The student ‘protest’ at Cambridge last night was deluded


8:50 am - November 23rd 2011

by Paul Sagar    


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Last night I intended to briefly join the protest at Cambridge University against Minister David Willetts. Arriving at the venue at 5.55pm, however, the protest was already over. So I decided to go inside and listen to the advertised speech and debate.

Willetts was introduced – with an explicit appeal for reasonable discussion – and the man himself took the stand.

But as he began speaking, he was immediately interrupted. A single individual – whom I shall not name – began shouting.

His every line was immediately repeated by 20-30 or so others. Thus began a long, ponderous series of declamations, bizarre poetic allegories, and varying denunciations of Willetts, his Government, the future of education, and everything in between.

Willetts could not get a word in edge ways. The tension in the room was dramatic. It felt like it went on and on. Shout then chant, shout then chant. What was probably only 7 or 8 minutes was experienced as 30.

When the “speech” from the floor was over, the instigators began chants of “Willetts Willetts Willets, Out Out Out”, and surged forward. They took the stage. Willetts had already left. The event was abandoned. A hundred or so other people were forced to exit without being able to voice their opinion or take part in the public debate they were invited to attend.

* * * * * *

I left the hall angry, disgusted and embarrassed. And I write as somebody who took part in the Cambridge Occupation last December, and has attended several recent protests against the Government’s cuts. I’ve been through my fair share of kettles and marches to get to this point.

This “action” was organised by Cambridge Defend Education. CDE claim to be upholders of free speech and democratic fairness. Yet they presumed to speak on behalf of myself and every other person in that room, whilst disregarding our rights, opinions, concerns and beliefs entirely.

CDE will no doubt claim that having a debate with Willetts was pointless anyway. As we all know, this Government has already decided what they are going to do, and public engagements are largely cosmetic PR exercises. So what, exactly, could be achieved by disrupting it so completely?

Firstly, it greatly offending and irritated all of those in the room who were not privy to CDE’s unilateral decision. The result was the wasting of their time and making them feel marginalised, and in many cases also very angry. It’s hardly a good strategy for winning friends.

Secondly, it allowed Willetts to leave Cambridge being able to claim that he’d tried to engage openly, but that irrational, unreasonable, selfish students had prevented any constructive dialogue. Anybody who thinks that this ‘action’ was a victory against Willetts is living in cloud cuckoo land.

There’s a considerable irony here too. One of CDE’s stated complaints about Willetts and his Government is that it is so sure of its own convictions they ride rough-shod over the opinions, concerns, rights and needs of others. And yet that is exactly what CDE did tonight.

It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority fraudulently passed off as bravery on behalf of others. Others were never consulted, engaged or allowed to speak for themselves.

A video of the ‘protest’

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Reader comments


1. So Much For Subtlety

It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority fraudulently passed off as bravery on behalf of others. Others were never consulted, engaged or allowed to speak for themselves.

I am mildly curious. As the OP has been on many similar protests, how does he judge when it is accepted to do this, and hence not selfish, indulgent and so on, and when it is not?

Read this quote from the OP:

“It was a show of disguised selfishness; the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority fraudulently passed off as bravery on behalf of others. Others were never consulted, engaged or allowed to speak for themselves.”

Mate, you’re not just talking about last night’s fiasco – you’re accurately describing almost all the student protests, the Occupy movement and the entirety of the smug, shrill, self-righteous and pitifully naive bollocks that is the middle class left in Britain today.

Last night you looked in the mirror.

Nice try but Willetts does not engage with opposing views.

4. Oliver Cromwell

This is for those who do not understand why students disrupted David Willetts’s “lecture” in Cambridge, and why similar disruptive extra-parliamentary political action is now necessary. In May 2010, an election was held in which two parties — Labour and the Liberal Democrats — both of which claimed to defend the NHS and to oppose any increase in student fees (indeed LibDems manifesto claimed to commit the party to abolishing fees altogether) won a virtual 2/3 majority of popular votes. The party which took power, however, was the Conservative party. The Conservatives with the Lib Dems, and against the will of the people, against the views of doctors, nurses, academics, students, all the stakeholders in health and education policy, have proceeded to force through parliament a system of extremist policies, policies which attack the foundation of the health of the polity and of British civilisation. It is the Con-Dems — the Conservatives by their ruthless insensitivity to public opinion, and the LibDems by their craven betrayal of their own principles — who have unbalanced the constitution. They have forced politics into the streets and public places, and are making ordinary citizens remind parliament that we have only delegated to them our own sovereignty. We invest our sovereignty in parliament, it does not belong there, when parliament acts abusively we retake our liberties by whatever means necessary. There remain large numbers of people who confuse the survival of theatres of dialogue like parliament, or lecture rooms at Cambridge, with democracy. Unfortunately, the platform offered to Willetts last night, and the whole theatre of “liberal debate” that was about to unfold, had only one possible consequence– which is why Willetts agreed to come — which is to add to the illusion that we have democratic government which attempts in any way to be accountable to the will of the people. For many academics, who themselves live in a world governed by real debate, and who have a certain vanity about their persuasive powers, there is the illusion that a few well-argued points can affect government policy. This government however listens only to the opinions of the wealthy individuals and corporate interests who buy a stake in policy making both at the ministerial and civil service levels. This is no longer business as usual in British democracy, and those who pretend it is are both deluding themselves and betraying their own civic responsibilities. There come times in the life of a people when the old manners no longer suit the need of the age. There are times for action in collective self-defence. This moment is one.

“It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place,which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice….
Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money…??Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.
I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.
Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. ??In the name of God, go!

5. Chaise Guevara

@ 2 Colin

“Mate, you’re not just talking about last night’s fiasco – you’re accurately describing almost all the student protests, the Occupy movement and the entirety of the smug, shrill, self-righteous and pitifully naive bollocks that is the middle class left in Britain today.”

Um, no, the OP is not in any way describing the majority of those groups. Peaceful protest does not prevent other people from thinking for themselves. Being middle class does not mean that you gag other human beings.

Perhaps next time you should read what you’re quoting before replying to it? That way you wouldn’t end up embarrassing yourself with a nonsensical attack crafted around an ad hom.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 4

” There remain large numbers of people who confuse the survival of theatres of dialogue like parliament, or lecture rooms at Cambridge, with democracy. Unfortunately, the platform offered to Willetts last night, and the whole theatre of “liberal debate” that was about to unfold, had only one possible consequence– which is why Willetts agreed to come — which is to add to the illusion that we have democratic government which attempts in any way to be accountable to the will of the people.”

If you object to the event, either boycott it or protest outside it. Don’t selfishly prevent other people from attempting to have a reasonable conversation. Objecting to someone’s motives for speaking doesn’t give you the right to drown out the debate, and you and the people involved in this are not the final arbiters of what can and cannot be said. Get over yourself.

7. Jason Scott-Warren

It wasn’t only students who were involved in this ‘protest'; several academics were involved too. I was one of them. I was told in advance (during the protest which began at 4.30) about what was planned, and when it started I joined in with the chant that drowned Willetts out.

Of course I have misgivings about the action, and a part of me wishes that this event could have been the ‘tough-and-tender’ exchange that the organizers of the event were hoping for. Perhaps there would even have been a book at the end of it, and Research Excellence brownie-points for all concerned. But fundamentally I believe that CDE was right to think that Willetts ought not to be given a platform in one of the institutions which he is currently doing so much to harm. You only have to read the interview with him at http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/nov/20/david-willetts-university-student-loans-debt to realise that he is living on a planet inhabited only by the super-rich–by students who earn £2,000 in their vacation and so choose to take out only a £7,000 loan on their £9,000 fees (did anyone ever hear about the cost of maintenance?). UCAS is reporting a 12% decline in University applications; many institutions have yet to set a fee, thanks to the government’s changing of the rules and rigging of the ‘market’ in the White Paper; and the White Paper has not yet been discussed, yet the legislation is already in place. Meanwhile the private companies that will take over Higher Education are picking over the corpse and dividing up the spoils. Willetts is presiding over the wholesale privatization of Higher Education, which will lead to the closure of innumerable venues of free inquiry–including the kind of venue he was invited to last night. He deserves nothing but contempt.

I hope those who are supportive of the ends of this protest but critical of its means will not be distracted, and will devote their energies to attacking the real enemy: a government with no democratic mandate for change destroying its public education system.

Commenters Colin & Cromwell deserve each other.

Jesus f*cking Christ, an academic (and from my own college too I discover after a quick google!) chooses to drown out a visiting speaker.

Perhaps I should pop into one of your lectures, Jason, and drown you out.

Meanwhile you could consult one of your colleagues in a more numerate discipline and you will discover that the student “loan” is nothing other than a (time-limited) graduate tax.

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 7

“I hope those who are supportive of the ends of this protest but critical of its means will not be distracted, and will devote their energies to attacking the real enemy: a government with no democratic mandate for change destroying its public education system.”

