The British Labour Party will oppose a Tory-sponsored bill that would allow “deplatformed” political speakers to sue universities. Labour leader Keir Starmer claims the bill will enable “Holocaust deniers” and “anti-vaxxers.”
The bill, proposed by the Conservative government and headed for a second reading in the House of Commons this week, would amend existing laws safeguarding free speech on university campuses by allowing guest speakers to sue the universities if they are denied a platform over political views. It would also mandate the appointment of a “Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom” within the government’s Office for Students, and allow university staff to take legal action if they felt they had been passed over for a job due to their views.
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The Labour Party isn’t on board. In a statement on Saturday, the party said that its MPs would vote against this “hate speech bill.” Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green said that if passed, it could give “people harmful to public interest the opportunity to sue their way to a platform at universities.”
As for who Labour considers “harmful to the public interest,” Green listed “Holocaust deniers” and “anti-vaxxers” as two examples. Labour Leader Keir Starmer echoed Green’s words on Sunday, calling it “shocking” that the Conservatives would hypothetically support these people’s speech rights.
It is shocking that the Conservatives are introducing a new law to give Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers and people harmful to public interest the opportunity to sue their way to a platform at universities.https://t.co/gU7pdDPy7F
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) July 11, 2021
The UK’s universities are on Starmer’s side. Universities UK, which represents 140 higher education institutes, claims that “this bill could make it easier for those who promote conspiracy theories or ‘alternative facts’ to speak on university campuses,” while court cases over free speech could inflict “significant cost, time and reputational damage to universities.”
Supporters of the bill, however, argue that universities are supposed to be places where facts and opinions – even the most controversial ones – can be debated.
Holy shit, that's terrifying, if only we had them speaking in establishments purposefully built to discuss, debate and challenge these ideas.
— Count Dankula🏴🏳️🌈 (@CountDankulaTV) July 11, 2021
If opinions are not openly heard and debated, they become marginalized and victimized. The best way to expose them is in the full glare of public debate. They may be horrible people/views but allowing them to become “victims of censorship” isn’t an answer.
— Jem McDowall (@NYJemM) July 11, 2021
Don't you think Universities *with the smart people* are exactly the right place for these views to be dissected, discussed & torn apart? WTF is wrong with you Keir?
— lorna🍒 (@Lorna9100M) July 11, 2021
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