On 26 November, Britain’s two best-known neo-Nazis: Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, and David Irving, the “historian” and convicted Holocaust denier, have been invited to speak at the “Oxford Union Society”.
The Oxford Union, a debating society which was once the stamping ground of Tony Benn, Michael Foot and Paul Foot, but is now populated by upperclass adolescent morons whose idea of a high profile speaker is the model Jordan, has organised this as a “free speech debate”.
Such a “debate” would be more of a fascist rally than an argument for genuine freedom of speech. Its organisers seem to see it as an entertaining freak-show that might attract them a bit of publicity. The BNP, which is currently trying to establish a presence in colleges across the country, is of course delighted. We are not, of course, overly concerned that any of the audience will be converted by Griffin and Irving’s absurd and hateful rhetoric; but they will use the event to claim that students are interested in hearing their views and treat them as valid. The Oxford Union Society still has a certain prestige associated with the name of Oxford University, and the propaganda value to fascists of their being allowed to speak there is significant.
Under normal circumstances socialists are for the fullest freedom of speech — censorship is inimical to the workers’ movement. And we do not favour laws or government decrees to ban even fascists. But the Oxford Union’s invite raises other issues. Firstly, fascists use any opportunity to speak as part of their ongoing campaign to violently smash the workers’ movement and all progressive
organisations, along with freedom of speech itself.
Secondly, when fascists are allowed to disseminate their propaganda the level of
racist and homophobic incidents, including violent ones, always rises, and the fascists themselves often commit acts of violence. The last time fascists spoke at a university, in Manchester, the Student Union Equalities Officer and several visibly Muslim students were physically assaulted. The BNP must not be allowed to get a foothold in our colleges.
Thankfully there is a general determination to stop Griffin and Irving speaking here. An organising meeting on Monday was supported by Oxford University Students’ Union, the university Jewish and Islamic Societies, the university Labour Club, Oxford and District Trades Council, Unison, the T&G at the Cowley works and all local Labour Party organisations. The meeting heard from the cochairs of Unite Against Fascism, but the antifascist campaign is being worked out democratically by these local organisations.
Local trade union community and student organisations, councillors and even Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, have come together to campaign on the issue. The only notable exception is Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who has a “distinguished” record of defending academic racists.
He feels so strongly about the “right” of Griffin and Irving to speak at Oxford
University that he has agreed to speak in the “debate” on the same side as them! This, he says, is because he opposes censorship; but that, to put it kindly, makes no sense. It is not “censorship” to deny someone an invite to speak in the Oxford University debating society. The invitation of fascists and Holocaust deniers to such a platform by a gaggle of irresponsible posh twits could only
be hailed as a blow for freedom of speech by a complete idiot.
Pressure is being put on the Oxford Union Society to cancel the invitation. If it is not cancelled, there will be a mass demonstration outside the Oxford Union Society from 7pm on 26 November. Keep fascism out of universities and out of our cities!