Laurie Penny, Gaslighter

Laurie Penny

According to Laurie Penny, conservatives are the true enemies of free speech and the illiberal student activists who beat them up, ‘no platform’ their speakers and disrupt their events are merely questioning the establishment

As they stagger on under the “leadership” of Theresa May, this Conservative government continues to cast about aimlessly for some kind of raison d’être, a justification for showing up for work in the morning which sounds marginally more noble than “because daytime TV sucks”.

And so it came to pass that the unremarkable minister for universities, Jo Johnson, decided to jump on the increasingly popular right-wing bandwagon of bashing identity politics, demanding that universities uphold a commitment to free speech and promise not to use no-platforming or safe spaces to suppress the exchange of ideas on pain of being fined or even deregistered as an institution by the Office for Students.

This is all incredibly boring. Jo Johnson was head of the Downing Street Policy Unit from 2013-2015 under David Cameron, right at the time when illiberal identity politics zealots were cementing their power. If Johnson had a burning desire to protect free speech, he could have persuaded Cameron to take up the cause. He did not do so. It is also curious that he now wants to become a crusader for free speech when working for an authoritarian prime minister whose every instinct points the opposite way, toward more regulation and censorship. In short, this whole thing is a PR stunt by a rudderless Tory Party chasing headlines rather than following an ideological compass.

But all this is only to be expected. More noteworthy is the response to Johnson’s posturing by identity politics priestess Laurie Penny, who took to the New Statesman to claim not just that conservatives are exaggerating the threat to free speech but that it is entirely a figment of their imagination.

Penny’s article begins dishonestly, and then gets worse:

The nonsensical consensus amongst the centre-right that today’s students are a bunch of censorious cry-babies plays well with the base, so Johnson Minor has jumped on the rickety bandwagon barreling down the road to the palace of convenient fictions, where a delicate banquet of delusion will be served to those whose cash and status protect them from ever having to hear their opinions questioned by a bunch of rowdy kids.

Conservatives seeking protection from having their opinions questioned? This is an interesting inversion. Rather than trying to minimise the issue and argue that the threat to free speech on campus has perhaps been blown out of proportion and is perhaps not as bad as portrayed, Laurie Penny insists – rather shamelessly – that the problem does not exist at all, that it is all a figment of our imagination.

Penny must be a secret neo-conservative fan girl because this is a consummate Karl Rove strategy, whereby she shamelessly accuses her opponents of the identity politics Left’s own glaring flaws. Where is the lengthy list of prominent left-wing speakers who have been banned from college campuses by conservatives? Where are the left-wing professors who fear for their job security if they question conservative ideas? Where are the left-wing students expelled or suspended from college because they made conservatives feel “unsafe” and contributed to a hostile, non-inclusive atmosphere? They don’t exist.

The problem is not that crusty old establishment figures are upset that brave, radical students are questioning their judgment. The problem is that these illiberal students do not merely question ideas, they actively suppress them on the grounds that they amount to dangerous “hate speech” with the power to wound or even kill. Yet through immense self-deception, Penny is able to cast actions which deliberately prevent speech from taking place as mere protest:

This is a non-controversy, and it’s unbelievable that otherwise intelligent commentators are taking it seriously. “No-platforming” is just another word for student protest – the practice of opposing invited speakers with bigoted views is a time-honoured one. The cooked-up row over “student censorship” is led by the sort of trembly-whiskered outrage-merchants for whom “censorship” means “making me feel bad about holding certain views”.

But protesting an idea and infringing on the rights of another person to express that idea are two very different things. One could excuse any act of violent oppression using Penny’s logic. “But lynching is just another word for protest”, said the Klansman to the sheriff as he was caught red-handed tying a noose. “I believe that black men are a menacing sexual threat to white women. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, I sincerely believe that it is and on that basis you have no right to stop me stringing up DeShawn over here for making my wife stare at him lustfully”.

And so it is with the SJWs. They sincerely believe that words are violence (or at least some of them do – I can’t help but think the smarter ones know full well that words are not deadly, but pretend that they are as justification for censoring unwanted ideas) and on that basis they claim the right to “protest” by shutting down the offensive speech, preventing it from taking place or exacting severe physical, financial or bureaucratic consequences for the speaker who dares to persist.

