To platform or not to platform?

The purpose of this article is to collect together the most commonly cited examples of “no platform” in action at UK universities. This is to help people with an interest in the topic take an evidence-based perspective on the scope and nature of the issue.

What we can’t cover are instances where a decision has been made not to invite someone to speak at a campus event. Decisions on who should and shouldn’t be invited are made for a variety of reasons, including personal availability, previous contact, and level of potential interest. There’s no way of getting that kind of information about campus events.

No platform, in the UK, has a precise definition and an interesting history. Briefly, NUS has a policy position not to invite speakers from six organisations [pdf] to speak at events. These are included in the no platform policy as “individuals or members of organisations or groups identified by the Democratic Procedures Committee as holding racist or fascist views.”

A person who is “no platformed”, for the purposes of this list, is someone who has been denied the right to speak at an event run by a university or student society as a result of an active decision made to exclude them by a university or students’ union. Speakers that attract protest are not included – as protest is an example of the exercise of free speech.

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Most recently, Jacob Rees-Mogg (MP for North East Somerset) was invited to speak at an event run by the UWE Politics and International Relations student society, held on UWE’s Frenchay campus in February 2017. He spoke at the event, though there was some disruption caused by protestors, none of whom are currently understood to be students. Rees-Mogg said that the incident should not be taken “out of proportion”, adding that verbal protest and heckling was “perfectly legitimate” and a part of political life.

Nick Lowles

Controversy reigned as it was claimed Nick Lowles (from the Hope not Hate campaign) had not been invited to speak at a national event in 2016 run by NUS Black Students due to alleged “Islamophobia”. Both the NUS president (Megan Dunn) and the leader of NUS Black Students (Malia Bouattia) denied that Lowles was on a “no platform” list – Dunn expressed a willingness to share a platform with Lowles or Hope not Hate, and Bouattia suggested that a decision had been made not to invite Lowles to speak at a particular event but denied it was a decision to “no platform” him.

Imogen Wilson

The Edinburgh SU VP (Academic) was speaking during a large SU meeting in 2016. A complaint was made by an audience member concerning her hand motions and head-shaking during contributions from other speakers – in violation of a “safe space” policy. The complaint was discussed and overruled. The meeting continued.  

Maryam Namazie

A 2015 event at the University of Warwick, run by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists student society, was to have featured Maryam Namazie (equality campaigner and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain). Warwick SU didn’t approve the invite initially, but the decision was overturned and the event went forward as planned.

Linda Bellos

The feminist writer was invited and then disinvited to speak at a Peterhouse College society event. Allegations of “transphobia” were cited.

Peter Tatchell

In the veteran human rights campaigner’s own words: “Although I was not no-platformed, an NUS official refused to speak at a student meeting if I was on the platform. She claimed, without evidence, that I was racist and transphobic”. This was not NUS policy, and was a decision made by the individual in question. The event went ahead as planned, with Tatchell speaking.

Nick Griffin

The former leader of the British National Party has spoken, despite protests, at the University of Oxford. He was invited to speak at the Universities of Cambridge, St Andrews and Bath – each of these events were cancelled due to security fears. As an aside, an April Fool’s Day prank suggesting that Cambridge had rescinded his degree was reported by the Sun.

Germaine Greer

Author and feminist Germaine Greer saw criticisms based on alleged “transphobia” prior to speaking engagements at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities. In both cases, the events went ahead as planned.

Julie Bindel and Milo Yiannopoulos

Both Bindel (feminist and Guardian writer) and Yiannopoulos (former Breitbart editor and Telegraph technology correspondent) were denied a platform at an event to be held at the University of Manchester in 2015. Bindel responded to criticisms centring on her alleged “transphobia”. Yiannopoulos subsequently spoke at an event at the University of Bristol, in a debate with Rebecca Reid.

Andrew Brons and Chris Beverley

Respectively a BNP MEP and Councillor, both were initially invited to speak at an event at Durham Union Society in 2010. Officers of the NUS at the time put pressure on the society to cancel the event, and were themselves condemned by the then NUS president, Wes Streeting. A final decision was made by DUS to cancel the event, citing security concerns. Durham SU subsequently voted to disaffiliate from NUS, though they later voted to reaffiliate.

Julian Assange

The WikiLeaks founder was invited to speak at the Cambridge Union in 2015. There were protests, including the resignation of a women’s officer in protest over the sexual assault allegations against Assange. The event went ahead.

8 responses to “To platform or not to platform?

  1. Why the Peter Tatchell mis-quote in the article?

    The actual words at the link are “I was also a victim [of no-platforming]. A NUS official refused to speak at a student meeting if I was on the platform. She claimed, without evidence, that I was racist and transphobic”

  2. Minor note on the Durham one in 2010: the invitation was by Durham Union Society aka DUS (debating club) not by Durham Students Union aka DSU (students’ union). DUS is not related to DSU in any way. So it was DUS – not DSU – that decided to hold and then decided to cancel the event.
    (The confusion between the two didn’t help NUS respond to the matter, either)

    Strictly, DSU never actually disaffiliated from NUS as a result of that mess – they voted to do so, but then voted not to do so before the annual membership they’d already paid for came to an end. So there was no reaffiliation as such – just a revocation of the earlier decision to disaffiliate.

  3. @JD – the quote was from something he sent us, the article we linked to was a good public-facing summary.

    @cim – thanks. We’ve had a couple of notes from people who were at Durham about 7 years ago, so we’ll tweak that to get it accurate.

  4. @ David Kernohan

    Why link at all then in attributing the quote? Just put “as told to Wonkhe” or similar.

    It’s misleading to quote someone saying the opposite of what your reference actually states, and looks like an attempt to make his existing quote fit your narrower definition of no-platforming.

  5. @JD I’m not sure how refusing to share a platform with someone is denying them a platform. That’s the essence of what we’re saying here.

    The piece we link to: “A NUS official refused to speak at a student meeting if I was on the platform”
    What he told us: “an NUS official refused to speak at a student meeting if I was on the platform”

  6. You did not mention the Israel-related events that are shouted down or interrupted by violence at inter alia KCL, UCL, Glasgow

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