UPDATE 26/04/2016 – See postscript
Preening, virtue-signalling student activists have now ‘No Platformed’ Boris Johnson in a prissy act of reprisal and censure for the London mayor’s response to Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate
The way things are going, someone should establish a sweepstakes in which people can bet on which perfectly mainstream, household name celebrity or politician will be next to be “No Platformed” by censorious students aghast at the prospect of having to hear ideas contrary to their own.
And on this occasion, anyone with money on Boris Johnson would be collecting a handsome payout right now, for apparently the Conservative MP and serving Mayor of London is the latest personality to be deemed simply too dangerous and uncouth to pollute the sensitive ears of fragile, puritanical students.
This stems, of course, from the furore over Boris Johnson’s response to US president Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate. Johnson, writing in the Sun, mentioned in passing the fact that “some said [Obama’s decision to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office when he became president] was a symbol of the part-Kenyan President’s ancestral dislike of the British empire”.
And so the student censors in charge of the King’s Think Tank, who can see into the hearts of all men and determine good or evil intent with unswerving accuracy, judged that Boris Johnson wrote these words as a coded racist dog-whistle, and that he should therefore be disinvited from giving a planned speech as part of their “EU Referendum Event Series“.
(Anyone who actually bothered to read the Sun article would see that not only was Boris Johnson merely stating a fact – that some people did indeed say that Obama’s Kenyan heritage was behind his decision to remove the bust of Churchill – but that he then went on to dismiss this as the likely reason. But the League of the Perpetually Outraged are never ones to let facts get in the way of a good hissy fit).
The chiding email which the King’s Think Tank leaders sent to Boris Johnson informing him of his “punishment” is a tour de force in the kind of self-importance and finger-wagging authoritarianism in which the current generation of students so masterfully specialise:
Dear Mr Johnson,
Given your inappropriate comments and inferences toward President Obama’s Kenyan heritage, of which he is rightly proud, and your general tone of disrespect over the past few days in relation to the President of the United States of America, we are now formally withdrawing your invitation to speak at Kings College London.
We are looking forward to providing a forum for both sides in the EU Referendum Debate to argue their point of view without fear or favour. The level of discourse over the past few days does not meet the bar we set for these events nor do we feel does it help the British people in making the most momentous decision of our lifetime. Furthermore we believe it does not reflect the true greatness of the United Kingdom, a land of tolerance, respect and fair play towards all.
Mike Molloy (Director of EU Referendum Events at Kings College London)
Margot MacDonnell (President of Kings College London Think Tank)
Erica Arcudi (Vice President of Kings College London Think Tank)
Behold the new generation of student radicals, fearlessly standing up in defence of the American president, the most powerful man in the world! How edgy. How counter-cultural. How brave.
This case is particularly disturbing, for this act of No Platforming is true, unapologetic censorship as punishment. At no point in their petulant email to Boris Johnson did the student leaders of the King’s College London think tank suggest that Boris Johnson’s words and conduct had caused (or were likely to cause) any actual “harm” to the debate attendees, in the way that student activists typically claim that hearing ideas with which they disagree will cause them actual mental harm.
On the contrary, Boris Johnson was No Platformed simply because the student directors of the King’s Think Tank disapproved of what he said (or rather, the sentiments which were attributed to him), and decided that he ought to be punished for his free speech transgression.
Note the hectoring, chiding, schoolmarm-ish attitude evident in the phrases “your general tone of disrespect” and “the level of discourse over the past few days does not meet the bar we set”. In other words, now speakers can be summarily disinvited from participating in an event not because of something that they say, but merely the “tone” in which they say it.
This is authoritarian behavioural policing layered on top of thought policing. This blog has absolutely no respect or affection for Boris Johnson, but this disinvitation is absurd. Johnson dared to push back forcefully against Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate, and for that crime the King’s Think Tank apparently plan to deny event attendees the opportunity to hear the mayor of their own city and a prominent voice in the Brexit campaign speak on what they themselves admit is the “most momentous decision of our lifetime”.
And why? Simply because three self-righteous students took exception to the tone (repeat: not the content but the tone) of Boris Johnson’s comments, wilfully misinterpreted an article he wrote in the Sun, and decided that the correct course of action would be for them to “discipline” the London mayor by rescinding his invitation to speak – their equivalent of docking his pocket money.
Imagine how proud Mike Molloy, Margot MacDonnell and Erica Arcudi, leaders of King’s Think Tank, must feel now that they have high-handedly scolded and dismissed such a high profile figure as Boris Johnson. Just think of all the social justice kudos points that each of them has accrued by casting themselves as the concerned, ever-watchful Defenders of the Oppressed, bravely riding to the rescue of the President of the United States – an oppressed and marginalised man who was “harmed” by the cruel words of Boris Johnson and clearly needed their help to redress the yawning power differential unfairly favouring the mighty mayor of London.
Because that is what this is really about. This is not about trying to prevent a speaker with abhorrent or even mildly unpalatable views from airing his thoughts on King’s College campus. This is about three jumped-up, virtue-signalling student activists trying to get in the news by portraying themselves as so morally righteous that they simply had to take action to scold the Bad Man for saying mean things about Barack Obama. Right now, their phones and Facebook feeds will be filling up with approving comments from their fellow social justice cultists, giving them the additional currency and status within their movement that they so desperately crave.
So mission accomplished, King’s Think Tank. Tens or hundreds of students and members of the public who had been looking forward to hearing the London mayor and quizzing him on his views will now not have the opportunity to do so. But if a few self-aggrandising student “leaders” get to strut and fret their day in the 24-hour news cycle and burnish their identity politics credentials in front of their admiring peers, then it is all worthwhile.
Postscript: According to an updated statement from the King’s Think Tank, the email to Boris Johnson was sent without the approval of either the President or Vice President of the society. Presumably this means that the Director of EU Referendum Events, Mike Molloy, was acting alone and outside of his authority. I have requested explicit confirmation of this from Margot McDonnell, president of King’s Think Tank, and asked whether if this is indeed the case, whether Mike Molloy is subject to any reprimand, censure or other action for overstepping his authority. I have not yet received a response to my further questions.
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