Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 19 May 2021

Students and unions must resist misnamed 'free speech' bill

Socialist Students day of action 21.4.21

Socialist Students day of action 21.4.21   (Click to enlarge)

Bea Gardner, Socialist Party University and Colleges Union caucus

The Tories are attempting to position themselves as defenders of free speech in their new Higher Education (freedom of speech) Bill. The reality is they have no interest in allowing genuine freedom of expression, as evidenced by the current attacks on the right to protest in the police and crime bill (see 'We will not pay the cost of Covid! Defend the right to protest').

Rather, the freedom of speech bill represents an attempt by the government to reassert authority within universities, particularly over left-wing students who are increasingly critical of big business influence in education.

The government is overstating the influence of so-called 'cancel culture' in British universities to justify the measures introduced by the bill, which includes a "free speech condition" universities must meet to receive public funds. It will also create the role of "freedom of speech enforcer" to oversee a new complaints scheme, with powers to issue fines.

Critically, student unions must adhere to the condition and be held liable to financial penalties for freedom of speech "breaches" and if they do not "actively promote" freedom of speech. If passed, it will be the first time the Office for Students will have regulatory powers over student unions, and represents a significant attack on student democracy.

The catalyst for the bill was when the former home secretary, Amber Rudd, was cancelled as an international women's day speaker at Oxford Student Union, following student protests that highlighted her role in the forced deportations revealed in the 'Windrush scandal'.

The government has used that case to argue that censorship and silencing are rife. Yet research by the Office for Students, the regulator overseeing the bill's implementation, found that in 2017-18 less than 0.1% of external speaker requests were rejected by universities or student unions.

Tory bans

Meanwhile, the government's record on this matter speaks for itself. Last year, the government banned schools using resources from anti-capitalist organisations because it is an "extreme political stance". Just last month, Gavin Williamson tweeted that he would instruct the Office for Students to suspend funding to institutions that do not adopt the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism.

In reality, the government is exaggerating university 'cancel culture' as a tool to strengthen right-wing, pro-capitalist ideas in universities, as well as to try and shore up a section of its electoral base.

Historically, universities have been one way in which the ruling class has established and promoted its ideas. This bill is an attempt to assert this ideological control, particularly within student unions, and is part of a broader strategy to direct research and teaching in the interests of big business.

However, the idea that universities are left-wing institutions is a farce. Their actions during the pandemic attest to this. The real threat to freedom of speech comes from the current funding model, which the bill does nothing to address.

Research funding is highly competitive, and is increasingly dictated by capitalist interests, with little funding for critical theory or research questioning the status quo. Research should be funded to meet the genuine needs of society, including for culture, not the narrow economic interests of big business.

Furthermore, the running of universities like a business has resulted in the sector becoming one of the most casualised. Precarious contracts have stripped academic staff of the right to speak and research freely for fear of losing their jobs. Trade union reps have been targeted for redundancy at multiple universities in blatant cases of trade union victimisation. But the bill does nothing to address these issues which, in some cases, are costing workers their jobs.

Genuine freedom of expression, debate and discussion in universities can only be guaranteed through the participation of university staff and students in elected committees within a publicly funded university system, free from capitalist interests.

Student unions and campus trade unions must resist this bill, which is narrowly focused on the freedom of speech for the bosses and their defenders.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 19 May 2021:


Build a mass movement to end Israeli state terror

Tens of thousands march against Israeli state terror

What we think

Johnson's Tories and Starmer's Labour have nothing to offer workers

Starmer moves against Unite - No to the attack on Beckett


What's needed to stop more Covid outbreaks?

Capitalism responsible for stark global Covid vaccine inequality

Workplace news

NHS: Scottish vote shows unions must fight for 15%

Unison: Elect reps who will back strike action

PCS elections - incumbents win, but solid vote for Broad Left Network

DVLA workers suspend strike for talks

Huge victory at Go North West as Unite defeats 'fire and rehire'

London Metroline strike against 'remote sign-on' goes ahead

CWU members' resolve to strike still firm as union enters talks

Strikes round-up

Campaigns news

Glasgow mass action defeats Home Office deportation attempt

Students and unions must resist misnamed 'free speech' bill

Mulivaikkal Remembrance Day 2021

Socialist Party black and Asian members discuss history

Help fund our bold socialist presence

We will not pay the cost of Covid! Defend the right to protest

Brighton marches to defend Moulsecoomb Primary School


Spycops inquiry continues to expose historic attacks on democratic rights

New voter ID laws: Electoral fraud - Tory style

News in brief

Readers' opinion

Readers' opinion


Home   |   The Socialist 19 May 2021   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleMore market chaos: York students given digs in Hull

triangleYouth climate protests are back

triangleLots of sign-ups at freshers

triangleSunak's student special

triangleA Socialist Students stall outside Northampton university, September 2021


triangleCOP26: Trade unions must fight for a socialist transition to renewables

triangleFlexibility to suit workers not the bosses

triangleNEU deputy general secretary election

triangleDriver shortages - a view from the inside


triangleScrap tuition fees - end university marketization

triangleFighting sexual harassment and gender violence on campus

trianglePolice invade student homes


triangleYouth Fight for Jobs - why we're marching on 9 October

triangleNigeria: Comrade Omomeewa, student leader and socialist campaigner, killed by armed assailants


triangleFight to defend homelessness services

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Housing crisis: Tories and Labour are not on our side



Unite union policy conference



University workers ballot for strike action



Napo AGM 2021: Union placed on war footing



Reinstate Gary Evans! Llanelli postal workers strike



Brighton bin workers' victory in sight against Green-led council



Ealing People's Budget - cuts can be resisted



Northampton People's Budget - cuts and privatisation is a failed strategy



Unite and fight for 30,000 permanent DWP jobs



Gwent valleys Stagecoach bus drivers strike for fair pay



Scunthorpe scaffs strike for pay


The Socialist

"Are you the socialist cabby?"



Hackney children's centres - more education cuts are devastating



Biggest protest yet to save Stratford Circus



Doncaster: Vigil condemns violence against women

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

October 2021

September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021