This article contains discussion of transphobia
With appearances promoting her presidential campaign on TalkRadio and GB News, right-wing media outlets not known for their loyal student audience; endorsements from prominent right-wing figures like Richard Tice and Laurence Fox; and statements such as many students are “absolutely terrified that I’m running”, Sophie Corcoran’s Durham Students’ Union (DSU) presidential campaign doesn’t seem aimed entirely at her electorate.
However, the first-year Business and Management student denies that her campaign is a media stunt. “I don’t need to do a stunt, look at how many followers I already have.”
But she suggested to Palatinate that she was aware of the attention that her divisive social media statements brought; “My anti-wokeness is not my main priority. It’ll be my main priority on my social media because that’s why the media will get involved.”
In the wake of the infamous South College formal last year, Corcoran was vocal in support for Rod Liddle and South’s principal Professor Tim Luckhurt, while the DSU was calling for Luckhurt’s resignation. On whether she could represent students, considering her support for a speech that sparked outcry among the student body, she stated that, “people call me a transphobe and I have no problem with that. I believe what I believe and it is right to believe what I believe so I won’t apologise for that.”
Corcoran disagreed with the role of DSU president being to speak out for students on these issues; “The students can represent themselves, they’re not children.”
The candidate also refuted that her criticism of the DSU’s statement and South College protests was a refusal of students’ freedom of speech. “I think students need to learn how to channel their offence, if students want to protest, protest. I don’t care. But they also need to protest within reason. I’m not going to accept them abusing the staff.”
She also described policies like ‘decolonising the curriculum’, a movement previously promoted by the Union, as “a complete load of rubbish”.
“A lot of people don’t like the histories of the Universities they go to, but at the end of the day you do choose to come, you know what Durham is.” Once again she didn’t see it as the SU’s role to represent the student body on this topic. “It’s something for certain departments to focus on, and it’s for the academic reps to do that.”
One of Corcoran’s pledges is to ban white privilege lectures in the Student Union. This pledge is particularly striking as the lectures don’t exist.
When asked by Palatinate about the lectures’ non-existence and whether a ban contradicts her vision of Durham as “the home of free speech”, Corcoran said: “If you want to campaign for these issues then that’s fine, but I’m not going to fund them because that’s not what the SU’s money is for.”
While Corcoran had previously complained about a diversity workshop she attended at Durham, this was college-run. She would not necessarily have the ability to issue an outright ban on these as SU President.
Corcoran’s support for the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill differs her from other candidates. The Bill would restrict students’ unions from denying premises to someone based on their “ideas, beliefs or views”. Initially, when asked whether she would vet speakers at all, she said “no” and that it was “the society’s responsibility”.
On the question of what she would do if a society invited a speaker accused of antisemitism, she claimed, “I want speakers to come and be offensive and be provocative. Because that’s kind of part of the fun of doing a speech. Students are going to get offended, and they need to get used to that.”
However, somewhat conversely, later in the interview Corcoran said a line “absolutely” needed to be drawn somewhere on free-speech. “I’m not going to let people come in here and be blatantly racist and things like that.” If a society invited someone from the British National Party (BNP), Corcoran says she would “definitely be asking questions about what you’re doing. I just don’t think they’re ever going to come through, that’s the problem. I have faith in the intelligence of the people in this University”
The Josephine Butler College student regularly appears as a right-wing commentator on GB News and TalkRadio. Yet Corcoran said that her uniqueness as a candidate stems from how she is not here “to push my political views as president. I have a political career, I don’t need this.”
According to her, many stand for election “because they want to jumpstart some sort of political career and become some low-tier parliamentary staffer. There’s no reason for me to do that, I already have a political career.”
This disdain for using the platform politically leads to the assumption that Corcoran would give up her own media work if voted in. However, the GB News contributor said she had no intention of doing so; “My views aren’t necessarily going to represent the organisation that I work for. You separate the two, so I can go be a journalist, be a commentator and also run the SU (…) unless I get in trouble for the SU doing something dodgy like they always do” – in which case she says she might go to national media.
Corcoran also rejects claims that she has breached the SU’s Standing Orders by promoting her campaign on national media; candidates “in positions of authority [are] not permitted to use resources that others generally do not have the ability to access”.
“I’m using my own platform which I’ve built myself, and no one is stopping anyone else from going on national television (…) it’s so easy to do, it’s just that they don’t want it, or they’re boring.”
Corcoran told Palatinate that “initially” she felt that she “had more chance of winning in North Korea. And they don’t even have elections. “But since going into it I think I’ve felt a lot of support from people who are actually just sick of the issue. And I wasn’t expecting that.” She described a “silent majority” who supported her views on campus.
“There are loads of people out there who have my views and agree with me, unfortunately, those people don’t tend to go out and vote. And that’s what’s going to be hard. Because you know the really angry leftie ones on Twitter are the ones that are going to vote.”
Corcoran had planned to transfer from Durham but has now changed her mind; “And I think that the reasons I wanted to transfer are the same reasons I want to be SU president. Because I had a very difficult time, in the beginning, everyone was so different to what my life was like in Thurrock, there were people so different, they seemed like they were out of a cartoon, things like sports, sports were so expensive.
“I wanted to join tons of sports teams, I just couldn’t do it. I’ve really struggled with imposter syndrome here, I’ve never had it so bad in my whole life.”
She said she’d received “so much abuse” since starting at Durham. “I’ve had some really weird comments – like some random dude was like she’s a whore. I have had people come up and shout at me in the street and stuff, and I’ve also had people come up to me in Spoons, and say my housemates are really big fans so it’s been a mixture of a lot of support which is really cool and a lot of people hate me (…) harassing people on the street, that’s not freedom of speech.”
Corcoran said that she would want to oversee colleges on issues like making JCR sport and society subs free: which would likely be beyond her jurisdiction as DSU president. University-wide sport is also controlled by Team Durham, not the Union.
“But I want to reduce it because I feel that sports and societies are the most integral part of getting involved in Durham and does completely change the uni experience. Problem is, a lot of working-class kids just can’t afford it.” Despite wanting to “oversee” colleges on this issue, the candidate said she also planned to “eradicate most of the SU’s powers and give them back to the JCRs”.
When asked about her previous statements concerning wanting to “abolish” Durham’s Student Union, Corcoran laughed and said, “that’s actually not allowed as a campaign strategy. If it was allowed, yeah, I would love to win and sack myself.”
Image: Sophie Corcoran