Security concerns stifle free speech

A planned Union Society (DUS) debate on multicultural Britain, controversially involving two members of the BNP in opposition, has been cancelled after an unprecedented reaction to its announcement in the last edition of Palatinate.

On Friday afternoon the DUS e-mailed its members as the University simultaneously e-mailed the entire student and staff body to inform them of their decision. In a joint statement, the cancellation was attributed to the issue of public safety after an escalation in planned protests and violence by both anti-fascist and fascist groups.

The increased risk of public disorder and intimidation to students and staff has largely been accredited to NUS intervention. In an email sent by NUS Black Students’ Officer Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy and NUS LGBT Officer Daf Adley, the threat of “a colossal demonstration” was posed.

The officers were confused as to the relationship between their organisation, the DSU and the DUS, as they asserted that the DSU has the right to impose “sanctions” on students who “knowingly engage in infringing on the equal opportunities of others”. However, they seem unaware that the two organisations are not affiliated and that DSU President Natalie Crisp has no mandate to intervene.

Many Durham students have expressed their concern about the threatening tone of the letter which had NUS and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) promise that they were “mobilising nationally and organising coach loads of students to demonstrate at your university on Friday evening”.

Chillingly, it concluded with the foreboding warning, “if any students are hurt in and around this event, the responsibility will lie with you”.
Disappointed DUS President Anna Birley maintained that “the debate would have been intelligent and responsible, and an opportunity for our membership to expose and challenge any offensive views”.

President Birley also criticised the handling of the debate by the NUS, “I’m particularly concerned that the NUS, which the DUS has no affiliation with, had planned to go out of their way to bring coaches of students to Durham, putting both their students and our members between rival groups of impassioned demonstrators”.

Earlier in the week a group from UAF petitioned in front of Elvet Riverside to stop the debate from taking place. Speaking on Wednesday, spokesperson Michael Dixon “guaranteed the debate would not take place” as it would “damage the multiculturalism of a thousand students on campus”.  The group then invaded the DSU to protest, confusing the building with that of the DUS which is on Palace Green.

DSU Equality Officer Laurie Drake, whose personal contact details were passed onto the organisation by the NUS, has also called UAF tactics into question after he received a “threatening phone call” from their regional organiser.

“I was lambasted for half an hour by the regional representative; it was not a nice phone call to receive. She was quite threatening and told me to do as she said, otherwise there would be trouble and violence next week,” Drake revealed.

Relating the encounter with UAF to Palatinate, Mr Drake stated: “I find the actions of NUS and Unite Against Fascism unbelievable; they are so totalising in their approach. If I didn’t agree with the UAF representative, I was just a racist. It was as simple as that”.

He continued: “I think the NUS officers who sent the letter to us on Tuesday were completely out of line. To send such a poorly written, poorly constructed letter with no real points which makes grandiose claims is shocking. It threatens our students and completely confuses the nature of Equal Opportunities Officer.”

In answer to the NUS’ accusation of failing to uphold its duties, the University maintained that the debate was in keeping with its code of practice and statutes which preserve freedom of expression. Carolyn Fowler, University Registrar, explained the only reason for the debate to not go ahead was safety. “The welfare of students has always been our first priority and any threat to public safety supersedes the importance of freedom of expression”.

The Registrar continued, “The University was not prepared to provide an occasion for external extremist groups to engage in provocative and intimidating demonstrations”. The University was at pains to point out that it is “diametrically opposed” to the views of the BNP, evidenced by having the highest percentage of international staff of any UK University.

In a statement on the UAF website, the two NUS officers have defended their handling of the situation. “It’s not ‘sensationalist’ to state the real threat that the BNP pose. Neither is it ‘threatening’ to say that wherever the BNP rear their fascist heads, we will be there protesting in our hundreds and thousands. Freedom of speech comes with a responsibility. If you preach hatred towards black, Jewish, Muslim and LGBT people you have no place on our campuses”.

Upon being contacted by Palatinate, debater Andrew Brons, MEP for the BNP, claimed, “It is obvious that the threats by the terror group UAF have caused the Debating Society or the University to cancel the debate”.

Mr Brons was, however, insistent that the debate should still go ahead. “I challenge the Durham University Debating Society and the persons who were to have proposed and seconded the motion to hold the debate by the use of electronic communication, with the debate being placed afterwards on the internet,” he commented. “We shall then be able to see whether or not the safety of students or the safety of the Political Class was really the deciding factor”.

At the time of going to print, a representative of the DUS stated that they were looking into the possibility of an online debate but that they would still have to confirm the format change with the proposition speakers Edward Leigh, MP, and Kulveer Ranger, advisor to the Mayor of London.