Yes, ok. But it would be helpful if we didn’t have you and your friends – people ostensibly on our side – trying to drown out debate and sneeringly dismissing the desire for a sensible discussion as a way to get “Research Excellence brownie-points”. Not only was this protest morally objectionable in its own right, it also couldn’t have played into government hands better if it had been arranged by Tory agents provocateur. It’s similar to the problems animal rights supporters have with PETA.

David Willets is an extremely thoughtful man whose book the Pinch is all about the raw deal handed out to the young by society, or rather by the previous generation. I don`t think that it is unreasonable for those who expect higher earnings to pay their own way if you take it in isolation .
If you read his own boo, about the appalling prospects face by the young though, he could hardly deny the aggregate injustice
They will not get pensions and yet they finance the absurdly generous final salary schemes of people who sit on unearnt Property capital even while they have no chance of buying property or getting much of a pension at all.
I have no sympathy for people who believe what the Lib Dems say, a long over due growing up process is all to the good there, nor do I think that students demanding value for money form Universities is a bad thing
As long as protest is hijacked by the usual incoherent lefty suspects it will fail and worse .
Students should be agitating for an end to a generational leech stuck to them by the Public Sector, for reduced taxes and more burden to be born by those on endless holidays at their expense. Many students share these views, and they should be quick to distance themselves from the , no doubt , drunken mob and their self-pitying inchoate whining .
Don`t like it ? Get a job.

“Nothing to get too upset about, young people to daft things”

If so, how come Norman Tebbit felt it necessary to disband the Federation of Conservative Students in 1986 when Mrs Thtacher was at full throttle? Surely, it wasn’t because the students in the federation were considered too “subversively left.”

As party leader, Iain Duncan Smith, suspended the Monday Club’s longstanding links with the party in October 2001, saying his party would have nothing to do with the organisation unless it stopped making “distasteful” remarks on race and immigration.

The Primrose League, so named to honour Disraeli’s notion of One Nation Conservatism, became inactive in the mid 1990s and was finally wound up in December 2004.

Which about says it all.

You’d better watch out, LC – I suspect someone is smearing Dr Jason Scott-Warren, Director of the Cambridge Centre for Material Texts by attaching his name to a Trot style justification for the intimidation and no-platforming that took place last night.

If I held a fellowship at Caius and was accused of behaving like a brownshirt and denying free speech to a senior politician, I’d sue.

No harm done shutting down a debate with the Tories, because they don’t care and they don’t listen. No good done either, because protests achieve nothing. When the weather improves there’ll no doubt be some more rioting. And when the next election comes the moronic Tory and Lib Dem twunts can be put to the sword. But until then we just have to swallow their crap.

People in this country have had a short, sharp, refresher course in why voting Conservative is political suicide for this country*. Let’s hope we’re never so foolhardy as to let the venal swine back in again.

*Possibly literally, as it seems likely this particular clown car of Conservatives may actually be responsible for the break up of the United Kingdom.

Colon, the only person accusing him of ‘intimidation’, ‘behaving like a brownshirt’, and ‘denying free speech to a senior politician’ is you. So your comment is actually a recommendation that he sues you. Well maybe he will.

Other people are simply concerned about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the protest.

Jason and Oliver –

But fundamentally I believe that CDE was right to think that Willetts ought not to be given a platform in one of the institutions which he is currently doing so much to harm.

And to make this decision on behalf of everyone who wanted to hear him speak? How condescending.

This is no longer business as usual in British democracy, and those who pretend it is are both deluding themselves and betraying their own civic responsibilities. There come times in the life of a people when the old manners no longer suit the need of the age. There are times for action in collective self-defence. This moment is one.

Dear God – I’m sure you’re right that collegial debate isn’t an effective tactic but, still, neither is half-baked Churchillian/Cromwellian waffle.

17. Biffy Dunderdale

And you wonder why a left-wing government hasn’t been voted in by the populace for decades….

RIght, on this issue of “no platform”, I’m going to copy and paste (anonymously) what somebody else has said to me elsewhere, which hits the nail rather on the head:

one way of thinking about the gulf between reasonable direct action of this kind and the situation last night is to think about the No Platform slogan. As I understand things, the point about No Platform was specifically to deny platforms to *fascists* in *student unions* because of concerns about the *physical safety* of, e.g., black and gay students.

Now I’ve seen the language of No Platform used in this argument — one of the supportive dons uses it in the comment thread that’s developing over at Liberal Conspiracy, for example. And it just takes a moment to see how disanalagous the cases are: Willetts isn’t a fascist, by any stretch of the imagination; this isn’t about a student union managing its own affairs democratically, but about a handful of students trying to tell other people (in this case, CRASSH) who they can and can’t have as invited speakers (in a university that, quite rightly, is publicly committed to robust norms of free speech); and while the stakes are high in the political row concerning the future of the university system, you just can’t make the kinds of arguments about physical safety that have traditionally been used to defend the No Platform approach.

So there’s a tremendous disanalogy, and yet we’re seeing the language of No Platform being wheeled out, in a way that suggests people just aren’t thinking about what they’re saying. But–as I said above–if you’re going physically to prevent a meeting taking place at a *university* (of all places!), you need to have thought really, really carefully about what you’re doing. And I don’t see any evidence that yesterday’s protestors have been.”

Not originally my words, but I wish they were.

“Not only was this protest morally objectionable in its own right, it also couldn’t have played into government hands better if it had been arranged by Tory agents provocateur.”

This.

David Willets is actually one of the sane tories, and – as paul has pointed out -has a good record on a willingness to think about issues effecting people who don’t have trust funds or the bank of mum and dad to help them. The far more effective protest would have been to ask difficult questions within the context of the event and put him under proper scrutiny. 10 well crafted questions one after the other, forcing him onto the defensive, then put on you-tube, would have been a far better tactic.

Jason Scott-Warren: But fundamentally I believe that CDE was right to think that Willetts ought not to be given a platform in one of the institutions which he is currently doing so much to harm.

It’s one thing to think that Willetts shouldn’t have been invited in the first place; it’s quite another to think that an appropriate reaction to that thought is to try to shut down the meeting and prevent it taking place, which is what happened.

And since you’re hinting at the language of No Platform here, just consider how inappropriate it is in this context. The usual argument is to deny platforms to *fascists* in *student unions* because of concerns about the *physical safety* of, e.g., black and gay students. And it only takes a moment to see how disanalagous the cases are: Willetts isn’t a fascist, by any stretch of the imagination; this isn’t about a student union managing its own affairs democratically, but about a handful of students (and a few dons, apparently) trying to tell other people (in this case, CRASSH) who they can and can’t have as invited speakers (in a university that, quite rightly, is publicly committed to robust norms of free speech); and while the stakes are high in the political row concerning the future of the university system, one just can’t make the kinds of arguments about physical safety that have traditionally been used to defend the No Platform approach.

So there’s a tremendous disanalogy, and yet we’re seeing the language of No Platform being wheeled out, in a way that suggests people just aren’t thinking about what they’re saying. That’s bad enough on its own, in a university. But that this should happen in the context of closing down a meeting because of disagreements with the speaker, who he is, and what he represents, is just shameful.

21. Torquil Macneil

Over at his own blog (Bad Conscience) Paul Sagar has posted the text of the protest ‘chant’ that was used to disrupt this meeting and it is truly, excrutiatingly, embarrassing; infantile, preetntious and illiterate. As Chaise says above, this hands so much rhetorical ammunition to those who want to say ‘see! this is how money spent onso-called universities is being wasted’.

students who earn £2,000 in their vacation and so choose to take out only a £7,000 loan on their £9,000 fees (did anyone ever hear about the cost of maintenance?).

You presumably know that the fees aren’t charged up front? Or are academic standards in Tabland falling further than even I had thought?

@17

“And you wonder why a left-wing government hasn’t been voted in by the populace for decades….”

You must be hallucinating because I’ve never seen a single real left-wing government in this country.

@buddyhell – and yet, we are told, The People secretly wants a True Left Wing Government, deep down. It just keeps not voting for one.

Hmmmmmmm.

@4

“In May 2010, an election was held in which two parties — Labour and the Liberal Democrats — both of which claimed to defend the NHS and to oppose any increase in student fees”

You’re an idiot if you think Labour was committed to opposing any increase in fees after they’d commissioned the Browne Review and had already broken two separate promises not to introduce or increase fees. Labour’s opposition to the government’s new fees system was purely out of political opportunism.

Oliver Cromwell

Perhaps you and others who question the government’s ‘mandate’ might reflect on the fact that the changes to university fees etc do not apply in Scotland, and that the Conservatives (on their own) won 40% of the popular vote in England at the last election. Labour managed only 28%. The people of England spoke clearly enough.

buddyhell @ 3:

“Willetts does not engage with opposing views”

Trying reading his book, ‘The Pinch’, and you’ll see that’s just not true.

Oh sorry OP, were you expecting to hear anything different from the party line.

@27

You wrote:
“Trying reading his book, ‘The Pinch’, and you’ll see that’s just not true”

Willetts is committed to the continued marketisation of the HE sector. His performances on Newsnight do not suggest that he’s about to retreat from this deeply-entrenched neoliberal position.

