Wednesday, February 07, 2018

No platform

It was Spring 2007, and a first year student on the University of Bath politics degree course had invited Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party, to speak at the University of Bath. The student who had invited him turned out to be the youth organiser for the BNP.

The student union, and all three campus staff unions (UCU, Unison, and Unite), swung into action to protest against Griffin being allowed to speak at the university. Nova Gresham, the regional official for the UCU South-West Region, came to support us, and we had speeches from her and some anti-racist activists at the joint staff and student meeting. Everyone at the meeting signed a petition asking the university to cancel the event. We were all very clear that allowing racists and fascists to speak (particularly if they speak unopposed) at universities lends an aura of respectability to their ideas, because they are given credence and kudos by the university, and that it is likely to increase incidents of racist violence in areas where fascists and racists hold events.

I still have the T-shirt I was given at the meeting, which has that quote about evil flourishing when good people do nothing on it.

We then went to present the petition to the Vice-Chancellor of the University. We explained our concerns about lending respectability to fascist ideas, and that such events have resulted in an increase in racist incidents. I felt that the VC understood where we were coming from mainly because a Black student looked straight at the VC and said, "I live on campus, so inviting this man onto campus is like inviting him into my living room. Would you invite him into your living room?" The VC replied "No".

Later that day, we met with the University Secretary, and advised him that trade unionists from all over the South West would converge on the university to protest (we had been promised up to six coach-loads). The talk was scheduled to take place during exams, and the University Secretary told us that if they cancelled the event, it would be over concerns around being unable to maintain public order, and the potential disruption to exams, as the University was committed to principles of free speech.

I was on holiday in Poland when I got a text to let me know that the event had indeed been cancelled. We heard that Griffin ended up giving his speech on a street corner somewhere in the city of Bath, and that his audience was outnumbered by the police who were there to prevent any incidents.