Students can handle Gorgeous George

The ‘no platforming’ of Galloway is just the latest instance of the NUS treating students with contempt.

Tom Bailey

Topics Politics

Disaster averted. The National Union of Students (NUS) has again stepped forward to protect the meek and feeble students of the United Kingdom. Once more, the NUS has taken it upon itself to decide which speakers students are permitted to hear speaking and debating. With students being the vulnerable creatures they are – still recovering from the emotionally traumatic experience of leaving home at 18 years of age – the NUS has assumed the role of mollycoddling mother, preventing the bad men of the world from infecting students’ young minds.

Last week, the NUS voted to extend its ‘no platform’ policy to Bradford West MP George Galloway for his comments regarding the sexual-assault accusations against Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange, who is currently facing extradition to Sweden from the UK to face charges. According to the NUS, Galloway’s comments constitute ‘rape denial’ and ‘victim blaming’. As a result, Galloway will now no longer be able to speak on NUS-affiliated university campuses across the country. It was also suggested that Tony Benn, a favourite of the student left, should be ‘no platformed’ for his attempt to defend Assange. However, after Benn back-pedaled a bit on his comments, he stayed NUS-approved.

The ban on Galloway from speaking on campus has not gone without opposition from students. The left-wing group Counterfire, active among students, has argued that extending the ‘no platform’ policy to include ‘rape denial’ would undermine the significance of the policy of ‘no platform’. In similar fashion, the NUS’s black students’ officer, Aaron Kiely, opposed the motion, arguing that ‘no platform’ must be reserved for fascists and racists due to the unique danger their views pose.

This ‘no platform’ for racists stance, the censorious policy of left-wing groups since the Seventies, has indeed been the clarion call of the NUS since the official adoption of ‘no platform’ in the 1990s. Since then, the policy has been periodically expanded to everyone from Zionists to so-called rape deniers. In fact, any speech that could be deemed offensive to someone somewhere is potentially liable to be ‘no platformed’ by the NUS. This is why, ever since the adoption of ‘no platform’ for racists in the 1990s, we have also seen some universities ban Eminem songs for being homophobic and lads’ mags from their shops for being sexist.

The issue, however, should not be whether or not ‘no platform’ should be reserved solely for fascists. The real issue is whether the NUS should be imposing such a policy at all. In effect, the policy of ‘no platform’ turns the NUS into the arbiter of acceptable views. It allows the NUS to decide which views students can or cannot listen to. Ideas, opinions and views must all be filtered through the National Union of the Self-Righteous.

The NUS views the student body it claims to represent (yeah, right) with contempt. It views students either as vulnerable victims, unable to argue, debate and ridicule those with objectionable views, or as lacking the mental faculties to be able to listen to someone like the British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin without turning into a racist lynch mob intent on ridding student halls of non-white students. It seems inconceivable to the NUS that students may have the capacity to deal with racists invited to speak on campus by either not attending, or by winning the argument with them.

Unsurprisingly, when asked, students often don’t like to have to have NUS approval before being able to listen to views and ideas. A number of universities have rejected the censorious policies of the NUS. In 2007, the University of East Anglia held a referendum on the policy of ‘no platform’ with a resounding defeat of the pro-censorship side. Bath University followed suit and, in March 2010, Durham University’s student union also decided to disaffiliate after a dispute with the NUS over ‘no platform’.

As is common with student politics, the turnout at the above-mentioned referendums was fairly low. However, this gets to another issue with the NUS appointing itself as a paternalistic censor: its near complete lack of a democratic mandate. The NUS is comprised of delegates from individual universities’ unions, often elected with hilariously tiny voter turnouts. This group of student-union delegates’ barely democratic mandate then allows them to select the NUS leadership on their students’ behalf.

While the NUS may view the majority of students with contempt, the majority of students view this organisation of Labour Party careerist wannabes and professional activists with indifference. For most, the NUS is simply the provider of student discounts and perks, like the free cheeseburger you receive when you order a meal from McDonald’s if you flash your NUS card.

The only explanation why this unrepresentative and alien band of would-be Glavlit bureaucrats feels it has the right to screen which speakers’ views students can hear being expressed on campus lies in its condescending view of students. As with all censors, it views people as mentally weak and emotionally vulnerable, unable to deal with certain views.

The NUS should stop trying to control what students can and cannot hear, and view students (and people) for what they really are: adults with the ability to decide for themselves what they think of certain ideas and opinions. That goes for the rantings of George Galloway as much as for the racist gibberish of the BNP.

Tom Bailey is a history undergraduate at University College London and a columnist for spiked. Visit his personal website here. Follow him on Twitter: @tbaileybailey

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Topics Politics


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