Piers Morgan is not the students’ champion

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Well, of all the people we might have thought would come out to bat for students during Covid-19, I think it’s safe to say Piers Morgan ranked near the bottom of some of our lists.

In the last few weeks, I’ve witnessed a curious uptick of coverage of Piers Morgan making a surprising amount of sense. Not previously known for mincing words, Morgan has made sure to express the frustration and anger that many feel with the Conservative government’s handling of the pandemic.

When someone tends to resort to bullying and court controversy, it’s worth treading carefully

In the latest such episode, Morgan interviewed Universities Minister Michelle Donelan on Good Morning Britain about the way that students have been treated during the coronavirus pandemic. As tends to happen on the show, the interview became rather heated, with Donelan complaining that she “couldn’t get a word in.” Morgan – the very man who, only two years ago, called students “pathetic, spineless little snowflakes” – argued that students should be refunded for the fees they’ve paid for this year, pointing out the seemingly obvious but often brushed off claim that the university experience this year is decidedly not the same.

Perhaps what first feels unsettling about Morgan’s sudden defence of university students is that, from his past history, it would not have been unreasonable to expect him to side with universities and the governments, rather than the population whose opinions he’s been so eager to dismiss in the past. It’s not like Morgan has a particular habit of sticking up for underdogs, unless underdogs have begun to include the British tabloid press, men’s rights activists, and anti-LGBT speakers disinvited from universities. And I suppose that this is what annoys me about some of the praise that Morgan is getting.

Part of my degree is in philosophy, and I’ve spent the last three years discussing, among other things, when one deserves moral praise. If you do something that you should be doing anyway – say, holding politicians to account and bringing issues affecting a significant section of the population to attention as a journalist – then what you have done isn’t particularly morally praiseworthy. You did what was rightly expected of you. You don’t get to be canonised for it, and you certainly don’t get your past offenses swept under the rug.

He may be sticking up for us now, but whether he will continue to do so is yet to be determined

It is understandable that, when a notable public figure speaks out about an issue that matters to us, we want to celebrate their support, especially when it’s a problem that everyone in charge, from university administrations to the government, seems so determined to ignore. However, we should be reluctant to embrace Piers Morgan as our champion. I must admit that I have very little patience for people who like to play “devil’s advocate” in questions of people’s lived experiences, so perhaps I have less generosity to grant Morgan than most. Yet it’s important to remember that Morgan has been no friend to women, to those outside the gender binary, or to the LGBT+ community, often mocking efforts to make them feel included or to question the norms that sanction violence against them. I have no room here to list all of Morgan’s controversial episodes, nor do I wish to. I would like to highlight, though, that a good number of them have gone against issues that matter to students, and that this is what makes me uneasy about so many deciding to act as though all this is forgotten.

I believe that people can change and grow, and I fully support giving them the opportunity to do so. However, when someone tends to resort to bullying to prove a point and tends to court controversy for the sake of it rather than because they actually care about the cause at the heart of it, it’s worth treading carefully. Piers Morgan may be sticking up for us now, but whether he will continue to do so once students’ fifteen minutes are over is yet to be determined.

Illustration by Emma Jespersen.

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