26 thoughts on “Security concerns stifle free speech

  • So, do you realise the combo of this picture of the BNP and that headline make it look very much like this article is in support of the BNP? And that this will be made use of by the BNP publicity machine and on their blogs to encourage more of their members to believe that what they stand for (racial hatred and bigotry) are fine dandy and acceptable?

    Since the article itself is one-sided and fails to mention the considerable opposition to the DUS debate from students, staff, local people and those further afield who are rightly worried about the spread of BNP support, I’m left wondering if this implicit support for the BNP (don’t imagine they won’t use it and spin it) is because you intended it, or if it’s because you are extremely naive? At *least* change the picture for goodness sake.

    • Vicky love, you are doing a lot of ‘spinning’ yourself, you aren’t the publicity officer for the UAF are you?

      • No, I am not even a member of UAF. I don’t see how raising the issue of the BNP using this material for their own ends (and the original picture making this easier for them — which was recognised and changed independently of whether the Palatinate people agreed with my take on the subject at hand) is spinning. The BNP did do this, so I evidently wasn’t making it up.

    • Students OVERWHELMINGLY supported free speech in this case. I’m afraid you’re in the minority.

      With recent events in mind, I’m more worried about the NUS and UAF.

      [Obligatory sentence explaining how I don’t actually support the BNP, but support their right to speak if they wish to.]

  • I completely agree with Vicky

    • The whole thing is a fiasco. Firstly, the proposed debate was ludicrous, why on earth give the time of day to people who regard non-whites as subhuman, hardly going to change their minds are we? Secondly, this explosion of outrage about infringement of free speech, has managed to cast the BNP as victims. The BNP must be loving it.

  • Whether you agree with the BNP or not, the bigger threats here to those of us who value our personal freedoms, are the UAF and the NUS.

    These groups use fascist and totalitarian techniques to quash free speech. They use violence and threats of violence to keep people from speaking out. It seems to me they are more of a threat to all of us, than the BNP could ever hope to be.

    Why are they allowed to terrorise those who are open to debate between groups with different views?

    I am appalled that they think they can be the hall monitors for all of us, and that we are too stupid to make up our own opinions. I don’t need a minder to tell me how to think and who I can and can’t listen to….

  • Thanks for the comment Vicky.

    We’ve now changed the picture to avoid anyone getting the wrong impression. However, we don’t feel that the article conveyed ‘implicit support’ for the BNP at any point.

    We’d hope that everybody involved in this issue recognises that all sides share an abhorrence of the BNP, who are in our view a racist, fascist, homophobic organisation.

    We’d also appreciate readers’ support in combating the BNP’s tactic of spinning this issue to claim solidarity with Durham students. This is a false claim, and one which Palatinate will working to refute.

    Many thanks

  • Diana, UAF appear to be a broad umbrella group with support from lots of mainstream politicians. Can you cite any evidence to back up your claims?

  • The UAF have yet again been exposed for the fascists they are.

    “The fascists of the? future will be called anti-fascists” – Churchill.

    “…the issue of public safety after an escalation in planned protests and violence by both anti-fascist and fascist groups.”

    Err, what fascist groups would that be then? No, the debate was canceled because the brainwashed, fascists of the UAF made threats and intimidated the organisers.

    • The fascists are the BNP. As the article clearly states, the event was canceled because of fears over security and the safety of those potentially involved in a protest.

      UAF, the NUS and the Union Society are united in their abhorrence of the BNP.

      • You clearly have no clue to what went on (is a Durham student)

        “As the article clearly states, the event was cancelled because of fears over security and the safety of those potentially involved in a protest.”

        Protests which were threatened up us not only by NUS, but by the UAF too.

        The UAF were far worse than the BNP. If neither NUS or UAF got involved, then the DUS would have had a nice, intellectual and private (as the debate was for members only) debate with the two members of BNP. Which is what the DUS wanted but failed to get by being bullied into cancelling the event by both NUS and UAF.

        The real facists are the UAF

  • Chris, 100% with you — for a start this whole thing would not have blown up if the ludicrous invite hadn’t been issued. And let’s not forget the role of our ‘illustrious leader’ the VC, who ignored so many well argued letters telling him this would happen. Opposition to the debate going ahead was strong *within* the university as well as from outside, including from among many, many staff as well as students. The nature of the cancellation statements added fuel to this fire: beautiful toehold for the BNP — all they had to do was sit back and wait for the VC and the organisers of a) the DUS, and b) the stupid FOS protest to do the legwork for them. They must be laughing at you so hard right now.

    This newspaper’s coverage? Should be about whether the invite was a good idea in the first place. In addition to all the MANY obvious reasons it should never have been issued, I’d say that the immense political naivety and ignorance of how the BNP media machine works on display from the group of so-called (self-named) ‘elite’ students of Durham who were behind the whole thing are pretty key.

