‘No Platform’ policy rejected

19 June 2008

Jack Watson

 

Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) has rejected a motion to reinstate the controversial ‘No Platform’ Policy.

The motion, which was defeated by 38 votes to 29, was submitted because CUSU policy only lasts for three academic years and the ‘No Platform’ policy was due to lapse.

The policy had been in place for six years but could trace its origins in Cambridge back to the 1970s.

It mandated CUSU to campaign against “attempts by any organization within Cambridge University to provide a platform to any group deemed to pose a very real threat to the welfare or security our members” and was applied specifically to the British National Party, the National Front and Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

The ‘No Platform’ policy has always been divisive, and most college representatives on the Council sought a democratic mandate for their vote.

Daniel Chapman, President of Downing College JCR, took the decision to hold a debate and allow students to vote at an open meeting.

He told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “I felt the issue was just too controversial for me to vote based on my own opinions.

“I represent the students at Downing and so I always see my vote on Council as a vote on behalf of Downing.

“I thought that the opinions of the students here were going to be pretty finely balanced and so I felt that I couldn’t just take the decision myself.”

CUSU President Mark Fletcher praised the members of Council who had sought a democratic mandate:

“Many members of CUSU council worked incredibly hard to try and gauge how students wanted them to vote, and the level of interest in this policy was fairly unprecedented.”

He added: “The No Platform Policy is a highly contentious issue, and there were always going to be people that were unhappy with the result.”

News of the motion’s rejection was met with mixed reactions. Some students, such as Soban Khawaja, Chair of the Black Students’ Campaign (BSC), was pleased by the result of the vote. “The Cambridge student body has spoken,” he said.

The BSC were among those who voted against the motion, and Khawaja spoke out against ‘No Platform’ in Council.

Khawaja dismissed the notion that ethnic minorities needed protection from extremist groups:

“We’re quite capable of making that decision for ourselves. Intelligent students will hear, they will reflect and they will challenge these groups if given the chance.

“We cannot sweep these groups under the rug and pretend they don’t exist; only with dialogue can we ever expect to get rid of the extremist elements of our society.”

Others were disappointed that the policy had not been renewed.

In a joint statement to TCS, Gemma Steinhart and Daniel Isenberg, Presidents of the CU Jewish Society, said: “Our student union has been mandated to remain silent on issues that concern racism, fascism and homophobia.”

Alluding to fears that minority students might no longer regard their University as a non-discriminatory ‘safe place’, they added: “We fear that when even CUSU is not permitted to protect its membership, our secure and open community in Cambridge will be explicitly threatened.”