The Tories’ Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill is nothing of the sort. It tramples on students unions’ autonomy, overturns long-standing no-platform policies, narrows the legal definition of academic freedoms and fails to address real threats to campus free speech: the ever-failing Prevent duty, casualised employment, insecure research funding and, of course, the Government.
The Government has done more to protect hate speech this week than it has to protect people on the receiving end. When spectators booed the England football team for taking the knee during the Euro 2020 warm-ups, many Tory ministers and MPs didn’t just refuse to condemn this behaviour. Some senior figures actually jumped to the fans’ defence. Condoning this response is inseparable from the racist abuse that three Black players (Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka) faced on social media in the aftermath of the final.
This Bill is part of an ongoing authoritarian Tory agenda that is seeking to stop anyone from challenging them: whether by curtailing the right to protest, disenfranchising people less likely to vote for them, or attacking the power of the courts to hold them to account.
Fundamentally, this authoritarianism comes from a place of weakness and fear. The Tories know that they have overwhelmingly lost the support of the young, who fundamentally disagree with their reactionary and divisive policies. The real intent behind this Bill is to foist right-wing speakers on student societies.
I voted against this Campus Crackdown Bill this week at its second reading. The right to live free from hate is not up for debate and it never should be. And the biggest threat to free speech on university campuses is not student societies’ no-platform policies, it is the Tories threatening student societies’ freedom to choose who speaks at their events and their ability to keep students safe.
Read more about the Tories’ wider authoritarian agenda.