Jazz hands, safe spaces, and bans on yoga: six things to watch out for at your new university

Published by The Telegraph on 18/08/16


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Sixth form students across the UK will now be preparing for their first term of university having received their A-level results. If you’re one of them, congratulations! But there’s something you need to know.

Of course you’ll already be deluged with pieces of advice about how to survive their time at university. You’ll know how to boil pasta, survive on a miserly budget, and avoid STIs.

For the open-minded student, however, undercooked pasta and overcooked nights out pose a minimal threat to their freedom-loving lifestyle. The intolerant and censorious attitudes promulgated by universities represent a much greater challenge to students looking for a no-holds barred intellectual experience.

So if you really want to have a “university experience” that is genuinely liberal and open to all ideas, you’ll have to beware of the following campus practices:

1. Safe spaces

A “safe space” is a criticism-free zone where a “marginalised” group can flatter itself. Of course, these spaces are only “safe” for those willing to conform to the group’s particular ideology. Worryingly, more than a fifth of UK universities have safe space policies.

As a safe space at the University of Edinburgh demonstrated, any attempt to posit an alternative perspective is invariably rejected. At a student council meeting on the Israel boycott movement, one student was accused of violating safe space rules after she shook her head in disagreement. Under the meeting’s safe space policy, “hand gestures which denote disagreement” were a violation of the safe space.

Instead, try to set up “unsafe spaces” on university campuses where ideas are subject to criticism. Follow the lead of a group of students at LSE and set up a Free Speech Society where all points of view can be expressed.

2. Clapping

The university can be a dangerous place for the ardent applauder. According to the NUS, the act of clapping can be “triggering” for certain students. It therefore promotes its substitution for jazz hands in NUS conferences. The NUS suggests jazz hands “make everyone feel able to participate”, forgetting the majority of us would rather cut off our hands than jingle them in the air.

So clap. Clap as loud and often as you can. People have been clapping since the 4th Century BC – surely that deserves a round of applause.

3. Trigger warnings

Trigger warnings are introductory statements written at the start of an excerpt to warn the reader about potentially distressing material. As well as being a virtue-signalling device used to show students how right-on the editor is, the existence of trigger warnings is based on the presumption that students are too weak and vulnerable to cope with an evocative text.

Trigger warnings appear on every NUS document and have started to appear on university texts. Recently, law students at Oxford University demanded trigger warnings be used before lectures on sexual offences. Other students at Oxford were warned of a “racial slur” in Robert Lowell’s For the Union of the Dead. One Durham student even demanded trigger warnings when discussing Titus Andronicus because of Lavinia’s rape in one scene. God forbid a piece of text be evocative.

4. Cultural appropriation

A number of universities have taken action against students who have threatened to appropriate elements of a different culture. Apparently the assimilation of alternative cultures is insensitive.

As a result, the University of Birmingham banned sombreros from a Halloween Party. At the University of Cambridge, parties with the themes “Around the World in 80 Days” and “The Orient Express” were both cancelled ‘to avoid the potential for offence”.

Fortunately for UK students, the most serious repercussions of “cultural appropriation’ occur the other side of the Atlantic. Yoga-lovers will be displeased to know it has been banned at the University as Ottawa because some students were uncomfortable with the ‘cultural issues’ involved.

Happily, the censors have not yet got to everything: you are free to eat your pot noodle while listening to reggae and wearing those harem pants you bought on your gap year. Don’t forget the term “university” is derived from the Latin universus – meaning “the whole”, not “the few”.

5. No-platforming

While universities used to be place of constant debate, student unions are actively clamping down on discussion by “no-platforming” individuals it believes to be offensive. Not only does this demonstrate an insidious disregard for freedom of expression, but it also means students miss out from listening to genuinely interesting speakers.

40 per cent of UK universities advocate no-platforming policies. As a result, veteran feminist Julie Bindel was banned from the University of Manchester, human rights activist Maryam Namazie from Goldsmiths University and gay activist Peter Tatchell from Canterbury Christ Church University. UCL’s student union even attempted to no-platform a man who travelled to Syria to fight against Isil on the grounds that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” – because, y’know, fighting Isil might not be good thing…

6. Fun

Keep your eye out for fun on campus – you might be hard-pressed to find it. Young people are drinking less booze and having less sexthan adults from any generation since the 1920s.

A number of universities are also doing their utmost to prevent students from having a laugh. The absurd steps taken by student unions to stop students larking about is summed up by the banning of ‘offensive sexual noises’ on a multiple campuses, including Cambridge, Newcastle, UCL, Sussex and St Andrews.

If that bothers you, you can always head down to the union bar and turn it into an orgy of argument. Demonstrate that students can cope with a few groans.