No Platform-a tactic designed to fight Neo-Nazis- needs the formal consensus of a student body or institution to be meaningful. The fact that it can otherwise become a post hoc justification for any sort of stunt is one reason why I query its effectiveness. In any case, Willetts should really have been grilled, so to speak, by the audience.

@4 I’m sure you are aware that OC’s breaking up of the Rump Parliament (being the occasion of that speech) was viewed by many contemporary radicals as a downright bad idea.

My Lord Protector @ 4:

“is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place,which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice….
Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money…??Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do.
I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place.
Go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. ??In the name of God, go!”

So what, you want to get rid of Parliament and replace it with an appointed dictator?

@18 – So Willetts isn’t a fascist? Well, then your correspondent should be congratulated for getting right to the crux of an argument that nobody has made.

“Now I’ve seen the language of No Platform used in this argument”

No, you’ve seen the word “platform” used in this argument. Nowhere has anyone said that the speech was disrupted for the same reasons that fascists are given the no platform treatment. A more productive course would be to engage with what JSW, e.g., has actually said, rather than with figments of your imagination.

SMFS: “I am mildly curious. As the OP has been on many similar protests, how does he judge when it is accepted to do this, and hence not selfish, indulgent and so on, and when it is not?”

As you probably already know, most protests do not take the form of shouting down legitimate public debates and attempting to block opponents’ freedom of speech. That’s why this particular protest is being condemned.

Anna Fleur: “Oh sorry OP, were you expecting to hear anything different from the party line.”

In which case – as Paul Sagar already says – why bother to disrupt it? Just don’t attend it? Perhaps some more intelligent students from the faculty could have asked him difficult questions, put him on the spot, and circulated a video showing journalists how it’s done.

Just a thought… after all, heaven forfend that students actually engage in critical discussion. Much better to shout isn’t it?

I’m sypathetic to the student cause but childish tactics like these convince only the small, already converted, minority.

David Wearing: No, you’ve seen the word “platform” used in this argument. Nowhere has anyone said that the speech was disrupted for the same reasons that fascists are given the no platform treatment. A more productive course would be to engage with what JSW, e.g., has actually said, rather than with figments of your imagination.

Well, this isn’t true, as it happens. I work here in Cambridge, and I’m trying to pay attention to what people are and aren’t saying about the disruption of Willetts’s talk, and the reason I was thinking about No Platform, and the question of whether a similar justification could be used for what happened yesterday, was in the first instance because of a comment like this, left on the Cambridge Defend Education Facebook page in support of what happened yesterday:

*** CUSU ‘No Platform’ policy: bans ‘attempts by any organization within Cambridge University to provide a platform to any group deemed to pose a very real threat to the welfare of our members’- If thats not a description of what the government’s plans to saddle students with £50,000+ of debt (plus interest), i dont know what is. ***

So at least one person has been explicitly linking this to No Platform.

And when people like JSW say that what they believe “fundamentally” is that “that Willetts ought not to be given a platform in one of the institutions which he is currently doing so much to harm”, or when Lorna Finlayson (as it happens, a colleague, whom I very much like and respect) says (on the Cambridge Tab website) that, “The argument that we have a debate has ceased to be relevant… it is irresponsible of us to allow him to have a platform”, they’re invoking the No Platform tradition, just by using words and phrasing like that, and they’re at least implicitly inviting us to think about whether there is a justification to shutting down the meeting of comparable strength to the one that is generally employed by partisans of No Platform in its original context of preventing fascist meetings on campus. And my thought is that there isn’t, when we reflect on the scale of the disanalogies involved.

I’m happy to think about alternative justifications for what happened yesterday. But so far the reasons I’m seeing — things like “but there weren’t any students invited to talk in the CRASSH series on The Idea of a University”, or, “Willetts is doing damaging things to the universities and to future generations of students”, or, “the Con Dem government doesn’t have a proper democratic mandate”, or “this isn’t a real debate, minds are already made up” — don’t come close (it seems to me) to justifying this elementary violation of free speech on a university campus. But, yeah, if there’s a stronger argument, I’d quite like to know what it is.

“Nowhere has anyone said that the speech was disrupted for the same reasons that fascists are given the no platform treatment.”

No, indeed not.
It was disrupted for much less serious reasons.

“Nowhere has anyone said that the speech was disrupted for the same reasons that fascists are given the no platform treatment.”

No, indeed not.
It was disrupted for much less serious reasons.

38. So Much For Subtlety

33. jungle

As you probably already know, most protests do not take the form of shouting down legitimate public debates and attempting to block opponents’ freedom of speech. That’s why this particular protest is being condemned.

Similar protests. That is why I used the word similar. Because this sort of tactic is extremely common on the Left. It is their signature in fact. If someone is shouted down, you can be sure the people doing it are on the Left. Almost all of the time.

So when is it acceptable to refuse to allow civilised debate to take place?

This shows the “thin edge of the wedge” problem – tactics that were originally designed for extremists (and used by other extremists ironically) have become mainstream. And of course it shows the inherently totalitarian mind set of some.

@35

Thanks. This only reinforces my point that “nowhere has anyone said that the speech was disrupted for the same reasons that fascists are given the no platform treatment”, namely the “physical safety” issues mentioned in the comment I was referring to.

Sorry, Chris, but this strikes me as pretty tenuous stuff. Read your own words:

they’re at least implicitly inviting us to think about whether there is a justification to shutting down the meeting of comparable strength to the one that is generally employed by partisans of No Platform in its original context of preventing fascist meetings on campus.

And with that straw man constructed….

my thought is that there isn’t, when we reflect on the scale of the disanalogies involved.

The direct action – it seems to me – was designed to draw further public attenion to an attack on education whose full implications have yet to be truly appreciated or understood by much of the public, and may not be until its far too late. I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that Willetts may yet have the opportunity to speak in public at some future point in his career. His right to free speech may just be safe. The right of successive future generations – many millions – to a decent education, is not. Thanks to him.

Now, I’m not 100% sold on this form of protest myself. But given what’s at stake, I think its critics are going to have to come up with a darn sight better that what I’ve seen so far, which is pretty thin, it has to be said.

@SMFS: “That is why I used the word similar. Because this sort of tactic is extremely common on the Left. It is their signature in fact.”

Quite so. The National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s and the British Union of Fascists are prime examples.

OTOH Nicholas Ridley was forced into resigning as DTI minister for that interview in the Spectator in September 1990 in which he described the then proposed Economic and Monetary Union in Europe as “a German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe.” It rather looks as though someone was trying to shut him up when John Major put the Pound into the European Exchange Rate Mechansim in October 1990.

Btw why was it that Norman Tebbit disbanded the Federation of Conservative Students in 1986?

41. Mark Carrigan

“the indulgence of a self-satisfied moral superiority”

pot. kettle. black?

42. So Much For Subtlety

40. Bob B

Quite so. The National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s and the British Union of Fascists are prime examples.

We could have an argument about the Leftist nature of the Fascists, but instead I will point out that your argument relies on examples that are 60 years old.

Not exactly compelling is it?

David: thanks for this. We aren’t going to persuade one another, so I won’t drag this out. But just to say that I don’t think the argument that Willetts’s free speech isn’t affected because he has other platforms is a good one. When he accepted the invitation from CRASSH to speak, and showed up at the right place and time, then he had a right to address his audience, and they had a right to hear what he had to say. There was also, of course, a right to protest, but that doesn’t extend to closing down the meeting. Whether he has platforms available to him elsewhere just isn’t relevant. And perhaps you’re right, that the meeting was closed down in order to attract publicity to a worthwhile cause. But that seems to me simply to be an inadequate justification. Speech in general–political speech and speech on a university campus in particular–deserves more respect and more protection than that. Even David Willetts’s.

What a stupid act. If Willetts is so wrong, then let him speak and the world will see he’s wrong. Shutting down debate plays into the hands of those who prefer violence.

I’ve just been watching You Tube clips of agent provocateurs in the recent demonstrations. The state fights dirty, and can do so, safe in the knowledge that even emptying a clip into an innocent man’s head will not be judged unlawful (the state is the judge).

These two things (agents provocateurs and the incident in Cambridge) may seem unconnected, but to me they are both examples of using the power of the mob.

@ 40 Bob B,

It was disbanded because it was seen as a liability, calling for legalising drugs for one thing, I don’t know what else.

46. Leon Wolfson

I see absolutely no evidence to “engaging” any ConDem’s in debate. There is no chance of a reasonable conversation with backstabbing demagogues. Let them use their own platforms for their propaganda.

If they’re idiotic enough to be humiliated like this, then they deserve what they get.

@11 – “David Willets is an extremely thoughtful man ”

Is that what an evil backstabbing anti-British politician is in your book, I see. Just like you. Your raw hatred for this country is palpable in your raging against anyone who dares disagree with your ;line, as you plant the banner of the 1% firmly on it’s corpse, and scream “get a job” at the poor, as you strangle the job market with your other hand.

Tory Troll, go to ConHome.

@18 – Of course you’re all for your neo-Fascist buddies speaking.

47. Leon Wolfson

@19 – If he was sane, he would not be in this government, sharing collective responsibility for it’s actions. You cannot phase people who have no sense of shame and an absolute belief in their own rectitude, like this government.

@22 – Incorrect. The fees ARE charged up-front. And if the payments are anything like as “prompt” as they have been in recent years, then 10-20% of the students will be left without the cash for several weeks each time a payment’s due, and it’ll be for a much larger amount (and hence far less students will be able to stump up the cash!)

The expectation from the government is that non-paying students will need to be allowed access, creating an expensive administrative nightmare for universities.

@27 – Oh yes, the amazing “buy the book” tactic. If he was serious about the ideas, he’d be releasing them for debate, not building up his retirement fund with book cash. He’s already paid to be a MP.

@38 – That’s right, it shows your mindset, that you’re unable to understand the extreme nature of the damage being done to the UK University system, where many top-rated departments are now being wound down.

@40 – No Neo-Fascists are to the left, not them, not you, Mr. Scottish Menace.

@44 – Oh, you mean you advocate the police beating and torturing people who don’t want to allow extremists to speak. Nice.

@46 Leon,

although the word ‘liberal’ has gone through some changes over the years, it still contains the principle of preferring peace to war and dialogue to mob rule. Nothing was gained by preventing Willetts speaking, other than to piss off the people who wanted to hear what he had to say and indeed hold him to account.

Added to this is the creepiness of how it was done; a bunch of drones repeating what the leader said.

49. Churm Rincewind

Come, come. This was a thoughtful and well-argued OP, from one who wasn’t writing in support of Willetts’ or Government education policies – rather the reverse.

The question is whether anyone has the right to shut down reasonable and peaceful debate between other willing participants, and the answer surely must be no.

@ 47 Leon, I see your comment directed at me, and I remember that there’s no point engaging you in debate. You haven’t really got the hang of this blogging/commenting thing, have you?

David

The direct action – it seems to me – was designed to draw further public attenion to an attack on education whose full implications have yet to be truly appreciated or understood by much of the public, and may not be until its far too late.

By shouting someone down with a poem that – let’s face it – would have made Neil Milne Johnston of Redbridge look like Shakespeare? Well, it takes all sorts, and as I’m not a part of the campaign it’s not my place to advise it. Still, I’d think that if you’re trying to appeal to the public you should do something that they’d find, well – appealing.

Paul

Don`t like it ? Get a job.

I dropped out of uni and tried to get a job. 60 applications later I’ve only heard back from one – and even that came to nothing. I suspect I’m not alone.

Leon

I see absolutely no evidence to “engaging” any ConDem’s in debate. There is no chance of a reasonable conversation with backstabbing demagogues. Let them use their own platforms for their propaganda.

That may be your opinion but it doesn’t give you the right to decide they mustn’t speak on someone else’s platform.

Oh, you mean you advocate the police beating and torturing people who don’t want to allow extremists to speak. Nice.

No. No, he doesn’t. So calm down or, at least, stop wearing out our irony chips in accusing other people of “scream[ing]” and “rag[ing]“.

52. Jason Scott-Warren

to cjcjc:

“Perhaps I should pop into one of your lectures, Jason, and drown you out.

Meanwhile you could consult one of your colleagues in a more numerate discipline and you will discover that the student “loan” is nothing other than a (time-limited) graduate tax.”

cjcjc, whoever you may be, if you ever get as angry with me as I have become with David Willetts, I invite you to come and drown out one of my lectures.

Meanwhile, maybe you could read the interview to which I gave the URL earlier, which will show you that even Willetts himself does not believe his claim that the student “loan” is a time-limited graduate tax. If it were, why would a student who had worked during the vacation and earned £2,000 opt to reduce their loan for that year by £2,000 to £7,000? The whole logic of the loan system is to create a market in higher education, with some providers undercutting others, and students choosing how much debt they care to incur. It is becoming clear that students will be able to pay upfront, and that will create a divide between those who are accruing debts and those who are not, with still others relying on charitable handouts.

to Tim J:

“‘students who earn £2,000 in their vacation and so choose to take out only a £7,000 loan on their £9,000 fees (did anyone ever hear about the cost of maintenance?).’

You presumably know that the fees aren’t charged up front? Or are academic standards in Tabland falling further than even I had thought?”

See above. This is nothing to do with a decline in academic standards, it’s to do with the incoherence of government policy.

to the many posts re ‘No Platform': I think I was wrong to use that turn of phrase. It was good that CRASSH invited Willetts, good that there was open admission to the event, and good that a protest was allowed to occur.

to BenSix:

“And to make this decision on behalf of everyone who wanted to hear him speak? How condescending.”

& to Torquil mcneil:

Over at his own blog (Bad Conscience) Paul Sagar has posted the text of the protest ‘chant’ that was used to disrupt this meeting and it is truly, excrutiatingly, embarrassing; infantile, preetntious and illiterate. As Chaise says above, this hands so much rhetorical ammunition to those who want to say ‘see! this is how money spent onso-called universities is being wasted’.

& to Simon Goldhill (on the New Statesman website):

“The university is nothing if not a place for the free and frank exchange of critical ideas. This was an attempt to stop the exchange of ideas, and was done against the overwhelming wish of the majority of people in the hall. It was made in the name of the values of the university, but distorted and destroyed those values. It was politically not just misguided by giving all the strong lines to Willetts, but the sort of totalitarian behaviour that we all should hate. In the name of giving voice to their so-called non hierarchical and open views they refused to let anyone who disagreed with them speak. You cannot shag for chastity.”

Have none of these people ever heard of protest? Protest is condescending, protest is excruciating, protest is misguided. Protest involves abandoning some of your most cherished principles, screwing up other people’s lives, shouting rather than talking, joining in with a crowd (which is always in danger of looking like a mob) rather than expressing your own nuanced opinions, venting your anger rather than engaging in ‘the free and frank exchange of ideas’. I’ve been involved in several protests in my academic career; I’ve always hated it, and I’ve always thought that it was absolutely worthwhile. Who decides what is justified and what is unjustified protest? I don’t pretend to know.

What I do strongly suspect is that all the talk of ‘free speech’ that has circulated around this action is the purest hot air. As is visible from their policy on education, health, the environment, there is only one kind of speech that counts to our current government and that is definitely not free. It’s all about money and the desire to open up new markets for profit-making ‘providers’. Anyone who is concerned about David Willetts’ right to free speech can read the appalling White Paper at http://discuss.bis.gov.uk/hereform/white-paper/ Enough said, for a lifetime.

@ 52,

it’s not about Willetts’ right to free speech, it’s about you and others preventing other people hearing what he has to say. He loses nothing. He wins the debate by default.

Jason-Scott-Warren

Have none of these people ever heard of protest? Protest is condescending, protest is excruciating, protest is misguided.

As far as I’m aware, protest is also supposed to be useful. I won’t bang on about this too much because, again, it’s not my fight to, er – fight, but it seems to me that there are two uses of protest: protest as resistance and protest as propaganda. If this was a case of the latter it was useless as it seemed thuggish and humourless. (Such claims always risk assuming that one’s own perceptions are universal, yes, but I invite you to imagine how someone who wasn’t terribly acquainted with the education cuts would feel if they saw a speech interrupted by a bunch of students grimly chanting, “The university is no motor vehicle“. I’d propose the average Brit’s reaction won’t be, “Why, they’re right! It’s NOT a motor vehicle!“.) If it’s the former then, well, what has it achieved? Willetts abandoned a speech that would have been of no real consequence and the students have bad publicity.

As for the idea that protest must be “excruciating” and about “venting your anger”, well, I’m not sure it does. Look at the silent protest of the Yank students against their university’s President. It was brilliant, and while not, of course, fitting for every occasion, got them loads of splendid publicity. Or how about the Yes Men? They’re drawn loads of attention to issues that might otherwise have put yer average citizen to sleep because they’re so innovative and entertaining.

Again, it’s not really my business. But I’d say to you that if Paul Sagar and Chris Brooke aren’t impressed – two guys as liable to express sympathy for David Willetts as a Scouser is for Alex Ferguson – Phil Scroggins from Burnley and Annie Mitchell from Exmouth aren’t going to be sympathetic.

The question is whether anyone has the right to shut down reasonable and peaceful debate between other willing participants, and the answer surely must be no.

This.

Jason,

No, protest does not involve “abandoning some of your most cherished principles”. Of course it doesn’t. Get a grip. Or, rather, if it does, this strongly suggests that you’re easily led by a crowd, and that you’re not cherishing your most cherished principles enough. Ditto for “condescending”, “excruciating”, “misguided”. Anyone who hangs out at Liberal Conspiracy will be able to think of loads of protests that are none of these things. It’s not hard. (It’s true that the video of the chanting is excruciating, but that’s everything to do with the chant, and nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of protest more generally.)

And then you ask, “Who decides what is justified and what is unjustified protest? I don’t pretend to know.” Well, that’s nice and humble and sceptical of you, but—just as you’re somehow supremely confident that my talk of free speech is “purest hot air” (thanks for that)—I’m tolerably confident you know more than you let on. Of *course* you have views about what’s justified, and what’s not justified. Had someone shot Willetts last night, and killed him, as part of the protest, would you be here saying, well, who am I to say what’s justified protest? Only if you were a monster, or an idiot. So we do what we always do in these situations, which is to think about what we’re doing, and what other people are doing, and exchange reasons about why we think certain things are justifiable and certain things aren’t.

