Due to a large amount of public opposition from the Students Union here on campus it came to my attention that Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party (BNP) was due to be speaking on campus next Monday.
In their own nanny-state way the SU decided to hold an emergency general meeting (EGM) to propose a no-platform policy aimed at preventing Mr Griffin, and others like him, from speaking at the University. I do not feel that this was the right approach, and such a denial of Freedom of Speech is typical of the "tolerant" attitude which is currently so trendy.
I responded to an email from the SU President, and my views on the matter can be summarised as follows:
"Whereas I have no problem with the SU being obviously anti-BNP, I struggle with the proposed motion to pass a no-platform policy.
Like most, I am not a BNP-Supporter, but I do not feel that the SU should impinge on anybody's freedom of speech. University is a time when students really learn to think and develop ideas for themselves, and censorship of any kind denies the right to do that properly. Although it is very kind of the SU to take responsibility for ensuring that we are not exposed to the BNP, I feel that such a stance is belittling to say the least. I am perfectly capable of coming to my own conclusions, and I am perfectly capable of dealing with extreme ideas.
Furthermore, any publicity is good publicity, and the recent flurry of activity and EGM organised by the SU will ultimately only serve to generate interest and curiosity as far as the BNP are concerned. As I mentioned above, I have no problem with the SU being obviously anti-BNP, but the moment active steps are taken to prevent Nick Griffin from speaking at all he will become an object of curiosity as people seek to find out what the controversy is about. It would be far better simply to quietly make it known that the SU does not wish to be associated with the BNP and let events proceed as planned without further interference or publicity."
Unfortunately, I have just found out that the University has decided not to allow Mr Griffin to speak, and a press statement can be found here.
Now don't get me wrong, I can see that there are some perfectly good practical reasons for the University not wanting to allow such a controversial figure to come and speak. I can also understand that if the nature of his talk was advertised to be racist or otherwise offensive then that provides a basis on which to disallow it.
However, simply to deny someone the right to speak based on who they are is, I believe, wrong. It is certainly not befitting of an institution whose nature should allow its members to be open minded and have the opportunity to come to decisions on their own.
It seems strange that in this country people are so keen to halt freedom of speech in this way, and yet when Mr Griffin, and others such as Abu Hamza have actually got as far as stirring up racial hatred very little has ever been done about it.
EDIT: I am aware that my last paragraph is inaccurate, especially given that Abu Hamza was recently jailed for seven years. However it still took time for this verdict to be reached, and my point is that I'd rather that there was a better reaction to what someone actually says rather than simply introducing a ban based on what it is presumed that they might say.