The Gryphon speaks to Toke Dahler, LUU’S Union Affairs Officer, on why he promotes the “No Platform” policy, the response he received to his Newsnight interview and what he’s doing to support Junior Doctors.
Many people have argued that the “No platform” policy contradicts free speech. How would you respond to that claim?
Free speech is a fundamental, democratic principle which means that people can express their views without persecution. Free speech, however, is not the right to say whatever you like wherever you like, such as in other people’s houses, churches or student unions! There is also a right to assemble and to make rules to protect this cause.
But there are contradicting views between student groups within the Union. We can’t have a view that would suit everyone- how would you respond to that?
That’s absolutely true, but “No Platform” has been policy in the Union for the past three years. It is constantly under debate but is still upheld in in each forum. It’s been democratically decided.
Aristotle reportedly said “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”. As university is meant to be a place where there is a free exchange of ideas and opinions, do you think a no-platform policy undermines this aim?
I’ve heard this argument a few times, but we have more student groups than ever before, and they are more diverse than ever before too. We have a bigger international community and we are filing more external speaker forms. This shows there are more views and ideas being spread around campus than ever before. On top of that, the dinosaurs in the media who are arguing that we are prohibiting free speech grew up in a time when their students’ union would likely have been the only place where there could actually come and find different views. Yet today, there’s the power of social media to experience new views. We meet the world in different ways than we used to, but I believe that students are still entertaining thoughts without necessarily accepting them.
What are the risks of abandoning a “No Platform” policy and allowing a two-sided debate over controversial issues within the Union?
I’ve never had to fear harassment, hate speech or threats of violence because of my identity, so that should be asked to students who face this every day. For example, around one quarter of women are sexually assaulted during their time at university. I certainty don’t think they need to have rape apologists in the Union. We also have international students who come to Leeds having not being able to be openly homosexual where they come from. Do they need to be told homosexuality is a sin when they walk into the Union? I’m not convinced. It’s these people who suffer from the liberal, theoretical debate on no-platform as a free speech. The argument against No Platform is completely separate from the lived lives of students.
If there was an overwhelming student opinion to abandon the “No Platform” policy in the Union, would you support it despite your personal view on the matter?
Of course I would support the student opinion. I do have a special privilege to have my say in the debate to let my opinion known, but I am ultimately elected to enforce the policy that students decide on.
You appeared on Newsnight last month defending No Platform. What sort of response did you receive from this?
Well, someone on The Tab’s online comments called me a cross between Joey Barton and a crystal-meth-addicted pigeon. I also got called a spineless Norwegian weasel… even though I’m from Denmark. Other than that, there was quite a bit of interest in the media. The Times, the Spectator, BBC and now the Observer have covered it. I had no way of knowing when I said yes to doing the interview, but I have somehow become the poster boy of No Platform in student politics.
Do you think there is a generational divide in the views regarding the No Platform issue?
Yes, definitely! Many people in Western media are well-educated, earn a good living and have a privileged outlook of life. They are rarely confronted with racism, sexism or transphobia so it’s very easy from their position to see how “No Platform” is infringing on this untouchable, immaculate, democratic principle. As evident through attitudes to homosexuality or racism, I think it’s clear that young people are better people than old people… to put it bluntly! Shown through changing moral attitudes and a wider access to information and experiences, ours is a very different generation.
Do you think the Union is doing enough to support Junior Doctors?
I’ve sat down with Nick Spencer [a leading Junior Doctor campaigner] several times now and I went to the protest myself. We have given Union space for a banner and painting and we have published support on social media. We’re doing quite a bit, but are always more than willing to listen to students who want us to do more.
What actions are you taking to campaign against grant cuts?
We subsidised a bus to go to the demo on the 4th November in London and we raised the issue with Hilary Benn. We are always willing to support student activities which are organised behind the issue. If students want to protest, campaign or contact someone specific about it, we’re here to help.
(Image: Jack Roberts)