Students urge Burnham to shun Cambridge Union after Le Pen visit

19th February, 2013 4:46 pm

The Cambridge Universities Labour Club will be writing to shadow health secretary Andy Burnham urging him to withdraw from speaking in a Cambridge Union Society debate, in response to the society’s hosting of the French neo-fascist leader Marine Le Pen at an event today. The club urged its members to join a demonstration outside the prestigious debating society from this afternoon, to assert that “racism and fascism has no place in Cambridge”.

The Front National has already boasted on its website of the prestige of the Cambridge Union.

Andy Burnham – an alumnus of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam College – is honorary President of the Labour Club, and they have urged him to pull out of an upcoming debate (entitled “This house believes that New Labour ruined Britain”).

We spoke to Burnham’s office this afternoon, who told us that no decision has yet been made on the shadow health secretary’s appearance at the Cambridge Union.

 

  • John Reid

    I recall Bernie grant, Ken Livingstone, Tony benn and Denis healey all getting heckled or threatening letters during the 87 election, In Hornchurch one of the heckles was An Unknown tory called eric Pickles, I’m sure the tories felt what Labour stood for was offensive to them, but to encourage censorship Is wrong, unless it can proved what that person is saying incites hatred or violence,

  • Dave Postles

    Ah yes, Oxbridge Unions – their members have always suffered from an excess of motions.

  • JoeDM

    Whatever happened to freedom of speech?

    • Alexwilliamz

      I don’t think you should be asking questions like that!

    • Brumanuensis

      Cambridge Union are free to invite Marine Le Pen. Cambridge Universities Labour Club are free to call for a boycott of the Union and the demonstrators are free to demonstrate outside. All of these things are an exercise of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not mean ‘you can do and say what you like without other people taking exception to what you say and do’.

    • Brumanuensis

      Cambridge Union are free to invite Marine Le Pen. Cambridge Universities Labour Club are free to call for a boycott of the Union and the demonstrators are free to demonstrate outside. All of these things are an exercise of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not mean ‘you can do and say what you like without other people taking exception to what you say and do’.

    • Brumanuensis

      Cambridge Union are free to invite Marine Le Pen. Cambridge Universities Labour Club are free to call for a boycott of the Union and the demonstrators are free to demonstrate outside. All of these things are an exercise of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech does not mean ‘you can do and say what you like without other people taking exception to what you say and do’.

  • Chilbaldi

    1. Wait… Cambridge has a union too? How come I’ve never heard of it before?

    2. Who cares what a student debating society does?

    3. Presumably Burnham shouldn’t speak in Parliament either, given that fascists have previously spoken there?

  • Cambridge University Labour Club’s predecessor, Cambridge Organisation of Labour Students, used to have a policy of boycotting the Cambridge Union entirely. I remember voting to overturn it in about 1993. If I remember right the reason for the boycott was because the Cambridge Union membership fee was unaffordably high, and the Cambridge Union didn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the Cambridge University Students Union.

  • Brumanuensis

    I’m generally ambivalent about no platform policies. On the one hand I don’t think they do much to stop the spread of fascism, given that the audience targeted by fascist parties rarely frequent Student Unions. On the other hand, the glib ‘if we debate them, we’ll expose their shortcomings’ doesn’t hold much water either. Richard Dawkins generally refuses to debate with creationists, for the very sound reason that he won’t persuade them and by debating them, he can only make them look more credible. So on balance, Burnham should boycott.

    • Hugh

      He’s not being asked to share a platform or debate them. He’s being urged to boycott speaking in the same venue because it will have hosted Le Pen. On this principle he’ll also have to boycott the Oxford union, and any union or organization that’s ever given a platform to anyone from the far right – presumably hardline islamists and such too.

      Of course, the threat that Andy Burnham won’t agree to attend their venue at a later date might make organisers nation-wide pause before they invite such controversial figures in future and thus serve some purpose. However, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

      • Brumanuensis

        I wasn’t specifically commenting about Burnham, more making a general point about no platform policies and their merits (limited, in my view).

        “On this principle he’ll also have to boycott the Oxford union, and any union or organization that’s ever given a platform to anyone from the far right – presumably hardline islamists and such too”.

        Fair enough.

      • Brumanuensis

        I wasn’t specifically commenting about Burnham, more making a general point about no platform policies and their merits (limited, in my view).

        “On this principle he’ll also have to boycott the Oxford union, and any union or organization that’s ever given a platform to anyone from the far right – presumably hardline islamists and such too”.

        Fair enough.

    • Hugh

      He’s not being asked to share a platform or debate them. He’s being urged to boycott speaking in the same venue because it will have hosted Le Pen. On this principle he’ll also have to boycott the Oxford union, and any union or organization that’s ever given a platform to anyone from the far right – presumably hardline islamists and such too.

      Of course, the threat that Andy Burnham won’t agree to attend their venue at a later date might make organisers nation-wide pause before they invite such controversial figures in future and thus serve some purpose. However, I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

  • KonradBaxter

    No platform is a foolish policy that achieves nothing.

    Let them speak, let them make fools of themselves, let them be exposed.

    The BNP hardly did well out of their Question Time appearance did they?

  • LordElpus

    If it’s okay to ban someone from the far right from speaking then surely it’s okay to ban someone from the far left.

  • markfergusonuk

    The Cambridge Union / CUSU thing was still a problem when I was a student 10 years ago too

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