Laurie Penny continues:

There is, I ought to say, a rhetorical difference here that causes some confusion. Today’s students are simply more likely to use the language of empathy and trauma in their politics. They’re more likely, initially, to say “this book about how women aren’t really human might make some of us feel unsafe” than they are to say “this book is bullshit”. They’re more likely to say “you’re doing harm” than they are to say “fuck you”.

This is partly because a lot of today’s young radicals come from demographics for whom it’s far more dangerous to say “fuck you”. They are young women, young queer people, young people of colour. Their way of questioning authority is simply less actively aggressive. Today’s angry young people are more likely to show you their scars than their fists. That might be passive-aggressive, but it’s not politically unsound.

This is nonsense. Today’s SJWs and Antifa (the movement’s Faith Militant) are equally happy inflicting scars as they are flaunting their own to garner sympathy. It doesn’t take long to dig up both high-profile and more obscure cases where the pseudo-victimhood of supposedly marginalised and oppressed groups morphed suddenly into violent aggression on campus.

Witness student Bonita Tindle pushing and shoving a white male student who had the temerity to wear his hair in dreadlocks. Witness the recent incident at University of California – Santa Cruz, in which protesters shut down a meeting of the College Republicans and one protester claimed that she literally felt unsafe meeting in a library which was previously used by college Republicans. Witness the aggression of Jerelyn Luther getting hysterical about Halloween costumes. Witness Black Lives Matter shutting down an ACLU free speech event at William and Mary College, holding up banners declaring that speech kills. Note, too, the rising trend of outraged leftists demanding that speakers and publishers of wrongthink retract their “harmful” ideas and articles rather than going to the effort of disproving them. The Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is causing many on the Left to forget how to argue at all.

Laurie Penny dismisses the current ideological focus on “harm” as a mere difference in rhetoric compared to previous generations, which is blatantly false. If you think a prominent idea is “bullshit” and evidently false then you generally relish the opportunity to publicly tear it down and discredit its proponents. But the SJWs do not do this. All too often, they don’t even attempt to engage with the substance because they claim that even hearing contrary thoughts expressed will do them physical and emotional harm.

There is hardly a shortage of literature and academic research on the rise of victimhood culture and learned fragility/unresilience. One thinks particularly of the paper “Microagression and Moral Cultures” by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, which discussed the difference between dignity, honour and victimhood cultures, or Jonathan Haidt’s development of these ideas.

Laurie Penny is doing a fantastic job of telling often well-meaning leftists exactly what they want to hear. She seeks to assuage any doubts that some wavering souls may feel about their movement’s snarling illiberalism by waving away any concerns as the desperate squeaking of a racist, misogynist old guard who are simply upset at the loss of their hegemony. After all, it is much easier to dismiss concern as the self-interest of oppressive powers rather than reflect on the ideological oppression they themselves are inflicting in the name of social justice.

But in telling conservatives that persistent, concrete efforts by the Left to paint their ideas as intolerably extremist and forbid their expression on campus are merely imagined, Penny is actively gaslighting. She is engaging in that coercive, manipulative behaviour more common to spousal abusers by portraying her opponents as crazy and flat-out denying observable reality in order to delegitimise conservative concerns about free speech suppression.

That Laurie Penny feels able to lie and deceive so freely in the pages of the New Statesman shows just how strong the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics has become. Adherents to this illiberal, censorious cult no longer fear being discredited or held to account for their lies. So complete is their control over academia and so cowed and enslaved are the media and many politicians that people like Laurie Penny can now create their own reality and demand that others accept it as real.

If a conservative were to insist that capitalism was completely flawless or deny that poverty exists, they would be laughed out of town and rightly lose all credibility. Yet Laurie Penny can use her exalted perch in the New Statesman to deny that things we can all see taking place on Western university campuses are even happening at all, yet still be taken seriously the next time she spouts off on TV.

That’s the protective power of the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics at work.

That’s how close conservatives and defenders of free speech are to losing this war.


Gaslighting definition - Dr Robin Stern

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The Cult Of Social Justice: Many Students Do Not Want To Be Coddled, But Universities Give Them No Choice

Would you rather your child went to a university which promotes rigorous debate and the search for truth, or a coddling daycare centre which seeks to shelter young adults from contradictory opinions and unpleasant facts while enthusiastically validating their every life choice?

