Dr Timothy Bradshaw on a new kind of student activism

Historian Professor Lisa Jardine was, as usual, absolutely right… A very curious reversal in university culture in the UK seems well under way.

The last election revealed a growth of student activism of a kind preferring force to debate and freedom of expression. The leader of a political party, putting himself up for election and with a point of view many wanted to question, was basically hounded out of town in the name of depriving him of a ‘platform’, or the right to state his case.

In the end his party gained some four million votes but one MP. Oxford never got to hear what he had to say and its students gained a reputation for thuggery rather than intellectual power.

The language of ‘No Platform’ is a euphemism for shutting people up, and is spreading far and wide as if somehow respectable rather than a throwback to 1930s Germany.

Such student activists are spreading their tentacles from the right to the liberal left, in fact to people who are icons of freedom and overcoming prejudice for millions of people.

Germaine Greer no less, that fearless campaigner for feminism and freedom of speech, has now been shut up by our – hopefully small – group of student stranglers of opinion they happen to disagree with.

Greer was banned at Cardiff for her views on what constitutes a woman in the context of gender reassignment. Our student inquisitors opined that her views might offend, so she was pushed out.

Now we hear that another great gadfly and intellectual giant in our culture, David Starkey, has been cut from a money raising video made in the Fens. Starkey really is an important controversialist and to ban him is to ban controversy itself.

An out and proud homosexual, he famously said that he was happy to be called a ‘pervert’ by Cardinal Winning, as long as Winning was happy to be labelled a ‘bigot’ by Starkey.

Starkey has taken on all the politically incorrect institutions and causes, and as a genuinely ‘liberal’ liberal, relishes debate.

Tim Stanley of the Telegraph was booted out of Christ Church for offering to speak on abortion.

A kind of fascism is replacing liberalism in university culture: will books by Greer and Starkey be burned ritually by our hooded inquisitors outside the Bod, with librarians being flogged for daring to shelve them?

Professor Lisa Jardine, deeply lamented after her recent untimely demise, herself an intellectual heavyweight and cultural commentator of the first order, may have spotted the birth of this campus thuggery in her 2006 BBC Radio 4 essay The Canary in the Mineshaft: Liberalism Under Pressure.

She pointed to the exiling of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, campaigner for women’s rights in Islam, from Holland to the USA. Jardine deplored her deportation and the total lack of ‘liberal’ support, or feminist support. The Netherlands after all had been the core state in developing pluralism and freedom of speech, but now it had turned its back on that.

And so, it seems, are we, students and those who should know better.