OVER 50 PROTESTERS turned out against BNP chairman and MEP Nick Griffin last night. An invitation to Mr Griffin to speak at the Union debate was rescinded on Monday, but Mr Griffin later tweeted, “If I get back from parliament I’ll go anyway. As a life member of the Cambridge Union I have reciprocal membership.”
Union officials confirmed that they would not have acted to keep Mr Griffin out, had he come to Thursday’s debate. However, Griffin did not come, claiming on Twitter, “Unfortunately delay from freezing fog in central France means I’m too late to drop in on the debate. Another time maybe ;)”
The Oxford branch of Unite Against Fascism (UAF) organised the protest, chanting “Oxford Union hear us shout, homophobes and fascists out.” Various groups were present, with one campaigner claiming that students from Oxford, Oxford Brookes and Ruskin College were there, as well as trade unionists and townspeople.
Mr Griffin was originally invited to speak in opposition to the motion ‘This House Would be Glad to Have Gay Parents’, although Union officials claim that the invitation was sent by a rogue member of Secretary’s Committee, now facing “disciplinary action”, without approval from “the President or any other senior member of the Union committee.”
A press release from the Union also stated: “The Oxford Union does not wish to be associated with the BNP in any way whatsoever. We strongly disagree with their views.”
Ian McKendrick, Secretary of Oxford UAF, said, “We were told that Nick Griffin had been invited, so we stepped up to the mark. We’re against any platform for fascists; it only incites people who support them to come out onto the streets, which is very dangerous. We’re not prepared to dick around, so we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution and have some kind of presence to challenge him.” He claimed that if Griffin were to turn up, “We’ll try to physically prevent him from entering.”
Of Griffin’s previous appearance at the Union in 2007, McKendrick said, “I think they learnt last time round how strongly people felt about this. It was 1500 people here; you couldn’t move. It was a massive turnout.”
Nick Evans, a PhD student at Wadham, accused Griffin of “hurling homophobic hate speech”. He said, “When a fascist gets up on a platform, it’s not just a question of free speech; it’s a question of the fact that their organisation will use that platform to encourage violence against LGBT, minorities, and trade unionists.”
Sam Hollick, Green councillor for Holywell ward, said, “I’m not protesting against freedom of speech. I think Nick Griffin has plenty of opportunities himself to publicise his own views. It is wrong for the Oxford Union to try and give a platform to someone who has such a fringe and offensive view.”
The Union was forced to draft in two replacement speakers after Scott Lively, controversially linked to the anti-gay movement in Uganda, and Winston McKenzie, the UKIP spokesperson who described same-sex adoption as “child abuse”, pulled out of Thursday’s debate at the last minute.