In this short, entertaining lecture delivered to American high school seniors preparing for college, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (and co-author of “The Coddling Of The American Mind“) switches between characters to portray two different university recruitment speakers, one representing Strengthen University and the other attempting to attract students to Coddle University.

Strengthen U. is described in these terms:

We are kind of a cult. We worship truth – this is our sacred value. We will throw anything overboard if it conflicts with this sacred value. In fact, the one act of sacrilege in our school is dishonesty.

Our motto actually comes more recently, from Thomas Jefferson: “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

[..] So at Strengthen University, we offer hard classes. Everybody doesn’t get an A. You might even get some Ds, you might even fail a course. At Strengthen, we will not do anything to bolster your self esteem. We will teach you skills, we will give you opportunities to succeed, and if you do, you will feel very proud of yourself, you will deserve your self esteem. But we will not build it for you.

We will give you no safe spaces. We do not buy Play Doh and put it in safe spaces for students who feel “threatened”. We will never give you a trigger warning. When you are in a course, if the professor assigns a book we expect that you will not be destroyed by reading the book. If it has ideas you don’t like, we hope you’ll object.

At Strengthen, our sacred value is truth. And what that means is that we are very vigilant – that we never allow a climate in which our students feel they are walking on eggshells. If everybody is afraid of saying something, afraid that if they open their mouth and say what they think they’ll get pulled over by PC Principal [..] that is just death for free inquiry. So we will not allow that to happen.

So here’s the most dangerous thing you need to know about Strengthen University. Adults will not get involved in your relationships. Now think about this: what are you gonna do if somebody insults you? What are you gonna do if somebody uses a racial slur? What are you going to do if someone uses the N-word?

Now, for thousands of years – up until the 1990s – students dealt with this on their own. They might fight back, they might shame the person, they might talk to the person. Since the 1990s there have been speech codes that give adults authority to punish people who commit hate crimes or who use hate speech. What I’m telling you is that we are currently fighting the Department of Education on this, and we expect to win [..] and we expect that we will be legally allowed to stay out of your relationships. We expect you to handle it yourself.

While Coddle U. is pitched to the students in this way:

It’s a wonderful school, a very safe school, supportive school, I urge you to come. We were founded in 1965 based on the ideas of Herbert Marcuse, who was a German sociologist and political philosopher. He came to America – fleed the Nazis, did much of his work at Brandeis and many other schools.

At Coddle, our sacred value is Inclusion. We create a safe, welcoming space for all students. Any colour, any gender, any gender identity, whatever it is, we want to include you. Our sacrilege – the worst thing you can do at Coddle – is blame victims. We will not allow this, that is a violation of our sacred value. We don’t want anyone to feel excluded.

We have very good justification for this policy because the works of our founder, Dr. Marcuse. He wrote this wonderful essay in 1965, it was published in a book “A Critique of Pure Tolerance”, in which Marcuse explained why it is that things should not be tolerated if they impede “the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery”. Of course that’s our goal – don’t we all want the world to be free of fear and misery? So if certain kinds of actions and speech impede the creation of that world, why should we tolerate them?

[..] He goes on to describe what he calls “liberating tolerance”, which would mean intolerance against movements from the Right – because they are intolerant – and toleration of movements from the Left. We will make space for any movement from the Left, but we will not allow movements from the Right at Coddle University.

[..] We are based on a very simple psychology which is that people are fragile. People are so easily hurt. Anything that upsets you could trigger trauma, repressed trauma, unrepressed trauma, trauma that you somehow put up there in the closet and forgot to take – there’s trauma all over your mind and your memory. And we don’t want to trigger your trauma. That could damage you.

And this is especially true for members of the six protected classes [women, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, differently abled, and Native Americans]. If you are a member of one of the six marginalised and oppressed groups you are especially vulnerable. You’ve been traumatised and oppressed your whole lives. Microaggression theory teaches us that when people repeatedly cut these little nicks, these little insults, these little exclusions, they don’t develop calluses, they bleed to death. And so we will not let you be cut while you are at Coddle. We will protect you. Now don’t try to do it yourself, that’s very dangerous. WE will protect YOU from aggression.

