Market researcher ComRes has interviewed 1,001 students in the UK regarding their feelings towards the ‘no-platforming’ policy held by the National Union of Students (NUS). Nearly two-thirds of the respondents, at 63%, agree with the NUS’ policy, which bans certain proscribed groups that hold racist or fascist views from speaking on student union premises. An additional 54% of students said they agreed that the policy should be enforced against “people who could be found intimidating”.
Individual student groups and unions can formulate their own lists of prohibited organisations, but the NUS official no-platform list includes six groups on the grounds that they support racism or fascism: The British National Party; Al-Muhajiroun; the English Defence League; National Action; Hizb-ut-Tahrir; and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee. The NUS states that their no-platform policy “allows free speech without intimidation”.
The BBC reports that the Union is “proud of the policy” and notes that the poll results “showed students recognised it was important to stand up to racism and fascism”. “In the past, students have been physically harmed and tragically even killed as a result of such organisations coming on to campuses and inciting hatred. That is why no-platform was introduced in the first place, to keep students safe in a very real sense”, an NUS spokeswoman said. ‘No-platforming’ is often said to support the preservation of ‘safe spaces’, which are described as “accessible environment[s] in which every student feels comfortable, safe and can get involved free from intimidation or judgment”. Student unions throughout the United Kingdom have previously banned speakers whom they collectively felt would threaten safe spaces, including British National Party members Andrew Brons MEP and Chris Beverley.
According to the ComRes poll results, however, about one-third of UK students do not support no-platforming policies like the NUS’. A chief complaint about such policies is that they limit free speech, silencing speakers who express opinions that are not ‘politically correct’ or differ from the status quo. Opponents of no-platforming claim that the policy’s supporters use the movement as an opportunity to ban speakers whose views they don’t agree with. Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell was recently turned down from an event at Canterbury Christ Church University, where an NUS rep refused to share a platform with him on the grounds that his past remarks were ‘racist’ and ‘transphobic’. In response, Tatchell said, “I simply say where is the evidence for that claim? I’ve asked all my accusers; none of them can provide a single bit of evidence”. “That is what is particularly offensive about some aspects of student politics today—people make false, baseless allegations to try and discredit their opponents”.
With regard to the complaints about the NUS’ no-platforming policy, a spokeswoman said, “Our policy does not limit free speech, but acts to defend it by calling out violence, hate speech, bullying and harassment, which allows debate to take place without intimidation. Students’ unions are champions of debate on campus; in fact, a recent survey showed zero out of 50 students’ unions had banned a speaker in the past year”. The NUS also holds additional policies that refuse platforms to certain people or organisations on other grounds, including those whom they deem to be transphobic, including writers Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer.