An exercise in how not to use no-platform on campus

Another academic year starts, a new round of freshers arrive and the continuing lot get ready for the year that actually counts towards the overall degree classification.

At the tail end of last year and just before the new academic year started, I joined forces with a University friend of mine to set up a Labour Society covering the Maritime Greenwich and Avery Hill campuses (with help from the two local CLPs, Eltham and Greenwich & Woolwich). At that time I was the general secretary of the Leftist (now Marxist) Society. The planned launch of the society was planned over the four months we were away from University, spurred on with the interest we recieved from Greenwich students via our Facebook group. We’d booked our stall at the two Freshers Fayres and created a petition for our centrepiece campaign. Sounds fairly standard and typical of political society activity, right? Well, it was – up to a point.

About a month before we were due to launch at the Fayres, I recieved word from the society chair that our campaign petition was banned and we were to take down all mentions of campaign from our website and Facebook group. No real explanation for this was offered, but I did hear that there was some confusion over the SU’s own plans for the issue we were campaigning on.

This was not an isolated case, however. As recently as a few days ago we were informed that we were not allowed to promote campaigning events from either CLP – especially unhelpful as a campaign weekend is coming up soon. Additionally, our website content has to be constantly vetted and checked. If anything provokes a challenge, it is likely to be revoked. And the reasons the SU give for these measures? The NUS’s own no-platform policy, which appears to be extended to political societies across the board.

I know for a fact that this kind of usage of no-platform features nowhere on official NUS policy. No-platform is designed to prevent fascist organisations or societies that are extremist/racist in aims and beliefs from being able to stand for NUS elections or participate in NUS functions. Why the SU at my University choose to use it against a legitimate Labour Club, I don’t know.

I’m all for the SU ensuring that we are behaving and acting in accordance with the official constitution and regulations by which all societies are bound. We’ve done nothing but co-operate so far and will continue to do so. However, I will not accept that no-platform is a legitimate weapon to use against us – because it is not there to crush opposition.

The entire situation is lunacy – we cannot function as an active society if everything we’re doing will be opposed for no apparent reason. We abided by the rules, signed up enough people and are now completely legitimate, so I can’t see what their problem is. Also, our website is owned by us – why exactly should we be vetted for publishing independently of SUUG’s own page? I can understand that they don’t want bad publicity from a society – hence why we allow them to view our articles before they are actually published. But to simply ask us to remove content because one officer doesn’t agree with it is completely without justification. Perhaps if we’d actually written something offensive or deregatory, then I can understand. But that’s not how we operate – we are only critical of the student union when we believe that their activities conflict with our own beliefs in the Labour Club.

This is a complete travesty of student democracy, especially with regards to political societies. With actions like this, is it any surprise that the turnout is so low in the SU elections year on year? This is one of the things we’re trying to change, because Greenwich is in desperate need of student activism. It’s not like people aren’t interested – the response for both the Labour and Marxist society has proved that much. People want change – but if we’re continually blocked at every turn, it’s no wonder that people will soon turn their backs to it.

No doubt myself and the current chair have a lot of patience. With what we’re coming up against, looks like we’ll need more tolerance than is human in this kind of situation.

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The BNP on the Beeb: Exposing their rhetoric

No doubt Nick Griffin must be basking in some delight – triumph in the European Elections, the BNP performing well in council elections and getting invited onto BBC Question Time, as Times Online reports.

The Corporation must have known this move would cause controversy – several Labour MPs and one cabinet minister have pledged to boycott the show.

The BBC have defended their actions, stating that the BNP had gained “electoral support at a national level” and thus deserve more airtime. I’m inclined to agree – up to a point. We chose to live under democracy – and unfortunately, however vile and evil the BNP’s views are, they are elected and the BBC has a duty to be as representative as possible. It has always made me sick to my stomach that the BNP can claim any sort of representation of anybody, but the fact that they have several councillors, a GLA member and two MEPs unfortunately states otherwise.

The rights and wrongs aside, I think Griffin’s appearence on Question Time could be one of the best chances that Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have to confront the leader as a representative of his party – if not the best representative! I’ve always argued that the far right always inflict more damage when out of public scrutiny – the BNP haven’t come out of nowhere. They’ve built up from their small gains in Millwall in the 1990s to having 6.5% of the national vote. The party themselves know that electorally they have legitimacy – and if continually blocked from publicity will claim themselves to be political martyrs. They already do – and this feeds into the working classes general disengagement from “traditional politics”. Anyone see a pattern emerging?

Of course the BNP will use Question Time as an outlet for their views. Every fringe party does. But we have a duty to oppose them and expose the BNP’s arguements for what they are – spiteful and ill-informed rhetoric with not a jot of evidence to back up their claims. So I was pretty dismayed to say the least when I discovered that Labour MPs are refusing to share a platform with them. If we do this, we might as well hand victory to the BNP straight away – we’ve already tried this approach. Not only has it got us nowhere, it’s actually done the complete opposite, as the EU elections proved. What’s the point in continuing with an approach if it’s counterproductive?

I know from personal experience that people respond better if you go face the far right and expose them. For example, many people I have spoken to have reacted angrily when I tell them that BNP members – even some councillors and organisers for the party have committed many criminal offences. And we’re not talking traffic crimes here – crimes such as making and distributing indecent images of children, keeping the largest haul of explosives ever discovered in the UK and mass bombings. No-one is a saint sure, but I do doubt that a party with so many criminal convictions can be considered “patriotic” if they persistantly break the laws of the land they take so much apparent pride in. It’s a blatant hypocrisy. Of course there are many, many other things the BNP can be challenged on – e.g. the sickening views on rape promoted by Greater London Authority candidate Nick Eriksen.

Labour shouldn’t be refusing to share a platform. That’s what Griffin wants – so don’t give him the ammunition to feed into his “self-interested politicians” and “standing up for the common man” message. We know it’s a falsehood – if the BNP really was supporting the “common man”, why are all their election leaflets to do with the BNP as a party and absolutely zero content on local issues? These sorts of questions need answering – and in order for us to expose the answer, we need to face them. If the BNP are in the public eye, there’s no better way to expose their empty arguments and the vermin behind the veneer.