At Coddle University we offer access to therapists 24/7. Just dial 811 from any phone, or we have this new feature – just raise three fingers, go like this [he gestures] and we have sensors all around campus, go like this and a therapist will be airlifted right into you. We are a campus-wide safe space, there is no risk of exposure to non-progressive ideas. You will not find it in our curriculum, that would be triggering.

Watch the whole thing when you have a chance.

As amusing as this short video is, it is remarkable how little Jonathan Haidt had to exaggerate his pastiche of a modern liberal university campus. Save for the drones buzzing around, ready to winch fully-trained therapists down to soothe your emotional crisis at a moment’s notice, everything which Haidt talks about is already the norm on many campuses.

Non-progressive groups are banned or their speakers disinvited from campus.

The curriculum is mutilated in an attempt to replace the western canon with “marginalised voices” of dubious lasting value.

Those who do not go along with the progressive orthodoxy are subject to violence and intimidation.

However, there are just a few encouraging signs that we might finally be approaching Peak SJW, that the sheer intolerance of academic freedom and debate shown by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is becoming untenable within an academic environment. At the University of Missouri, scene of campus protests, sit-ins and hunger strikes in sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement, new student enrolment is significantly down and financial crisis beckons. Turns out, many parents have qualms about sending their kids off to shrill social justice indoctrination factories when they could be getting a rigorous education elsewhere.

Jonathan Haidt’s presentation distils the issue neatly, and asks a group of young school-leavers what kind of institution they think will best serve their future interests – the overbearing, 24/7 watchfulness of Coddle U or the resilience and antifragility-building environment of Strengthen U.

It is a question which needs to be put to more school leavers as they make their decisions over which universities to apply to. Though the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics is hard at work subverting secondary/high schools, for now it remains the case that most school leavers will not yet have been indoctrinated into the cult. There is a narrow, precious window to reach these young people to emphasise the importance of academic freedom, and Jonathan Haidt’s lecture should be required watching for all school-leavers.

In fact, combining thought-provoking talks like this with better information as to the state of academic freedom at different institutions (as with Spiked‘s Free Speech University Rankings) could help many students make better, more informed choices about which institution they choose to spend the next three or four years of their lives.

And while a pervasive hostility to conservative ideas and contempt for free speech may matter less to most students than a lively social scene and the prospect of cheap beer, those students who value academic freedom and robust debate should be given the information to vote with their feet.


Safe Space Notice - 2

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Now Boris Johnson Is No Platformed – For Being ‘Disrespectful’ To Barack Obama

Boris Johnson - Kings College - Disinvitation - No Platformed - EU Referendum - Barack Obama

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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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 25 – Student Action Alone Cannot Halt The Growth Of Safe Spaces And Censorship

St Olaf College Protest - Safe Space Policy

Students are leading the fightback against campus illiberalism and the Identity Politics takeover with almost no support from professors and university administrators. No wonder they are having limited success

As this blog noted last week in a worrying development, even some of those students who are now making the news for opposing the most authoritarian clampdowns on free speech on their campuses turn out to support the idea of safe spaces, trigger warnings and No Platforming in principle. In other words, their problem is not with censorship per se, but merely a quibble over its overenthusiastic application.

Latest case in point, this student from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, who ruined a perfectly good protest about campus speech codes and draconian restrictions on free speech by conceding the broader point about the necessity of Safe Spaces.

From the Manitou Messenger:

On March 29, subscribers to St. Olaf Extra received an email from Anders Wahlberg ’17 in which he expressed his frustrations with St. Olaf ’s “incredibly broad and overreaching” policies regarding speech on campus and “the ridiculous concept of safe spaces.” Wahlberg closed the email with a call to other students who feel similarly to join his student organization, which “will offend people” and “will violate the sanctity of St. Olaf’s safe spaces.”

Within days of the email being sent out, Nikki Lewis ’18, Udeepta Chakravarty ’17 and Cynthia Zapata ’16 organized a rally in response. The rally was held in the quad on April 1 during chapel time and drew many students despite the cold temperatures. Both the organizers and representatives from safe spaces on campus spoke to the crowd.

“It’s always very hard when marginalized students on campus are trying so hard to make it clear that there’s issues at St. Olaf, and then emails like that go out,” Lewis said, “with so little regard to the fact that a lot of students on campus are subjected to hate speech and sometimes even hate crimes on this campus. So just sending out an email like that, what are you thinking?”