These rhetorical moves–”protest means abandoning cherished principles”, “I don’t pretend to know”–look to me like ways of trying to slough off responsibility for what you took part in yesterday, which was—to repeat—to help to close down a peaceful meeting on a university campus, against the will of the organisers, the speaker, and most of the audience. In other words, behaviour we generally associate with fascists and thugs. And I can see why you might want to play down your responsibility–after all, if you did join in with the chanting, then you were shouting about how Willetts was violating “all codes of hospitality”, when it’s pretty obvious to anyone who looks at the video just who was being inhospitable, and why.

I thought last year’s occupation here in Cambridge was, all things considered, a splendid affair. Quite why the movement has degenerated to this, just twelve months later, is anyone’s guess.

(Jason: you only said “strongly suspect”, so my “supremely confident” is overstated. Apologies.)

58. Leon Wolfson

@50 – You’ve got a good grasp of being unable to answer criticism, you mean.

“Nothing was gained by preventing Willetts speaking”

Of course there is. Stopping people with no shame from pushing propaganda is ALWAYS worthwhile. The ONLY possible outcomes are either zero or damage to the credibility of the institution. No platform for extremists means just that.

@55 – Assumption – “reasonable”. ConDem policy has no connection with reason, only ideology, so…

I’m amazed at the people who are upset, frankly. Go post something left-wing over on ConHome and see how fast you get banned. The right are quite willing to shut down discourse, and we must not give them any platform which they can’t seize.

I remember writing an article titled – ‘the student movement is dead’.

Perhaps I should have titled it ‘the student movement is turning into a parody of itself’.

60. Luis enrique

Chris @56

** applause **

OP – you saw the true face of the occupy movement. Have a look on the net at the protest against Karl Rove. Just a load of middle class students with a hard on for Castro. Just ignore these people, like 99% of us do.

62. Leon Wolfson

@59 – Oh yes, I’m sure the left will, once more, imitate the French revolution by eating it’s children. Except before it takes power, not afterwards.

This kind of thread makes the right laugh their heads off, confident that they can control the discourse around their end, and that the left won’t stop them pushing their propaganda either.

Chris @56 – brilliant.

Sunny @59 – indeed!

Alas as Jason and David sadly demonstrate this tendency is not limited just to the undergraduates, though I suppose David is a kind of perpetual student.

64. Anon E Mouse

Leon Wolfson – Do you ever do any work or is it your job to smear people in public forums at every opportunity?

Get a grip man – blocking freedom of speech is never acceptable…

The default reaction of most people has been to criticize the students for not upholding the freedom of speech tradition. To me, as someone who does not frequently find himself thinking about such philosophical subjects, this is puzzling for the following reasons:

1. Isn’t that right just what the students are trying to defend? If anyone thinks that after going down the market forces route, there will remain any ‘freedom of speech’ in universities I have a very attractive Nigerian investment opportunity for them. Talk to people who have been denied tenure in prestigeous US schools because they signed particular petitions.

2. Did the protesters actually take Willetts’ right to speak away from him? This man is a government minister. He has the media standing by his doorstep 24/7. Every word of his is carried by prestigeous publications. More importantly, the students and Willetts are in a highly unequal relationship. It is not a matter of denying the right of the BNP or some rabid Mosque Imam to free speech. They have no power over the students. Willetts does, and has shown it by the way he has shoved the changes down our throats, whether we like it or not. If someone abuses his or her position (by no stretch of imagination did the people give him a mandate to triple tuition fees) so blatantly, and with such utter disregard to our rights, are we still obliged to let him deliver sermons on the opposite to us? Wouldn’t listening to Willetts amount to legitimizing his changes – he can then go and enter this ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’ as a consultative exercise in his ledger. Aren’t the colonized justified in telling the colonizer to piss off? Willetts has already screwed the university enough, do we now have to show him respect too?

Never write again you fucking hack.

Yossarian,

Did the protesters actually take Willetts’ right to speak away from him?

He was unable to speak without being drowned out, so yes they did in that instance.

… are we still obliged to let him deliver sermons on the opposite to us?

If someone has invited him to speak and there is an audience that wants to listen, what gives us the ‘right’ to interfere?

Wouldn’t listening to Willetts amount to legitimizing his changes – he can then go and enter this ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’ as a consultative exercise in his ledger.

Of course it doesn’t legitimise the changes.

… Willetts has already screwed the university enough, do we now have to show him respect too?

We don’t have to show him respect – we don’t even have to turn up to the ‘debate’. What we ought to do, though, is to give consenting adults the freedom to speak and listen.

@27

Ah, the old “buy the book” schtick. You said that cognizant of the fact that I did not own the book nor would I be likely to rush out and buy it.

69. Chaise Guevara

@ 46 Leon

“If they’re idiotic enough to be humiliated like this, then they deserve what they get.”

But anyone could be treated this way, regardless of whether they’re idiotic. All it takes is a bunch of arrogant morons deciding to use bullying tactics to fuck up everyone else’s day. As happened here. Stephen Hawking could have been humiliated the same way, and presumably would be if he ever came to Cambridge to say something that these “protesters” disagreed with – does that make him an idiot?

70. Chaise Guevara

@ 66 Durr

“Never write again you fucking hack.”

Thanks for that insightful and well-reasoned comment. We stand in awe.

I remember writing an article titled – ‘the student movement is dead’.

Perhaps I should have titled it ‘the student movement is turning into a parody of itself’.

To be fair to all concerned, the student movement has been a parody of itself all along. Worse: it’s been a parody of student movements in other countries – which is why the most memorable student protests were against the Vietnam War, and why aging hippies still like to call themselves soixante-huitards.

72. Leon Wolfson

@69 – No, intelligent people don’t walk into the den of the enemy.

But keep on arguing that we need to give the right every chance to propagandise to the left, while they deny any return opportunities for even reasonable debate.

73. mustafa mohamed

I will have to be the sorry soul who must suggest to you your own insignificance, it doesn’t matter how angry you are Willets doesn’t care about that either. We don’t need to make friends we need to take care of enemies. The shifting sentiments of a few people here and there won’t make this white paper unworkable. Our greatest mistake is we have not legally and within office hours of course not taken advantage of the network of student around the country to personally harass and make engagements impossible for all the architects, supporting mps and commissioners of this policy…

Yossarian,

The default reaction of most people has been to criticize the students for not upholding the freedom of speech tradition. To me, as someone who does not frequently find himself thinking about such philosophical subjects, this is puzzling for the following reasons:

1. Isn’t that right just what the students are trying to defend? If anyone thinks that after going down the market forces route, there will remain any ‘freedom of speech’ in universities I have a very attractive Nigerian investment opportunity for them. Talk to people who have been denied tenure in prestigeous US schools because they signed particular petitions.

Were they told that directly (although please note that somehow under our equality legislation it is still allowed to discriminate against political beliefs)? Anyway, I think you fail to understand what makes a university marketable, which is not conformity to a political ideal (show me one good university in a totalitarian regime…) but exchange of ideas. Whilst you might not get tenure (not really a UK concept, but still) due to actions that might bring the University into disrepute, which might include signing a petition, this would in itself normally most likely be more disreputable for the University.

2. Did the protesters actually take Willetts’ right to speak away from him? This man is a government minister. He has the media standing by his doorstep 24/7. Every word of his is carried by prestigeous publications. More importantly, the students and Willetts are in a highly unequal relationship. It is not a matter of denying the right of the BNP or some rabid Mosque Imam to free speech. They have no power over the students. Willetts does, and has shown it by the way he has shoved the changes down our throats, whether we like it or not. If someone abuses his or her position (by no stretch of imagination did the people give him a mandate to triple tuition fees) so blatantly, and with such utter disregard to our rights, are we still obliged to let him deliver sermons on the opposite to us? Wouldn’t listening to Willetts amount to legitimizing his changes – he can then go and enter this ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’ as a consultative exercise in his ledger. Aren’t the colonized justified in telling the colonizer to piss off? Willetts has already screwed the university enough, do we now have to show him respect too?

Interpreting this incident through the lense of colonialism? Novel, but I think you forget that the Cambridge students will in part go on to form exactly the governing class that Mr Willetts now represents, so this analysis appears to collapse when you realise that both Mr Willetts (a Cambridge graduate I believe?) and the protestors are all colonisers – just of different camps.

That is however not the point. For some reason, you assume that David Willetts, the minister and the man, may not speak at a particular occasion because he can speak elsewhere using other media. But by that logic, so long as David Willetts, the man, is allowed to speak in some way to one other person, he can be stopped from exercising freedom of speech at any other point. And what holds for one man, David Willetts, holds equally good for any other man or woman. Should Sunny be denied the right to express his views here because he can do it on Pickled Politics? Free speech is an absolute (yes, there are the issues of safety and libel, but neither are relevant here) – it cannot be constrained because it can be exercised elsewhere, because then it is not free speech, but conditional speech.