    Also, let’s not forget the lack of forward planning from the DUS: MAYBE they should have checked if the cost of the INEVITABLE extra security from the police they must (should) have known they’d need to allow it to go ahead was going to be laid at their own door, as it indeed would have been. Can’t afford police protection? Don’t organise an event that was bound to require it. After all, the evidence was right there from Oxford and other places with people stupid enough to try something like this.

  • Palatinate, there were about 15 hours between my comment and yours: what time did you take down the original photo? Oh that’s right, long enough for the link with the original photo to make it onto the FB page for Brons. Complete with horrific comments from his supporters that I won’t repeat here.

    Did ANYONE really think the BNP were going to be polite and ‘check the intentions’ behind this protest? The people who will take this material as confirmation of or persuasion to the BNP’s position is going to appreciate your *intentions*.

    There is a special lesson here: *actions* have consequences. Consequences you won’t always be able to contain, even if you *reallyreallyreally* believe you’re elite and special.

    Now where did I hear similar warnings recently? Oh yes, lots of letters arriving at DUS and for the VC. Including one from, who was it again??

  • *Clearly that should have read ‘None of the people who will take this material as confirmation of, or persuasion to the BNP’s position will appreciate your intentions.

    Anger and upset are not conducive to wonderful typing.

  • Vicky, the BNP spin any coverage they get to twist fit their own abhorrent agenda.

    These writers weren’t naive about this. Palatinate has accurately reported the chain of events which took place this past week. We didn’t extend the invitation and if we hadn’t have investigated the widely disputed facts people would have questioned our ability to cover current issues.

    A lot of people are unhappy that the UAF is having to lower itself to the BNP’s level in order to combat them and that the NUS have blundered and unnecessarily fed the BNP’s publicity generating fire

    If you see our articles being misused for propaganda purposes then all you have to do is post a link to the editorial underneath it. It clearly states that we find the BNP abhorrent.

  • ‘A lot of people are unhappy that the UAF is having to lower itself to the BNP’s level’

    Are you having a laugh. The UAF are the lowest of the low. The BNP don’t protest, march or send bullying and intimidating threats to the uaf or nus when they hold meeting or debates.

    Again people are throwing that word about “fascist” when they have no clue to what it means.

    Here is a quote from George Orwell:

    “It would seem that, as used, the word ‘Fascist’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox hunting, bullfighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.”

    Read more;

  • Palatinate, I can indeed *read*, even if my typing occasionally goes awry. Perhaps my use of the ‘general you’ has been confusing (I’m tired, and I’m not writing an article that will be proofed by another). My 2nd comment makes more sense with: ‘they must be laughing so hard right now’. With respect to ‘*actions have consequences*…(etc)’ in my subsequent comment, I think the general you was ok.

    I mentioned the naivety of those ‘who were behind the whole thing’ (the debate) as being key, against the context of my preceding assertion that the coverage should be about whether the *invite* was a good idea (rather than focusing on the cancellation). I did not say Palatinate invited the BNP.

    The intentions of *yours* (Palatinate) that I refer to the BNP (and its supporters) not caring about pertain to your original selection of photo in combination with the emotive title, and that you neglected to mention the considerable opposition to the DUS debate from within Durham. As in:

    The BNP and its supporters do not care that you intended an article which did not support the BNP.

    The BNP and its supporters do not care that you printed a disclaimer.

    The BNP only care that they can use your stuff *as* propaganda, that they can continue to refer to this event at Durham and the subsequent protest, and now can also reference/spin the way you reported it – i.e. with a failure to report the opposition from Durham University students and staff at all. You (Palatinate) portray the opposition as if it was entirely external to the University, which was *not* the case. I’d say omissions like that reduce the accuracy and balance of your reporting. Incidentally, your new pic adds weight to the (erroneous) impression you give that all the opposition was from external groups (esp. given how you characterise UAF in your piece).

    You (Palatinate) chose that unwise picture, and left it up long enough that it (the original pic/article combination) made it onto the page for Andrew Brons on FB, and it’ll be in other places too. Hence my reference to the naivety of those responsible for the article and its presentation, but that’s what I mentioned in my first comment, where I assume you must have thought I (and others) had a point because you did change it. I’d still be interested to know how long that took you to decide, given the time gap between our comments.

    Similarly, the BNP didn’t care about what the intentions behind the DUS’ invite to the debate were. They wouldn’t have cared what happened inside that *private* debating chamber. Rather they care about how they can spin the act of invitation, and its approval by the VC qua Durham University. And now they also care about how they can portray (and spin coverage of) the ‘Durham Students for FOS’ protest, which they’ll link back to this article, talking as it does, about freedom of speech being stifled. Between the coverage in this paper and the actions of certain students, I should think the BNP are pretty pleased for themselves right now.