[..] Wahlberg’s email indicated that it wasn’t that safe spaces should be attacked, but that the mentality of safe spaces has not been contained in those safe spaces.

“By all means there should be safe spaces on campus. But making the entire campus a safe space is a threat to academic discussion and places people’s feelings above free speech. I don’t think there is a single issue that is ‘above debate.’ Classrooms, above all else, should not be safe spaces,” Wahlberg said.

In other words, limit free speech and infantilise students as much as you like on campus as a whole, just don’t do it within the classroom.

We should, perhaps, see the positive side in this. At least the student, Anders Wahlberg, appears to be motivated out of a strong and genuine concern for academic freedom. But tolerating any kind of exclusionary safe space where speech is restricted is inevitably the thin end of the wedge – conceding the principle of safe spaces means that the fight for free speech will ultimately be fought at the threshold of our own liberty.

Of course, one does not know the full extent to which potentially enormous social pressures force students to moderate or in some instances completely suppress their criticism of draconian speech codes, No Platform policies and other infantilising measures. It could be that Wahlberg would like to do away with Safe Spaces altogether, but knows that he would face total social ostracisation to the extent that speaking out fully is impossible.

And if so, who can really blame him? With very few honourable exceptions, most university administrations are running terrified of their student populations, falling over themselves to apologise and grant perks and concessions for the supposed injustices committed on their watch, almost before the Stepford Students themselves have had time to get into full outrage mode.

If I were a student today I like to think that I would take a vociferous, absolutist stance on free speech – but I would be under no illusion that the university hierarchy would have my back.

Cowardly concession after cowardly concession has shown that in a desperate final attempt at appeasement, many university administrations are happy to throw their allied supporters of academic freedom and free speech under the bus to buy a few more months of peace and quiet from their restive student populations.

It is always heartening to see students push back against attempts to infantilise them and limit their freedoms. But we are kidding ourselves if we believe that years of accumulated authoritarian and censorious policies can be overturned without the active participation of the academic establishment – dragged out kicking and screaming in support of academic freedom, if necessary.


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Top Image: Manitou Messenger

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Tales From The Safe Space, Part 23 – Manchester University Students’ Union To Debate Banning Conservatives

Manchester University Students Union building

Activists at the University of Manchester Students’ Union are to debate a motion which would essentially ban conservatism and enshrine one particular leftist worldview as the only acceptable political thought on campus

The students’ union at Manchester University never had a particularly strong commitment to democracy and free speech, preferring to act as one of those authoritarian talking shops where activists percolate in their own ideological certainties.

The university is rated Amber while the students’ union has consistently been rated Red in the Spiked free speech rankings, meaning that together they preside over a chilling and hostile climate for freedom of speech on campus.

But the current set of illiberal policies are nothing compared to a new student-initiated union debate which could see David Cameron – and theoretically, by extension any conservative politician or personality – banned from campus on the grounds that they may harm or manipulate weak and vulnerable students with their dangerous right-wing ideas.

The text of the motion, due to be debated this Thursday (14 April), reads:

Ban David Cameron from the Students’ Union building

David Cameron is a dangerous Tory whom has continually attacked the welfare state with the intent of destroying it since the Tory government assumed absolute power in a so called “democratic” vote.

David Cameron and his right-wing Tory government were elected by a minority of the electorate, and zero students voted Tory, therefore we must make a stand against this undemocratic regime by banning David Cameron and his Tory government from our democratic Students Union and our University Campus.

In addition, David Cameron has continually violated the Safe-Space policy by implementing changes to Junior Doctors NHS contracts. We must fight back against the Tory steamroller which is destroying the NHS and destroying the United Kingdom and also Europe. Also David Cameron has said that we should vote to stay in the EU, but he is a Tory and therefore he must have lied, therefore to prevent him being able to manipulate venerable [sic] students at the University we must ban him.

The motion is so childish in its demands and so illiterate in its expression that only a year ago one may have wondered whether it was a clumsy parody. But life on campus in British and American universities has now indeed become such a sick joke that the motion was almost certainly submitted in earnest – and could well be adopted by authoritarian student activists regardless of the motive behind it.

