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Dancing with freedom of speech


"A technically assured, highly spirited dancer with good acting ability and beautiful footwork," Simone Clarke is seen here dancing with Yat-Sen Chang, her partner at home and a principal dancer with English National Ballet. Her footwork in political controversy is under review.

Reporter Ian Cobain of the Guardian joined the British National Party under an assumed name, became its central London organizer, and then “outed” one of the Party’s members, English National Ballet ballerina Simone Clarke.

Cobain's self-serving description of his actions and his blatant editorializing can be found here. His description of a "minder" who "hissed" into the ear of a BNP councillor is a second-rate adaptation of Tolkien's Wormtongue.

Having said this, I will also note that BNP membership is only "open to those of British or kindred European ethnic descent." That is their right as I understand the principle of freedom of association, but it is not a policy I would ever support.

Cobain’s story described the 15 second protest by a small number of activists who disapprove of Ms. Clarke’s membership in the BNP. They stood up to shout during her performance of Giselle. In response, the matinee audience booed the hecklers.

Afterwards, Delphine Grey-Fisk, a longtime ballet supporter, told the Guardian,

"Anybody should be allowed to join a legitimate political party without this kind of harassment. I for one will give the girl all my support."

Mr Cobain, who has had the luxury of creating a story and then writing about the upset it has caused, reports that,

Since she was named as a BNP member, the ballerina has explained herself in an interview in the Mail on Sunday by saying the BNP seemed to be the only party "willing to take a stand" against immigration.
Ms. Clarke noted that no other party seemed willing to tackle the large-scale immigration that troubled many voters.

The English National Ballet has declared that Clarke’s membership is a private matter. Mr Cobain goes on to write,

But following yesterday's demonstration the company, which is publicly funded and is therefore obliged by the Race Relations Act 2000 to promote good race relations, is coming under increasing pressure to explain why one of its highest profile employees is allegedly using her position as a platform for the far-right party.

This is jaw-droppingly disingenuous on Cobain’s part. First he publishes her name. Then when Simone receives a blizzard of press enquiries, and tries to explain why she joined the BNP, he accuses her of using the ballet stage as a platform.

Here are the positive aspects as I see them. That the Guardian published Simone Clarke’s name is the right of a free press. “Privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance. . . .The risk of this exposure is an essential incident of life in a society which places a primary value on freedom of speech and of press.” I think most Brits would agree with this principle as it was articulated by the US Supreme Court.

That Simone Clarke joined a political party is also her right, and she has a right to speak of it. Again, American law, which owes so much to British, states it well: “Speech concerning matters of public affairs is more than self-expression; it is the essence of self-government,” and as such is one of a free society's highest values.