From experience of similiar people, many of the protesters chanting there might pay lip service to free speech, but would most likely happily ban certain things from being said. That belief is theirs to hold, and can be expressed as they like. But it is not really defensible in terms of free speech. You might construct an argument based on morals or the like, but that way lies tyranny.

Leon,

But keep on arguing that we need to give the right every chance to propagandise to the left, while they deny any return opportunities for even reasonable debate.

If you base your position on partisan judgements, rather than principles, are you not going to end up with a less pleasant position, whichever party wins?

76. Leon Wolfson

@75 – So the principle is to surrender? Sigh.

52/Jason Scott Warren: If it were, why would a student who had worked during the vacation and earned £2,000 opt to reduce their loan for that year by £2,000 to £7,000?

It would be incredibly bad financial planning for a student to reduce their loan rather than take the money now. £2k would be about 5% of the total loan value (before interest) on a 3-year degree, assuming maintenance loans are also taken, which means that anyone repaying their loan fast enough for that extra £2k to make a difference must be earning enough to repay £2k+interest in at most 1.5 years (5% of 30 years). That would require a salary, in today’s money, of around £44k/year (top 10%ish) on average over the next 30 years.

Anyone earning less than top 10% average (which probably implies at least top 5% peak) for 30 years will make exactly the same repayments whether or not they pay £2k now. So clearly for them “pay £2k now” = “(indirectly) give the government £2k as a gift now”.

Anyone earning more than top 10% average (at least top 5% peak) is at least somewhat rich, and I’m not going to lose sleep over them having to (indirectly) pay the government an extra £2k+interest one year in taxes. In fact – tax the rich – I quite approve. Paying the government £2k now gets them out of that £2k+interest future tax liability in 30 years time, but the ROI on that is at best terrible, so they shouldn’t do it either.

The whole logic of the loan system is to create a market in higher education,

The original Browne plan had that logic – sort of – though the fact that students weren’t paying directly with money but instead with potential future income tax liabilities meant that the market would have been incredibly distorted even so, and it would basically have become a scam for students and universities to get free money from the government.

After the coalition got their hands on it and rewrote it, all the “market” elements were gone, because they kept the fixed HEFCE-enforced cap on home UG student numbers. With that cap – which is below the level of demand – there’s no market at all. The Conservatives may have been persuaded to pass the plan with talk of markets, but there’s no actual market in there.

78. Chaise Guevara

@ 72 Leon

“No, intelligent people don’t walk into the den of the enemy.”

Ah, so the smart response is not to talk to people who disagree with you, is it?

“But keep on arguing that we need to give the right every chance to propagandise to the left, while they deny any return opportunities for even reasonable debate.”

But you’re not in favour of reasonable debate, as evidenced by your post. So you’ve got no right to whinge.

Leon,

So the principle is to surrender? Sigh.

No – the principle is to defend principles against partisan logic. Left and right (or even right and wrong) are simply judgements. Free speech is a principle. I would oppose right-wingers wanting to stop you spouting your normal uninformed unsupported opinions, because that would be against the principle of free speech. You however seem to think that stopping those you disagree with from sprouting their own uninformed unsupported opinions seems to be justifiable, which means your judgement is rated higher than free speech by you.

Incidentally, when did letting someone else speak ever mean surrender? At worst it is negotiation.

@24

“@buddyhell – and yet, we are told, The People secretly wants a True Left Wing Government, deep down. It just keeps not voting for one.

Hmmmmmmm”

Who says this? When you say “The People” are you referring to the Sunday newspaper or the mass body/body-politic?

You can either vote for a right wing party or a slightly less right wing party. That’s a Coke/Pepsi choice. In other words, it’s not a choice at all.

There are a whole slew of left-wing parties.
Mysteriously they never attract much support, in membership or in votes.

Alternatively, why be so passive?
If there is such an unsatisfied yearning for a proper left-wing party, then why not start one?
Really, does someone else have to do everything for you?!

buddyhell,

Who says this? When you say “The People” are you referring to the Sunday newspaper or the mass body/body-politic?

Can I remember that question for future use?

You can either vote for a right wing party or a slightly less right wing party. That’s a Coke/Pepsi choice. In other words, it’s not a choice at all.

I would point out that the Communist Party has had MPs in this country, so it is not that there has been no left-wing option (indeed, some might argue the Greens are the current left-wing option of choice). It is simply that the little support the left-wing parties have had has not been enough to have much electoral success. The option has been there, on the ballot paper, but the people have voted for parties to the right of them in the main. This should tell you something.

And just to upset you, there is a notable difference in taste between Coke and Pepsi (to the extent that Coke is mixable with Vodka, Pepsi ain’t…). Just because you (or I) may not notice it does not mean it is not there, and some people are particularly fussy about it.

Incidentally, what there has not been is a small-state, left-wing party. That might be worth a try rather than trying to persuade yourself that the people will support something they consistently have rejected when given the option.

‘Left wing cohort hijacks university politics to detriment of all shocker’.

I went to UCL. I’m very familiar with these tactics

84. brockley jack

Can’t get more shouty than the UK tabloid press and its vilification of anyone remotely to the left of Murdoch and Dacre. Have a look at the reports from Levenson for the ampler examples of this, or try to remember “it was the Sun wot won it” and “if Labour win will the last person leaving Britain please turn out the lights.”
How does this differ from “shouting down debate” other than the right use money, of course?
Is that recent enough for SMFS?

85. Jason Scott-Warren

to Chris Brooke:

Thank you for your patience with me. I wasn’t trying to play down my responsibility; of course I’m fully responsible. I merely wished to point out that the individual in a protest has to some extent to submerge him or herself in the collective. There’s no opportunity for each individual member to rewrite the script. You have to make a calculation about the relationship between your approval of the cause and the specific means being pursued. In this case it seemed to me proportionate.

I don’t agree with much in your penultimate paragraph. This was never going to be “a peaceful meeting on a university campus”. Everyone, including the organizers and the speaker, knew that there was going to be disruptive protest. As for ‘against the will of … most of the audience’, I don’t know where you get your statistics from. There was support for and opposition to the protest in the room, and a more widespread sense of its inevitability. As for ‘behaviour we generally associate with fascists and thugs’, well, I associate this behaviour with political protest.

86. Leon Wolfson

@78 – No, I’m for reasonable debate. People on the right, like you, are not going to provide it.

@79 – Right, to surrender. The Right are NOT GOING TO LET THE LEFT SPEAK FREELY. The only possible outcome, given that the speaker has no shame, is to either do nothing or damage the left. There are NO good possible outcomes with people who are wedded to a plan they will not change!

Thanks for shilling for the right, though, with your surrender plans.

@82 – Calling anti-science lunatics “left” is a bad joke, as usual.

There are NO serious parties on the left, in England.

87. Chaise Guevara

@ 86 Leon

“No, I’m for reasonable debate. People on the right, like you, are not going to provide it.”

Let’s assess my claim to be on the left:

Socialist? Check.

Liberal? Check.

Agrees with Leon? No! He must be right wing!!!1111111 :(

Nice try, but I’m not offended by your clumsy insults.

88. Chaise Guevara

@ 86

Oh, and your weird ad homs aside: you’re NOT in favour of reasonable debate, Leon. You’re in favour of people who disagree with you being silenced using bullying tactics. In fact, I think you’re the one who should be defending your claim to be leftwing, not me, seeing as you’re the one who’s coming across as something of a petty fascist.

89. Leon Wolfson

@88 – You’re the one who’s trying to stifle debate, coming on here to post propaganda. It’s a just one example of the many right wingers who are here to disrupt the debate, and for no other reason, whereas if a left winger did that for a SECOND at ConHome, your native home, they’d would be and are banned in a heartbeat.

The only difference is you’re trying for infiltration rather than simple trolling. I support left wing policy after left wing policy, you shill against them.

Leon:

You seem to have something of a bee in your bonnet about Con Home. Possibly they’ve recently banned you and you’re venting by complaining about it here. If that is the case, then I can’t really blame them, to be honest, assuming that your posts there were of a similar quality to your posts here.

91. Chaise Guevara

@ 89 Leon

“You’re the one who’s trying to stifle debate”

Nope. Check upthread. I’ve been arguing in favour of debate the whole time. You’ve been cheering for those that would kill it.

“coming on here to post propaganda.”

Oh, this should be good. What propaganda, exactly?

“It’s a just one example of the many right wingers who are here to disrupt the debate, and for no other reason”

Does “disrupt debate” mean “disagree with Leon”, perchance? Because otherwise you might realise that I’m defending free speech, and you’re attacking it. Who’s rightwing, again?

“whereas if a left winger did that for a SECOND at ConHome, your native home, they’d would be and are banned in a heartbeat.”

Leaving aside that ridiculous comment about Conservative Home being my “native home”: yep, banning leftwingers on rightwing sites is pathetic. That’s sorta my point. But you’re all for silencing people who disagree with you. I really wish you knew what irony meant.

