Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Freedom of speech

Once again the world reels as the Oxford Union debates ! None of the reports tells us what the motion was nor the result of the vote upon it. There is so much confusion here. Of course Griffin and Irving have the same right to speak as anyone else, but that does not oblige the Oxford Union, a private members' debating society to provide them with a platform. As President of the older society, the Cambridge Union, I once invited a team from Cape Town University to debate, having first established that they were not touring to promote apartheid. I did this because whilst respecting the right of people to speak in support of apartheid, it was not our role as a private club to provide a platform for it. This is very different from the "no platform" policies of some students unions, publicly funded bodies which seek to deny the use of all academic facilities to people they disagree with.

Moreover, once the Oxford Union had decided to invite the racists, the students who rightly despise their views had every right to assemble and protest but NOT to stop them speaking. Why could the protestors not understand this ? Liberalism requires us all to resist our own illiberal tendencies as well as other people's.


Paul Walter said...

If you look on the Oxford Union web site you'll see there wasn't a motion - the agenda item was a discussion on the limits of free speech.

Jonny Wright said...

There wasn't officially a motion; it was a forum rather than a formal debate - we only have those once a week on Thursday nights. The topic was "The Limits of Free Speech".

In the end there wasn wasn't much of a debate anyway - the protesters delayed the event by nearly two hours, and once the speakers had had their say, there was only really time for a question and answer session. There wasn't a vote either.

David said...

Thanks to Paul and Jonny for the clarification.