Enough Dithering – We Need to Invoke Article 50 Now!

Published by The Huffington Post on 11/08/16


You may not have guessed it, but it’s been almost 50 days since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Aside from numerous shrieks echoing round our newspapers’ opinion sections, you’d be hard-pressed to find much evidence for the Brexit vote. Why? Because our government is yet to invoke Article 50 – the formal mechanism for leaving the EU.

Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has suggested Article 50 won’t be triggered until at least 2017, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, believes it should be delayed for six years.

Depressingly, these are some of the more generous timescales relating to Article 50’s invocation: the bookies don’t think it will be triggered at all.

Of course, we shouldn’t be too surprised our government is intent on delaying our exit from the European Union. June’s referendum revealed an immeasurable schism between the UK’s population and its ‘representatives’ in parliament. While the majority of the UK voted to leave the EU, the number of MPs who voted to sever ties with Brussels were marked by their scarcity.

Through delaying the invocation of Article 50, our government hopes the UK will forget the momentous decision it made on June 23. They intend to delay its implementation until we lose interest.

If we really believe we should leave the EU – if we really believe the demos should be respected – it’s now or never. Article 50 isn’t a fine wine; it doesn’t get better with age. It must be invoked immediately.

Since June 23, there have been numerous attempts to thwart the Brexit vote. Over 1,000 lawyers have signed a letter claiming the EU referendum was merely “advisory” and “not legally binding”. Mishcon De Reya, a London-based law firm, even intends to launch legal proceedings against the government if it invokes Article 50 without first consulting parliament.

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, is so bitter about the referendum result that he has called for it to be rerun. Apparently his political beliefs are more important than those of the 17.2 million people who voted for Brexit.

We must not stand for this. Any attempt to thwart the Brexit vote derives from an insidious inclination to subvert the will of the people. The vote to leave the European Union represented the largest democratic mandate in UK constitutional history – it must not be ignored.

The post-referendum actions of our politicians and lawyers have shown we cannot become complacent. It is imperative we continue to fight for Brexit and ensure the will of demos translates into real political action.

We need to organise and make known our desire to leave the European Union. We need to encourage our citizens to show their support for democracy by signing the petition calling for the immediate invocation of Article 50. We need to plaster our surroundings with posters and flyers detailing our discontent. And crucially, when our government meets on September 5 to discuss the possibility of a second referendum, we need to be outside Westminster Hall, letting Parliament know our decision to leave the EU must be respected.

We have spoken. 17.2 million voices will not be silenced. We must Invoke Article 50 NOW!

Join the campaign here.

 

Boycotting Byron lets the government off the hook

Published by Spiked on 2/8/16


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Two hundred people gathered last night outside Byron Hamburgers in Holborn, London, to protest against the chain’s shameful treatment of its migrant workers. Last week it was revealed that Byron had collaborated with the Home Office to stage immigration raids at a number of its London restaurants.

It is Byron’s deceitful tactics that have attracted the most vitriol. The workers were asked to attend training sessions where, on arrival, they were welcomed by a band of immigration officials. Thirty-five people – suspected illegal migrants from Brazil, Nepal, Egypt and Albania – were arrested and are due to be deported.

I have sympathy with the protesters, who are calling for a boycott. The intricate ruse Byron cooperated in was appalling. It utterly degraded the relationship between employer and employee and demonstrated that Byron management has about as much respect for its workers as it does for the pieces of meat its restaurants serve.

But it is important to remember that the mistreatment of migrants in the UK isn’t entirely down to one burger chain. Those who picketed Byron probably recognise this. But the fact that they’ve put all their energy into protesting against Byron, rather than putting real political pressure on the government, speaks to their somewhat warped priorities.

Byron is a soft target. Yes, it acted in a vile manner, but the protest was little more than an act of impression management, which left the wider question of the status of migrants up in the air. It’s a displacement activity, which avoids serious discussion about the government’s treatment of migrants. Rather than set up outside the Home Office, protesters would rather write burger puns on placards.

The vacuous nature of the Byron protest was neatly summed up by its coordinators’ insistence on labelling the restaurant chain ‘unethical’ – a hollow term most often used to describe cheap coffee beans and t-shirt materials. The protesters, it seems, are far more concerned with the sneaky methods used to capture the migrant workers than they are with the draconian policies that informed them.

‘The law doesn’t tell Byron to entrap workers’, the protest’s coordinator pointed out. And, of course, she’s right. The lengths Byron went to in order to comply with the Home Office were absurd. But though its actions may have left a nasty taste in our mouths, we’d be doing migrant workers a disservice if we allowed Byron to become a scapegoat for the immigration policies promulgated by our government.

Indeed, if there ever was a time to criticise UK immigration policy, it’s now. We now have one of the most anti-immigrant prime ministers in recent memory. This year, Theresa May announced that non-EU migrants who have lived here for more than six years and earn less than £35,000 per year will have to leave. And she deported 48,000 foreign students on false claims that they had cheated on English-language tests.

We must recognise that Byron’s treatment of its migrant workers was just one incident that reflected the stringent immigration policies enacted by the authorities. It’s pretty clear why Byron’s actions attracted such a kneejerk response. For the young, millennial protesters, Byron was a hip establishment, a place that serves you the Guardian in a brioche bun; it has let them down.

But while slagging off Byron is a surefire way to make you feel right-on, it doesn’t challenge the underlying problem: our narrow-minded immigration policies. If we really believe Byron’s actions were despicable, switching to Gourmet Burger Kitchen isn’t enough. We need to take our government to task for its nasty practices, and win the democratic argument for a more generous immigration arrangement and for tolerance. Shrieking outside a burger bar solves nothing.

The NUS is shutting Jewish students out of its bubble of illiberal sanctimony

Published by The Telegraph on 21/07/16


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Getty

The NUS has always been slightly unsure how to deal with Jewish students.

Its very existence is predicated on a cuddly form of identity politics which aims to embrace students of any race, sexuality, gender and religion. It hopes to be a bastion of inclusivity; representing the unrepresented who have been neglected by our insensitive society.

That’s why its latest decision to block Jewish students from selecting a representative on the union’s Anti-Racism and Anti-Fascism Committee seems so bizarre.

Purely from an epistemological standpoint, having a Jewish representative chosen by Jewish students seems fairly intuitive given that Jews have, well, borne their fair share of fascism in the past century.

Of course, Jewish students aren’t the first to be forcefully disenfranchised by the NUS. In March, the NUS made public its preference for competitive victim-hugging over representation by banning gay representatives from its LGBT+ Campaign because gay men aren’t sufficiently oppressed.

There’s no doubt the NUS’ recent treatment of Jews has been pretty dismal. In April, the NUS voted to scrap Holocaust Memorial Day because it is not “inclusive”. For over a year now, it has supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel – although, rather amusingly, a former NUS President was willing to accept sponsorship from Coco-Cola, despite the fact the firm operates factories in Israeli settlements. Most recently, its current president, Malia Bouattia, came under fire for labelling the University of Birmingham a “Zionist outpost”.

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NUS President Malia Bouattia

It appears the NUS is happy to be an inclusive organisation as long as its inclusivity does not apply to Jewish students. This has led many of its critics to instinctively label it as “anti-Semitic”. What these examples demonstrate, however, is that the NUS isn’t inherently anti-Semitic, but instead has tendency to conflate Judaism with Zionism.

Its blasé regard towards the status of Jewish students is merely a result of its obsessive focus on Zionism, which, in recent years, has begun to acquiesce to anti-Semitic currents within its ranks.

Crucially, the NUS’ decision to stop Jewish students from choosing a Jewish representative should not be regarded as symptomatic of its supposed anti-Semitic roots, but rather its unrepresentative nature.

While the NUS labels itself as a “union of students”, it is evident the vast majority of the student populace don’t care for it. NUS delegates are elected by a tiny proportion of the student population and the motions they propose pander to an even smaller, illiberal, identity politics-driven minority.

Of course, this suits the NUS perfectly; allowing it to operate within its isolated bubble and, from time to time, venture into the real world to exert its supposed moral superiority.

Ultimately, the disenfranchisement of Jewish students  from the NUS’ Anti-Racism and Anti-Fascism Committee isn’t a massive blow for the fight against campus anti-Semitism. It would be seriously worrying if Jewish students needed an organisation which has introduced jazz hands to replace “triggering” clapping to fight their cause. The chosen people don’t need safe spaces, trigger-warnings and continuous no-platforming to combat racism and fascism.

All we need is free discussion and a willingness to debate – something the NUS can’t provide us with.

1,000 lawyers claim EU result is ‘not legally binding’

1,000 lawyers have signed a letter claiming the EU referendum should be viewed as ‘advisory’ and ‘not legally binding’. They believe parliament should hold a second vote on whether we should leave the European Union and, ultimately, ignore the 30 million people who voted in the referendum.

I was invited onto Russia Today to discuss this attempt to subvert democracy and explain why we need to Invoke Article 50 now.

Why I picketed Mishcon de Reya over Brexit – and why you should want Britain to leave the EU immediately

Published by The Telegraph on  08/07/16


“Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of Article 50?”

Not quite as catchy, is it?