  • Jan, you said: “Are you having a laugh. The UAF are the lowest of the low. The BNP don’t protest, march or send bullying and intimidating threats to the uaf or nus when they hold meeting or debates.”

    That’s odd. I was under the impression the BNP did turn up and protest just yesterday, i.e. when Wes Streeting turned up to represent the NUS (as its President) in an open forum with a whole room full of students who are (currently, at least) members of the NUS via DSU’s affiliation with NUS. Something the FB-FOS lot (mostly/all Durham students, i.e. current NUS members) seem terribly upset about.

    You also might want to ask around more widely if you think the BNP and its supporters don’t bully and threaten other groups. You need to get beyond that confirmation bias you have going there and increase the sample size.

  • ‘Louisa says:
    February 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I completely agree with Vicky”

    Start of a wonderful relationship…? Placards against free speech at the ready gurls!

  • Well it was only a matter of time before the BNP on here Arthur999 lowered themselves to personal attacks. Also, Arthur check out the bivalent conditional: very useful piece of logic; you’ve evidently never heard of it. It would help you to disabuse yourself of some of your daft ideas.

    And what was this about the BNP not using bullying tactics? Ironic really. But you’re an organised lot, I’ll give you that much. You’re certainly making the most of the platform handed to you by the FoS brigade.

  • As a member of UAF and as a person involved in the activities reported I can say that there are several errors and assumptions made within this article.

    We were explicity aware that DSU and DUS were different groups; we explained this to students as we petitioned.

    I was with the person who called DSU officers when she made the phone calls (Laurie Drake actually called her over an unrelated issue, not the other way around as reported) and she only pointed out the obvious based on experience, she at no point made any threats of violence or implied that UAF would incite or behave violently. I find it entirely laughable that anyone would find the person in question (who was not the regional organiser of UAF as reported) intimidating and suggest that anyone who claims to have been intimidated was posturing.

    UAF had no choice but to arrange a protest (to do nothing would be to accept and comply with Nazis), the EDL would have attended (they generally do) and behaved aggressively (they always do) and then there would probably have been a violent confrontation, one which would be on the hands of people in possitions of authority whom could have avoided it. I would also point out that the vast majority of people at an anti-BNP protest would have been members of the public, unaffiliated with UAF whom UAF would not have been responsible for – who can say how they would react the presence of Fascist dressing themselves up as reasonable and presentable members of society.

    The Management of Durham University absolutely did the right thing by calling off the debate, as did NUS by opposing it and applying pressure to call it off.

    The ‘no platform for the BNP’ policy is not the same as a ‘no freedom of speech for the BNP’ policy. How do you expect to combat BNP rhetoric by helping them air it on a platform? Placing Nazis on a platform of any kind helps them communicate their racist, homophobic views. Why not invite anyone else to speak on multiculturism? Why Nazis?

    I hope Durham University students that organized and attended the freedom of speech protest understand that the protest was attended by members of the BNP (in disguise presumably) and has been used as Nazi propoganda on their website – please see for yourselves – these people are now actively helping the Nazis gain support. I praise the students of Durham University involved for their anti-Nazi stance but I seriously suggest they re-examine thier tactics because thier current tactics have the opposite effect of that intended. UAF uses the tactics it does because they work, I invite any anti-Nazi to work with us.

    I also hope they noted that UAF had no pressence there – we do not appose freedom of speech, we oppose Fascists.

    To the editor of Palatinate – feel free to get in touch, you have my email address as given to submit this message.

    I do not intend to answer questions or respond to comments on this website.

  • I realise, of course, that you won’t respond to this, but saying “I do not intend to answer questions or respond to comments on this website” makes it sound rather as if you don’t wish to publicly debate your many, very arguable points. Why did you post this if you’ve no intention of responding to anyone who replies to you? Even were I a UAF member, I’d find this comment rather strange; it implies you’re not willing to have an open discussion, thus rather underlining the allegations Durham students have made against your organisation.

  • “I do not intend to answer questions or respond to comments…”

    That’s the UAF for you. Try phoning them and asking a tricky question, they put the phone down. Laughable.

  • I think the worst outcome of this debate is possibly that some on either side have forgotten the common ground shared by free speechers, no platformers and UAF/NUS haters.

    The sides should be united by their hatred of the BNP, and their desire to adopt tactics to confront them. Whether that’s an intellectual debate in the Durham Union Society or the UAF protesting on the street, they both despise the BNP.

    BNP members and supporter must remember this: the students and activists involved in this debate were trying to work out the best way to fight against you.


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