This, after all, is the same students’ union which had an anti Safe Space petitioner dragged out of a student senate meeting by campus security for daring to criticise and speak over the Women’s Officer during a debate about abolishing the union’s Safe Space policy.

(Curiously, the motion to abolish the Safe Space policy was recorded as being rejected in the senate meeting minutes, although there were 38 votes for the motion, 3 against and 4 abstentions – I have contacted the students’ union for clarification on that rather surprising decision, and am awaiting their response).

University of Manchester Students Union

But consider the type of childish, underdeveloped mind which could seriously propose a motion to ban David Cameron from the students’ union (thus wrecking the prime minister’s plan to hang out there extensively in the near future).

The motion begins with the accusation that David Cameron is a “dangerous Tory”. Well, by that logic, so are the 11.3 million British citizens who cast their vote for the Conservative Party in the 2015 general election. Is this entire segment of the population also dangerous – or are they either evil and greedy people voting to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor, or “venerable” people conned into voting the wrong way?

Laughably, the motion describes the Conservative Party’s return to power as being the result of a “so-called ‘democratic’ vote”. Now one can criticise the UK’s electoral system legitimately and with good reason, but Manchester University Students’ Union was not exactly the scene of hunger strikes or self-immolations when the Labour Party won the 2005 general election with 9.5 million votes and 35% of the national vote, which strongly suggests that this is politically (not constitutionally) motivated.

The author of the motion then goes on to claim, ludicrously, that “zero students voted Tory”, which speaks volumes about this particular student’s limited social circle and cheerfully ignorant closed mind. As it happens, some students do vote Conservative – in fact, there has been a slight rise in 18 to 34 year olds voting Tory, particularly women. The fact that many of these right-leaning students keep their political views so quiet is because to talk about them openly would be to invite hostility, ridicule and social ostracisation from the sanctimonious Left.

Slipping the surly bonds of earth and touching the face of insanity, the pompous student motion continues:

In addition, David Cameron has continually violated the Safe-Space policy by implementing changes to Junior Doctors NHS contracts. We must fight back against the Tory steamroller which is destroying the NHS and destroying the United Kingdom and also Europe.

So now, taking a position in an industrial dispute which does not directly affect a single member of the students union is still a grave violation of the Union’s safe space policy. The author of the motion asks us to believe that government running the country and making decisions which anger the Left and the public sector actively makes students unsafe.

And the motion wraps up with the naive and childish statement that David Cameron “is a Tory and therefore he must have lied” about wanting Britain to stay in the European Union. In fact, David Cameron did lie inasmuch as he falsely presented the negligible and non-binding results of his abject capitulation as a bold renegotiation that would result in some kind of reformed EU.

But it was David Cameron’s own lack of character and patrician disregard for democracy which caused him to lie – not the fact that he is a Tory. One could just as easily seek to ban all Labour politicians and personalities from Manchester University by claiming that Tony Blair lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – and yet one can be certain that if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn set foot on campus tomorrow, these students would drop whatever they were doing and follow him around like he was the Messiah.

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One would hope that Manchester University Students’ Union will reject this babyish motion out of hand when it is earnestly debated at this Thursday’s Senate meeting, on the grounds that it makes everyone who touches it look stupid.

One would hope that there are enough liberty-loving students at Manchester to prevent the adoption of a measure designed to infantilise them and treat them as delicate snowflakes incapable of so much as being in the presence of people who disagree with them (though such sensible people tend to be repulsed by student politics and stay well away).

One would hope that the idea of passing a symbolic motion banning the democratically elected – not to mention remarkably dull and centrist – prime minister from setting foot on union property would be laughed out of the house by student leaders who realise that demonising over a third of the country for their perfectly legitimate political views makes honest political debate impossible, and (most dangerously) enshrines one particular left-wing ideology as the only “acceptable” political opinion.

One would like to think a good many warm and positive things about the generation of Stepford Students currently passing through our academic institutions, both here in Britain and in America. But every day we are given ten times as many reasons to despair as causes to hope.

And now we have the ludicrous spectacle of Manchester University students earnestly debating whether or not they need to protect themselves by placing a de facto restraining order on David Cameron and his Evil Tory brethren.

As Manchester goes, so goes every other major university in the country. Never has a group of students been so in need of a robust, small-L liberal education, yet so thoroughly unprepared to receive one at university.


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