OUSU has come under fire for its support of last Thursday’s Marine Le Pen protest, with some students accusing the student union of adopting an “overly political stance” and attempting to stifle “free debate”.
Motions passed in Pembroke and Exeter JCRs on Sunday evening criticised the decision of OUSU Council to condemn Marine Le Pen’s appearance at the Oxford Union. The visit of the Front National leader to Oxford attracted a large protest last Thursday, led by student activists as well as affiliates of the group Unite Against Fascism.
The motion passed in Exeter College’s JCR meeting stated that “OUSU should be party politically neutral”. The motion went on to describe OUSU’s decision to condemn Le Pen’s Oxford visit as a “party political standpoint” that “should not be in the remit of OUSU, regardless of the popularity and validity of the party political views protested against”.
A similar motion was approved by Pembroke JCR, criticising the allegedly “abusive and inflammatory language deployed at the demonstration,” and noting that “numerous members of the college were forcibly prevented” from entering the talk.
The Pembroke motion, proposed by Ryan Tang, a fresher and active member of the Union, went on to state: “By endorsing the student demonstration, [OUSU] has failed to protect the welfare and rights of Oxford students.
“This JCR believes that extremism and intolerance of all stripes is best countered by free debate and discussion, and not through abusive and disruptive protests.”
OUSU BME Officer Nikhil Venkatesh defended OUSU’s actions: “In a democratic system, there will always be some decisions some members disagree with, but the beauty of OUSU is that anyone from any common room can get involved and change it.”
Venkatesh, responsible for bringing the motion to condemn Le Pen to OUSU, continued: “I don’t apologise for my motion, or for my participation in the protest. I feel it’s important to point out that the motion was not a motion of ‘no platform’ (indeed, an amendment to make it no platform failed).
“[The motion] had two clear aims: to show that OUSU stands against bigotry, in solidarity with those who Marine Le Pen victimises and scapegoats; and to remind the Oxford Union that their decisions on who they invite have consequences, sometimes very damaging ones, for the wider student body.”
The Corpus Christi PPE student added that “those who supported [the OUSU motion] ranged from revolutionary socialists to paid-up members of [Oxford University Conservative Association]”.
Exeter History student Peter Fage, responsible for proposing the JCR’s criticism of OUSU, disagreed, describing the student union’s actions as “outrageous”.
“Condemning ‘the views of the Front National’ is overtly party-political, irrespective of whether or not you agree with them or their validity. Imagine doing the same to the ‘views of the Conservative Party’ simply because some of the views present may be uncomfortable.”
Fage added: “Free speech at this university must be preserved. [Exeter JCR’s motion] sends a stern message to OUSU.”
Last Thursday’s student protest outside the Union attracted national publicity, with demonstrators blocking the Union gates for a number of hours. Audience members within the chamber were prevented from leaving “for their own safety”, after protesters reportedly entered the Union grounds.
Le Pen’s Front National has faced numerous accusations of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in recent years.
Le Pen attained the third highest number of votes in the 2012 French Presidential election, with nearly 18 per cent of the popular vote.