Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1122/32097
The Socialist 24 February 2021 |
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Tories target universities in free speech shakedown
Adam Calvert, Sheffield Socialist Students
The government recently announced plans to introduce a 'Free Speech Champion' to the board of the Office for Students to regulate the approach to free speech on England's university campuses. This role would regulate the actions taken by universities regarding free speech, and how they promote it.
Universities found guilty of not promoting freedom of speech could be fined. This also includes allowing all guest speakers to have a platform, with risks of punishment if they are refused. New legal measures mean individuals could sue if they feel they've had a breach of free speech thrust upon them.
The Russell Group of universities believes these measures will in fact restrict freedom in universities, and instead threaten their internal autonomy.
The National Union of Students also said there is no evidence of a freedom of speech crisis within universities.
As with most things the Conservative Party does, these measures contradict their other actions. Before Christmas the Socialist Party outlined how Priti Patel was pushing a crackdown on freedoms to protest (See 'No to Tories' new anti-protest law' at socialistparty.org.uk). This includes powers to crack down on picket lines and any protests that they deem to be "preventing newspapers or critical infrastructure from functioning". This goes hand in hand with the recently announced 'intentional trespassing' laws, which could make protests illegal on a huge percentage of private land within the UK.
Now why would the Tories be so interested in appearing like they're pursuing freedom of speech within universities when they are intending to introduce so many draconian anti-protest laws?
The Conservative Party is facing huge unpopularity due to their abysmal handling of the Covid-19 crisis. They are aiming to distract from their faults by appearing as champions of free speech, a hot topic within the UK in recent years, in order to shore up sections of their limited support, and to scrape up votes for the May council elections.