“The only difference is you’re trying for infiltration rather than simple trolling. I support left wing policy after left wing policy, you shill against them.”

Ah. I’ve seen this from you before, although not aimed at me. I believe the general concept is “anyone who disagrees with Leon must be being paid to talk”. Am I right?

This may be hard to grasp, so I’ll write it in big letters: SOMEONE CAN BE LEFTWING AND YET DISAGREE WITH LEON WOLFSON. Got it yet?

92. Leon Wolfson

@87 – Ah yes, of course, I as a Jew am a fascist.

No, that’s you. You’re a far right fanatic bent on destroying the left, and your claim that you have anything at all to do with the left is a clear and total LIE. The insult is the one you offer every time you try and claim you’re any different from SMFS Mk 2 in your views.

93. Leon Wolfson

@90 – No, I’m *not that stupid*. I’m quite aware what their policy is about stiffling left-wing dissent.

Thanks for agreeing that your natural political home is over there and you’re on LibCon to troll, though.

94. Leon Wolfson

@91 – Certainly. However, you’re not one of the (many) people who do that. You’re just like SMFS, here to disrupt the conversation. Go back to ConHome.

95. Chaise Guevara

@ 92 Leon

“Ah yes, of course, I as a Jew am a fascist.”

Wow, a completely unfounded accusation of antisemitism. How grown up.

“No, that’s you. You’re a far right fanatic bent on destroying the left, and your claim that you have anything at all to do with the left is a clear and total LIE. The insult is the one you offer every time you try and claim you’re any different from SMFS Mk 2 in your views.”

As this “lie” is so clear and total, you won’t have any trouble explaining your reasons for calling me a “far right fanatic”. Other than the fact that you’re a total loon, obviously.

96. Chaise Guevara

@ 94

“Certainly. However, you’re not one of the (many) people who do that.”

Well, let’s examine the logic:

a) I’m left wing.

b) I disagree with you.

Ergo: your statement is incorrect.

“You’re just like SMFS, here to disrupt the conversation. Go back to ConHome.”

Hah. So rational discourse is “disrupting the conversation”, whereas pathetic and hysterical accusations along the lines that everyone who disagrees with Leon Wolfson must be an antisemitic far-right troll are productive and helpful?

Remember, we’re only having this conversation because I support free speech and you don’t. There’s no point even taking the piss out of you, you lampoon yourself so well.

Jason Scott-Warren @ 85

I merely wished to point out that the individual in a protest has to some extent to submerge him or herself in the collective. There’s no opportunity for each individual member to rewrite the script. You have to make a calculation about the relationship between your approval of the cause and the specific means being pursued.

One would only need to change one word there for it to be the kind of self-justification offered by shamefaced former DDR citizens explaining why they informed for the Stasi.

You are a don, FFS. You are expected to show moral leadership when callow undergraduates start misbehaving. How can you possibly hope to challenge the zeitgeist if you’re unwilling to even try to change the mood in a room?

98. Jason Scott-Warren

Thanks for that, Flowerpower. Any more of the great pseudonymous got any irrelevant historical parallels to dredge up?

99. Chaise Guevara

@ 98

He’s got a point, though. A Don should be trying to stop stupid and counterproductive behaviour, not egging the perpetrators on.

100. Flowerpower

@ 98

It wasn’t a ‘historical parallel’ so much as a rhetorical one. It was to do with the sentences you used and the resonance they have.

Mind you, sometimes I wonder whether you are putting it on. When you started with that ‘thin end of a very ugly wedge’, I wondered how long it would be before you got to Orwell’s fascist octopus singing its swan-song.

101. So Much For Subtlety

98. Jason Scott-Warren

Thanks for that, Flowerpower. Any more of the great pseudonymous got any irrelevant historical parallels to dredge up?

It is hardly irrelevant now is it? You would be a frightening person anywhere near the levers of power. It is rare to see such a cold blooded justification of the totalitarian mind set.

Jason–

Thanks for your replies.

I’m glad to hear you accept responsibility for your part in the other evening’s actions. Responsibility in politics is closely linked to questions of accountability, of course, so let me here express the hope that, as a good democrat, you’ll also be holding yourseIf properly accountable to the various student unions that will be freely debating you and your pals’ behaviour in the days ahead, such that if they generally vote to criticise your action, you will make a full apology to the students of Cambridge.

“A Don should be trying to stop stupid and counterproductive behaviour, not egging the perpetrators on.”

You would think so.

“cjcjc, whoever you may be, if you ever get as angry with me as I have become with David Willetts, I invite you to come and drown out one of my lectures.”

You would also hope that he might not use “anger” as a justification for this kind of action. Though something tells me he would not be so indulgent towards the anger of those with whose views he disagrees.

He really is nothing more than a donnish version of Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, though all the more dangerous precisely because of his senior position.

104. Chaise Guevara

@ 103

“He really is nothing more than a donnish version of Rik Mayall in The Young Ones, though all the more dangerous precisely because of his senior position.”

Good analysis.

Although probably more accurate to say all the more *comedic* because of his senior position.

Anyway, as a Caius MA, I guess I should write to the Master to voice my concern that this man is bringing the college into disrepute.

107. Chaise Guevara

@ cjcjc

Assuming he is who he says he is, of course.

108. Leon Wolfson

@96 – You’re a SMFS-stype troll. Stop posting crap to disrupt the conversation.

Tory Troll, go home.

109. Jason Scott-Warren

Thanks to everyone, especially Mr and Mrs Pseudonym, MA (Cantab), for their magnificent analyses. I plead guilty to all charges. An apology to the student unions of the world is in the post. I shan’t be checking this site again, so keep them coming.

110. Chaise Guevara

@ 108

Classic Leon – don’t engage with what people say, ignore all inconvenient questions, and just concentrate on spamming inaccurate ad hom attacks. Do you realise how ridiculous this makes you look?

So far you’ve called me a Tory, a troll, and an extreme right-winger, and implied (bizarrely) that I’m anti-semitic. Law of averages suggest that you should have got at least one out of four accusations right out of sheer fluke, but nope.

Oh, and seriously, look up “irony”. There’s a painful amount of it every time you, who appear to exist solely to spew random hatred on the internet, call someone else a troll.

111. Chaise Guevara

@ 109

You’re nearly as bad as Leon! Seriously, if you can’t defend your actions beyond a sneering, content-free ad hom attack, maybe you ought to rethink them.

How did someone this childish ever become a professor?

@110 Chaise,

welcome to the ever-expanding list of those ‘exposed’ by Leon as rightwing fanatics.

113. Chaise Guevara

@ 112

To be fair, on the evidence he appears to define “right-wing extremist” as “someone who thinks Leon is an idiot”, a group that could potentially contain the entire world population other than Leon.

114. Leon Wolfson

@110 – No, unlike you I actually support left-wing policies.

And I don’t drive left wingers off the site, like you just did. You’re here to disrupt discourse, like I said.

115. Chaise Guevara

@ 114 Leon

“No, unlike you I actually support left-wing policies.”

Do you not ever feel ashamed about lying all the time? The vast majority of the policies I support are left-wing. I’m having trouble thinking of ones that aren’t. I’d ask you to name some, but we all know how much you hate backing up your arguments.

“And I don’t drive left wingers off the site, like you just did.”

When did I do that? If you don’t drive left-wingers off the site, it’s not through lack of trying, what with you screaming “AAARGH YOU’RE A NAZI TORY TROLL BASTARD” at anyone who doesn’t agree with you.

“You’re here to disrupt discourse, like I said.”

Sigh. For the umpteenth time, disagreeing with you is not disputing discourse, you arrogant pillock. Throwing around wild and unfounded accusations is. You wanna see a discourse-disrupting troll? Look in the fucking mirror.

“How did someone this childish ever become a professor?”

He is absolutely Rik Mayall to a tee.

Returning to the original subject of this post, I searched on YouTube for “David Willetts Cambridge” and sure enough there’s a recording of the whole excruciating episode, or at least I think so, as it’s so creepy I couldn’t watch it all.

I now have a question: why did no one attempt to stop these idiots? Why did no one shout them down or grab the leader’s piece of paper?

118. Leon Wolfson

@115 – You need to look in a mirror and ask yourself those questions. I’m a free market anti-capitalist, with perfectly ordinary views for them.

You, on the other hand, apparently haven’t found a Tory policy branch which you won’t hump.

Right wingers like you drive people away to reduce discourse. I then call you on it. And you get all defensive. You can repeat your lies all you like, you’re no different from SMFS, aside from being slightly more subtle.

But keep whining how anyone who dares act like a lefty around you is a troll, I’m sure you’re great fun at parties. Go back to ConHome and left the left *debate* in peace.

119. Leon Wolfson

@117 – Perhaps because there was no major disagreement from any bloc in the crowd?

120. Chaise Guevara

@ 118 Leon

“You need to look in a mirror and ask yourself those questions. I’m a free market anti-capitalist, with perfectly ordinary views for them.”

No I don’t. And who’s arguing that you’re not a free-market anti-capitalist? Making up lies about other people’s beliefs is YOUR job, not mine.