Still, that didn’t stop a group of pro-democracy campaigners from protesting outside the gates of Mishcon De Reya, the London law firm which intends to take legal action against the UK government if it invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without holding a vote in parliament.

Mishcon De Reya claims to represent a group of anonymous claimants made up of business leaders and academics. Of course, it’s rather fitting that Mishcon De Reya’s clients chose to remain anonymous. After all, we shouldn’t be too surprised that an anonymous group of business leaders wants to do everything possible to stop us from severing ties with the most anonymous of all groups: those unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who can never be held accountable.

The most surprising aspect of the pro-democracy protest was that there are not more like it up and down the country. Here we have a legal firm attempting to use the courts to subvert the democratic mandate of the British people. Our political system is being encroached upon by a bunch of lawyers who believe their will is morally superior to that of the UK populace. Where are the barricades?

Mishcon De Reya’s actions only reinforce the conviction of Leave voters that the state of democracy is in crisis. The EU referendum represented a mass exercise in democracy fought over months. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the UK experienced a level of political engagement not seen in years. Its result must not be thwarted by a sneaky law-firm using convoluted legal processes to undermine the aspirations of the 52 per cent of the electorate who voted Leave.

Immediately after the referendum result came through, vitriol was levied towards the political capabilities of those who voted Leave. Now, however, Mishcon De Reya’s proposed action insidiously suggests that neither Remain nor Leave voters should have a role to play in deciding their country’s future. Its attempt to rely on the legitimacy of Parliament to thwart the outcome of the referendum is an attempt to evade the moral duty of government to act on the decision of the electorate.

The law firm’s proposed challenge to the will of the people expresses disdainful disregard for the citizens who voted in the referendum. We are constantly reminded to label the UK as “a tolerant, liberal and democratic society”. But how can we proclaim this with a straight face when our very own demos faces subversion?

Democratic process is not something decided behind the closed doors of a legal chamber, but in the polling station. People in their millions voted on 23 June. The message sent out by Mishcon De Reya is that we shouldn’t have bothered to leave our front doors, let alone the European Union.

17.5 million UK citizens voted to leave the EU – the largest mandate in British political history. If Mishcon De Reya think the British people are going to sit back and let their voice be silenced, they had better be ready for us to shout.


We need to invoke Article 50 NOW.

Labour, you can’t ban anti-Semitism

Published by Spiked on 05/07/16


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‘The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism’, writes Shami Chakrabarti in her report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The report’s sober conclusion was mildly refreshing given the hyperbolic coverage of Labour over the past few months, which, at points, has suggested it is a hotbed for Hitlerphiles.

This is not to suggest Chakrabarti doesn’t think there is a problem. She writes, for example, of the ‘ignorant attitudes and behaviours festering within a sometimes bitter incivility of discourse’. But this is as applicable to the UK in general as it is to Labour specifically. In fact, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem could be viewed as an amplified form of anti-Semitic discourse within society as a whole.

But the most worrying aspect of Chakrabarti’s report was not the findings themselves, but the reaction to them. Indeed, the report only started to attract public attention after Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish Labour MP, left the launch event in tears, having effectively been accused by a pro-Corbyn Labour activist of being part of a Jewish media conspiracy.

Smeeth’s distress was understandable. But her subsequent assertion that a ‘Labour Party under [Corbyn’s] stewardship cannot be a safe space for British Jews’ was an attempt to exploit a nasty comment for political ends. After all, can Corbyn really be blamed for the actions of a misinformed and insensitive nobody?

Smeeth had every right to question why the activist was invited. But her decision to use the incident as part of the attempt to oust Corbyn completely debases the fight against anti-Semitism. An opportunity to highlight an increasingly acceptable form of prejudice has been turned into yet another piece of anti-Corbyn posturing. And in doing so, Smeeth only reinforced the sense that anti-Semitism is still not being taken seriously.

Corbyn’s own reaction to the report was also far from perfect. ‘Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government’, he said, ‘than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations’. But if Corbyn’s decision to greet Chakrabarti’s report by drawing a crude analogy between Israel and ISIS was bad, his feeble proposals for dealing with anti-Semitism were far worse.

He boldly announced that the term ‘Zio’ has ‘no place in our party’ and that Labour members should avoid using the language of Hitler and the Holocaust. What this forgets is that prejudice of any sort – particularly anti-Semitism – can never be truly combatted by policing language. Simply banning the language of anti-Semitism is no substitute for tackling the attitude which that language expresses.

If the Labour Party really wants to combat anti-Semitism, it needs to allow the prejudiced to air their views. Only then, in the cut and thrust of open debate, can those views be addressed and refuted.

Just censoring the word ‘Zio’ leaves the sentiment it expresses untouched. And it’s the sentiment, not the words, that needs to be tackled.