving was peddling lies, but what if someone you don’t like is peddling truths or has opinions you’re uncomfortable with ?
Back to Mr Dowden. It’s pretty clear that he thinks it’s improper to tell uncomfortable truths. So if we tell the truth about one of the horrors of Empire, like Amritsar, there is like to be a call for “balance”. Otherwise we are unpatriotic. There is no contentious subject today where someone won’t lie about it. Truth has many faces, but surely freedom of speech should illuminate it. Banning debate turns the lights off.