“You, on the other hand, apparently haven’t found a Tory policy branch which you won’t hump.”

I note your continuing failure to provide examples. Perhaps because you’re, y’know, talking out of your arse?

“Right wingers like you drive people away to reduce discourse. I then call you on it. And you get all defensive. You can repeat your lies all you like, you’re no different from SMFS, aside from being slightly more subtle.”

Well, that opening sentence is inherently buggered, because I’m not right wing. And of course I get defensive. You’d get defensive too if some bellend called you an anti-semitic rightwinger just because they were having a tantrum about losing the argument.

“But keep whining how anyone who dares act like a lefty around you is a troll”

Nice try! But I wasn’t calling you a troll for your beliefs. I share most of your beliefs, aside from your whole hating-free-speech thing. I was calling you a troll because of your constant lies and ad hom attacks, and your inability to answer direct questions or back up your ludicrous and offensive claims. Because you were and are trolling, in fact.

Maybe you think I’m “subtle” because I can appreciate the fine distinction between beliefs and behaviour, and the difference between a troll and a genuine commenter who happens to disagree with me.

“I’m sure you’re great fun at parties. Go back to ConHome and left the left *debate* in peace”

Yawn. I’m not being chased off this thread by a troll. Why don’t you fuck off back to 4chan and leave the grown-ups alone? Or, even better, stick around but make an effort not to be such a dickhead.

121. Chaise Guevara

@ 117 Trooper

“I now have a question: why did no one attempt to stop these idiots? Why did no one shout them down or grab the leader’s piece of paper?”

Big room, lots of people who will obviously jeer at you if you criticise them… it’s a natural human instinct to keep your head down. And presumably the people who were actually there for a sensible conversation weren’t expecting to have to get involved in a cross-audience slanging match. I imagine that if I was there I would have just about managed a glare and a muttered “unbelievable”.

122. Leon Wolfson

@120 – I am not a linkbot. Your record on this site stands for itself.
Keep claiming you’re not just like SMFS. It’s a broken record.

If you shared ANY of my beliefs, you wouldn’t be calling me a fascist. I’m sorry I called you a Tory, evidently they’re no FAR ENOUGH right for you!

You’re the one trolling, to deliberate stop the left from talking. Then you whine and moan when a TINY fraction of the same is reflected back onto the right.

@121, Chaise,

If you try to watch the whole clip (not the snippet above, but all of it) it’s so infuriatingly pathetic, I don’t think I could have contained myself from disrupting their disruption, even if only the line from ‘The Life of Brian’ “yes, we are all individuals”, and I am surprised that no one did this, other than an old white-bearded guy down the front. My human instinct if people jeer at me is to jeer back, especially if they’re a bunch of pasty Cambridge students!

124. Chaise Guevara

@ 122 Leon

“I am not a linkbot. Your record on this site stands for itself.”

Translation: you know that you’ve got zero justification for your claims, so instead of withdrawing them like a decent human being, you’re just going to keep repeating them over and over like some kind of angry robot.

“If you shared ANY of my beliefs, you wouldn’t be calling me a fascist.”

My word, a logic-fail from Leon. How shocking. Although this reveals quite a lot at why your critical thinking is so subpar: you assume that if I criticise one aspect of someone or something, I must hate everything that they/it stand for.

So, in your tiny mind, because I disagree with your authoritarian views, I must also disagree with your views on capitalism and socialism. Not so: there’s not rule that says being in favour of free speech means I must also be anti-socialist. In fact, in Britain at least, socialism and liberalism tend to go hand in hand, so I’m actually pretty much average for the left. This would be mindbendingly obvious if you stopped to think for half a second, instead of dedicating your life to brainlessly slandering people on the internet.

Please try to think about this at some point. I’m not expecting you to apologise: it’s not in your nature and we’re far too far down the rabbit hole now for that to be realistic. But do yourself a favour and think about how it’s actually possible to agree with some, and not all, of what another person believes. You and this site would be a lot happier for it.

125. Chaise Guevara

@ 123 Trooper

Well, bear in mind that most of the other people in the room are or were “pasty Cambridge students”, except for Willetts, who would be sensible to avoid a situation where footage of him yelling at the audience could be selectively edited and put on the internet.

I dunno. Maybe you would have said something, maybe you’re that kind of person, and if so, more power to you. But it’s my experience (and a known fact of human behaviour) that people are far more likely to keep quiet in a situation like that than they are in their own heads, or for that matter online. Self very much included.

There’s also the instinctive feeling – coincidentally modelled by our friend Leon @122 – that if you criticise ANYTHING about someone who’s ostensibly on your side, you’re betraying the whole group. One guy whose ideas I respect says that we see criticising our own side as “giving comfort to the enemy”. So I imagine there were people present who were appalled at these idiots’ behaviour, but thought, on some level: “if I have a go at them, they’ll think I’m on the side of the Tories”.

It’s only guesswork, and we’re off on a tangent at this point, but I reckon that’s why these guys were allowed to continue their bullying tactics unchallenged.

This discussion is more or less exhausted, but it might be worth noting that opposition to the disruption of Willetts’s speech is now widespread in Cambridge.

* The Director of CRASSH, obviously enough, condemned the protest on behalf of his institute (which was the bit of Cambridge that invited Willetts in the first place):
http://www.crassh.cam.ac.uk/events/1817/

* The University Council, unsurprisingly, has expressed its “deep regret”:
http://www.cam.ac.uk/univ/notices/council-statement-freedom-of-speech.html

* More interestingly, King’s College Student Union–generally reckoned the most protest-friendly college SU in the university–resolved on Thursday that it “cannot support this direct action”, in line with its standing policy in favour of free speech.

* And today (Sunday), the Council of CUSU, the university’s student union, voted overwhelmingly (with just two votes against), “to condemn the actions which prevented students hearing and questioning David Willetts”.

So although there are a small number of student activists who defend what happened, and a small number of sympathetic dons (many of whom, like Jason above, are from the English Faculty–there are currently 46 names on the petition of support, which is about 1.5% of the membership of the Regent House, the university’s governing body), it is increasingly clear that they are quite a small minority.

When I said “Sunday”, I meant “Saturday”, obviously.

128. Leon Wolfson

@123 – Ah yes, “students are inferior”. Sigh.

@124 – Translation – I AM A IKEIST.

What? You’re putting your words in my mouth, so you can have no objection to my doing the same back. That YOU have the guts to call me authoritarian is just funny as well.

You’re just convincing me, with your excuses, that I’m entirely correct. If you want me to believe otherwise, start ACTING like a left-winger.

” start ACTING like a left-winger”

Yes for goodness sake Chaise, start acting like a thug, really, call yourself a lefty?!

130. Chaise Guevara

@ 128 Leon

“Translation – I AM A IKEIST.”

I have no idea what that means. If it’s supposed to be a clever reference to IKEA, you’ve lost me.

“What? You’re putting your words in my mouth, so you can have no objection to my doing the same back.”

No, I’m synopsising your views. You’re making up lies out of thin air.

“That YOU have the guts to call me authoritarian is just funny as well.”

Yes, it’s hilarious that someone who’s in favour of free speech would call someone who’s against free speech authoritarian. I take it from your comment that you think I’m authoritarian? What justification do you have for this, or is it just another baseless accusation?

“You’re just convincing me, with your excuses, that I’m entirely correct.”

Leon, you start with the assumption that you’re entirely correct, and little things like logic and objective reality are not allowed to change that assumption. Convincing you would be wholely unnecessary.

“If you want me to believe otherwise, start ACTING like a left-winger”

How would I do that, exactly? I hold and defend left-wing views on social morality, economic justice, and political freedom. So it’s hard to know what you’re looking for. (Except it’s not, because you’re not actually looking for anything; you just think screaming “RIGHT-WINGER!!!!111″ at anyone who disagrees with you is the last word in intelligent discourse.)

131. Chaise Guevara

@ 129 cjcjc

It’s a sad deficiency in me, I know. And even if I managed to meet Leon’s criteria for thuggishness, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill his criteria for intellectual cowardice. Oh well, better get back to defending my evil right-wing ideals of socialism, liberalism and free speech…

@126,,

that’s all very well, but where were they when they were needed?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  4. Holly Smith

    Ha ha according to Scumdal, the hijacking of Willetts speech at Cambridge uni last night by students was 'deluded' > http://t.co/AkA6chcH

  5. Holly Smith

    Ha ha according to Scumdal, the hijacking of Willetts speech at Cambridge uni last night by students was 'deluded' > http://t.co/AkA6chcH

  6. Brad Marshall

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    The student 'protest' at Cambridge last night was deluded http://t.co/BEZ7yBAw

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    [...] • Paul Sagar at Liberal Conspiracy says last night’s student protest at Cambridge against Da… This “action” was organised by Cambridge Defend Education. CDE claim to be upholders of free speech and democratic fairness. Yet they presumed to speak on behalf of myself and every other person in that room, whilst disregarding our rights, opinions, concerns and beliefs entirely. [...]

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    The student ‘protest’ at Cambridge last night was deluded | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/axNMvW4Z via @libcon

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