Monday’s Better Union forum saw several controversial ideas being debated, including the contentious “No Platform” policy as well as a suggestion to stop armed forces recruitment days taking place in the Union.
No Platform has gained increasing attention recently, especially after a survey by Spiked gave the Union – as well as the University – a red ranking on free speech, concluding that collectively the two organisations “create a hostile environment for free speech”. Spiked highlighted LUU’s No Platform policy as a particular concern.
Liron Velleman opened the case for continuing No Platform, suggesting that two new organisations – National Action and Britain First – should be added to the blacklist currently covered by No Platform. He stressed that such organisations, which have posted weapons training videos on YouTube and occupied the campus, present a clear threat against students.
Several challenges were raised, most importantly the idea that the Union should invite hate speakers to properly challenge their views. Other speakers went along similar lines, suggesting there is a tension between the No Platform policy and free speech.
In response Toke Dahler, the Union Affairs officer, argued that No Platform actually works to enhance free speech, by empowering students and creating an atmosphere where people feel safe expressing opinions. Toke further suggested that the Union should not be under any obligation to invite speakers students didn’t want on campus.
Other responses agreed that more must be done to challenge the views of hate speakers, but questioned the need to allow them into the Union given that students hear these opinions outside campus and do not need the presence of hate speakers in the Union to remind them of the arguments.
The other big idea of the night was a motion to stop armed forces recruitment days taking place in the Union foyer. Toke highlighted concerns from students who felt uncomfortable with the armed forces recruiting inside the Union, pointing out that Leeds has a highly international community with many students coming from countries affected by British armed forces operations.
Some students countered that the armed forces were there to educate as well as recruit, providing a valuable opportunity for dialogue with students. Others worried that students might be deprived of careers information if the motion went ahead, questioning the need for a ban.
Responding, Toke suggested it was possible to work with the armed forces and give these opportunities to students whilst adopting this policy; for instance, the armed forces would still be able to attend careers fairs organised by the University.
After discussion subsided it was revealed that the student panel had voted to continue the No Platform policy by twelve votes to one, while the armed forces recruitment day idea will go to referendum after the panel was unable to come to a consensus.
In addition the panel unanimously approved the lobbying of the Vice Chancellor by the Union over action for refugees, and voted in favour of the introduction of mandatory electronic voting for society committee elections.
Have Your Say
“Free speech is a fundamental human right which we should always aim to protect. The No Platform policy certainly threatens this ideal and I’m not sure it’s all that necessary. You’d hope that harmful and hateful views are handled through the criticism they receive when expressed; if they are not, then perhaps they are views worth sharing after all.” – Lewis Hodges, 2nd Year PPE
“If well-defined, the no-platform policy is one of the most democratic sides of the Student Union, since freedom of expression ends where hate speech, targeting specific profiles, starts. The fact that the policy is under discussion, shows however the underlying racism and Islamophobia of contemporary discourses, in which there is an argument to allow certain hate speakers and their supporters to come on campus, such as the BNP. But would we also tolerate someone in favour of raping women or curing homosexuality to give speeches?” – Marcel Obst, 2nd Year PhD Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies