November 22, 2004

The 'No Platform to Fascists and Racists' Motion

Writing about Union Referenda and Elections from Returning Officer

Scoot over to the student union website. Click on voting.

Now, scroll down to the case against the second motion. Click on it.

Well, what do you see? A robust defense? A weak defense? Anything like that?


What you see is:


You can hardly blame them. No one wants to be seen defending fascists and racists. But surely, there is an argument against the No-Platform motion? Surely there is some sort of debate available. I was half interested myself, but it seems, it is already too late:


But while the Elections Group spend the £60 opposition campaign budget on beer and drugs, let us just pause for a moment to reflect. And try to formulate

An argument against

NOTE: I am not a racist. I am not a fascist. Ok? In fact, if the BNP does ever win, then I, as an immigrant myself, would very likely be on the hit-list.

The motion is:

"To extend existing policies to prevent individuals or groups who advocate or express racist or fascist views from having any involvement in the Union, or its events."

But look at what it says. It says that these views are not permitted. Whatever happened to free speech? Existing law in this land targets incitement to racial hatred. Certainly, that is different. But to target the mere expression of this view – surely it is unjustifiable. You may detest what is spoken, but when it harms no-one, you must defend their right to say so. The motion proposed is FAR too broad. It's swatting a fly with a broadsword.

The fact is, the idea that this would attack the spread of fascist ideas is utterly absurd. If anything, the recent rise of the far right is spurred on by a perception of a 'liberal' authority that is 'oppressing' them. Such a motion would simply reinforce this belief. It would in no way suppress the beliefs of those already within these organisations, and it will generate sympathy from those just outside them. This motion will simply help to expand their numbers. This motion is precisely what they want to sell their story of ethnic tensions.

And worse, it would drive the believers into the fortress mentality. Past history has shown that the only way to defeat radical believers is to engage with them in mature conversation. By silencing them, we are not expressing any sort of strong opposition. Rather, it is a sign of weakness, that we are afraid of talking to them. If they are as wrong as we know them to be, then they should be allowed to defeat themselves with their own words, and we must be active in countering them word for word. Pretending they do not exist will fail as a policy.


- 25 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. In my view, there are two major reasons to have a no platform policy in the Union: 1.) I don't see why our members should be subjected to discrimination within the Union, and 2.) I don't see why we should allow the likes of the BNP to run events with money and backing from the Union. The no platform motion is quite loosely written though.

    22 Nov 2004, 22:44

  2. That is also my opinion, although I will abstain rather than vote against the motion.
    Free speech has to apply to everyone not only to those people who's views we like. Saying that we want to ban all Racists and Fascists from our Union would first require very exact guidelines on exactly what constitutes a racist or fascist. If I were against letting asylum seekers into the country would that automatically make me a racist? Also would my not liking americans make me a racist?
    I do agree that we need to make sure that students aren't turned by the speeches of the BNP, but that will only happen if we fight the Racists on their own turf. Simply telling them to shut up will only help them.
    The Motion, in my view, is a half hearted attempt at making a show of strength on the issue of Racism and Fascism. If you want to discourage them, let them set up a stall in the Union and then crowd it with protesters so as to deter anyone from approaching. We shouldn't be taking Free Speech away from them, we should be battering them over the head with it.

    22 Nov 2004, 22:53

  3. Obviously I agree with Zhou Fang and disagree with Luke Parks

    22 Nov 2004, 22:55

  4. 1.) I don't see why our members should be subjected to discrimination within the Union

    My opinion is that discriminating against the discriminators is still discrimination. I'm holding that all views deserve to be expressed, though they are not equally true. If an individual is deemed to be causing offence to another individual, then sure, this is wrong. But I think verbal and mental bullying is already disallowed. The thing here is that the motion is based on the banning of a certain view, not the protection of minorities. This motion will open up the opposition to racist with claims of hypocrisy.

    2.) I don't see why we should allow the likes of the BNP to run events with money and backing from the Union.

    My counter to this is that the Union already funds (but I'm not sure of this) a variety of religious and philosophical groups. Because the Union funds Christian Union, it does not mean that the Union is pro-Christian. If someone wants to form a BNP group, and finds the support and membership, then they have already helped fund their own organisation. The fact that we allow them to do this in such a case does not in any way legitimise their beliefs – it just shows that we recognise that they hold such a belief, and decide to fulfill our obligations to represent any and all beliefs.

    22 Nov 2004, 22:58

  5. Zhou, Union societies get more than just the money from their members; they also get the use of Union facilities and advertising and can bid for further money each year. In addition, they have the Union's imprimatur on them. There's a fairly good case to be made that it would actually be a violation of the Union's Constitutional aim to 'enhance the experience' of students at Warwick knowingly to expose them to the sort of organisations regarded by the Union as beyond the pale (a list can be found on the 'Democracy' section of the website under 'Information' and then, bizarrely, 'affiliations'); this, of course, does not even take into account the Union's Constitutional commitment to equal opportunities. In addition to this, the existence of unsavoury organisations on campus would attract unsavoury people (such as their leaders) which could cause the sort of security headache which would make the recent contretemps over FoPal's debate look like a picnic. Oh, and by the way, just to set you straight, the Union doesn't fund the Christian Union; they were disaffiliated a few years ago for homophobia.

    In general, I also am dubious as to the value of of 'no platform' policies, but within organisations like the Union, I think that not to have one would be to invite trouble. The Union is not under an obligation to support the existence of organisations whose very essence is so completely antithetical to our aims and to the interests and happiness of such a large number of our members as people like the BNP. They would take up money and resources contributed by our members in order to act, in many cases, in a way which would be directly offensive to them and to object to their very existence. In addition, they could cause countless problems in terms of the Union's liability in cases of incitement to racial hatred etc.

    22 Nov 2004, 23:22

  6. I agree with most things said already. I'm happy to pay £x for socs fed membership and £y for a pint of beer but I don't want the money going to fund racism. However I feel that the proposal is very badly constructed and worded. I'd be happier and more likely to vote 'yes' than abstain if it actually said no racist society can be set up and the union building cannot be used for promoting racism through posters, stalls, organised union events. As it stands however,

    "[Union resolves]... Not to allow any person who can be shown to have advocated or expressed, or to be likely to advocate or express, racist or fascist conduct, attitudes or views to have any involvement with the Union and to ban any such person from entering Union events and buildings."

    Is a very wishywashy statement. I especially don't like the 'likely to…" part. Also how about the situation of an individual with racist parents who now at uni is given a chance to discuss such views with opposing views may be able to better understand and realise those views are hurtful. An unlikely situation but they would be banned and refused that opportunity.
    This maybe nitpicking but I feel just a bit more effort with the wording could make this a clearer and ultimately a stronger stance.

    23 Nov 2004, 00:03

  7. I agree with you Colin. As far as I'm aware, the wording is straight from the current 'no platform' policy which would be superceded by this one, but the wording is actually very poor. Sadly, though, it is next to impossible to amend referendum motions. If it goes to Council due to inquoracy, I might give it a try.

    23 Nov 2004, 00:06

  8. It is not quite true to suggest you cannot ammend referendum motions. With a petition of twenty two signatures you can move an ammendment at the meeting of Composite Group which obviously has to take place before polling opens as the electorate need to know what they are voting on.
    Composite can also make changes (not strictly speaking an ammendment) to motions for example to ensure that the spelling is correct and they are legally sound.

    23 Nov 2004, 20:47

  9. Nick Seagrave

    As Elections Group Chair I feel compelled to reply.

    First I'd like to emphasise Elections Group are not responsible for the content of motions, the motion writers are.

    Secondly neither are Elections Group are not responsible for finding people to form campaign groups for referenda.

    Third, the reason a deadline is imposed is so we can collect deposits for the referenda group. In elections candidates submit a deposit from which they are fined if they break the rules. Nobody questions this. The same applies to referenda groups, if they break the rules they will be fined, without a deposit and knowing who they are we cannot do this.

    By all means tell your friends your opinions and encourage them to cast a vote, but Elections Group have to follow the regulations so no 'no' campaign will be allowed to form.

    Nick Seagrave
    Elections Group Chair

    23 Nov 2004, 20:51

  10. Out of interest, John, apart from the Fair Trade motion last year (which I happen to know was amended by the proposer to add a finance plan), when was the last time someone actually managed to amend a motion sent to referendum by signatures?

    23 Nov 2004, 21:16

  11. Luke –

    I collected 22 signatures and moved an amendment to the Referendum motion on Reforming the Executive Committee last Spring to clarify that all Exec. members would be elected by cross-campus ballott. This was both in the spirit of the motion and acceptable to the proposer, so composite was happy to accept it.

    That motion was sent to referendum by council, as to when the last time a referendum motion sent by signatures was amended I'm not sure.

    As Chair of Composite, I'd also like to clarify some points about the amendment procedure.

    The deadline for motions is noon Friday week 6. All motions (whether submitted via Council or signatures) are published the same day on the Elections Group notice board, and amendments are invited. The deadline for amendments is noon Friday week 7.

    Composite meets within 2 days of the amendments deadline. It's task is to agree on final motions to be put to the electorate, which are in the spirit of those submitted via Council or via signatures. Hence amendments submitted which are not within the spirit of the motion are unlikely to get very far. Composite also makes changes to ensure that the motion is clear, accurate, unbiased and that the Constitution remains consistent. It also determines the title and description of each motion.

    On this occasion no amendments were received, however Composite did make a number of changes to both motions for many of the above reasons.

    23 Nov 2004, 23:32

  12. I remember that amendment now you say it, Benny; Chris Malins dragooned me into representing the former DOC on composite working group for that referendum period. I also recall that the referendum got about 500 votes in total.

    24 Nov 2004, 00:36

  13. Actually it was just under 400…

    24 Nov 2004, 08:09

  14. Well we're well past that now!

    24 Nov 2004, 15:33

  15. M Cobb

    the answer isnt to vote against motion 2, which i strongly disagree with. the answer is not to vote and deny the referendum quoracy. that will show how absurd "union democracy" really is.

    Important elections you should always vote in. The Union is a farce run by the loony left.

    24 Nov 2004, 20:50

  16. vote against motion 2

    "No one within the proposition would ever endorse racism, nor would they want to encourage any kind of prejudice and it is for this reason, they can see only prejudice in a "democratic" union silencing certain voices and silencing the freedom of speech which is so essential to a healthy democracy.

    "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" said the famous French liberal Voltaire and that is the same stance we believe is best for the union.

    What good will it do to ban something metaphysical like "fascism", it sounds almost as bad as Bush's war on the emotion of "terror"- surely it is obvious that such ideas cannot be banned and if they are suppressed- well, we are closer to the fascist regimes which suppressed voices than we are to a real democracy. With such a policy passed we would be one step towards a dictatorship of human consciences, thought police and witch hunts- and one step away from what we are advocating- "democracy"

    We are not talking about banning a material thing here; we are somehow going to have a situation where people loosely defined as "fascist" (a term which the proposition has failed to define) will not be allowed entry to Top B. Will there be some way to decide if someone is a "fascist"? What will be their giveaway? Is being nationalistic enough for a person to be classed as "fascist"- some political theorists think so. Seriously- do we want a strange situation where being patriotic is deemed offensive?

    In a real democracy the very worst ideas are those which should be allowed to be spoken of as it is only through the public debate of these philosophies by which they can be ripped to pieces. If we do not discuss racism and fascism and analyze their attractions and causes- how can we defeat them?

    We believe that it is only be tackling the issues head on that we can defeat intolerant ideologies- we have nothing to fear from hearing a fascist in a debate and so, we should debate- as, as JS Mill said, it is only through debate that false ideas can be defeated and the truth be found.

    Let us be clear here that there is a difference between toleration of someone debating on the side of fascism and incitement of racial hatred. That is, the incitement of racial hatred is a matter for the police- under law this is not allowed and so obviously, this would never be tolerated on campus.

    Finally, let us take a quick look at the motion again; have we considered the implications for the comedy club? Sometimes, isn't weak prejudice in comedy's name humorous? Surely we can laugh at one another? Surely we shouldn't become as draconian as to "ban" any kind of humor which could be seen as offensive.

    Political correctness has gone too far.

    Racism is never good- but nor is creating a rule to deal with a few exceptionally evil racist people which will have worse implications on the average Joe who just wants to celebrate the differences of different cultures within humor.

    25 Nov 2004, 01:38

  17. bq.the answer isnt to vote against motion 2, which i strongly disagree with. the answer is not to vote and deny the referendum quoracy. that will show how absurd "union democracy" really is.

    That doesn't sound like a reasonable measure at all. You suggest the system is absurd because it is dominated by a certain view, and in response, you decide to further reinforce this sort of view by removing yourself from the process? Deciding not to vote when you have a serious opinion sends only a negative message about your point of view. All that is going to do is to spur on measures like Motion 1, which will reduce quoracy requirements, because 'apparently', people don't care. Staying out of the process will only confirm your own irrelevance.

    And I don't see how this vote is unimportant.

    25 Nov 2004, 02:33

  18. Political correctness has gone too far.

    You have no idea how much I hate this phrase.

    25 Nov 2004, 02:38

  19. Colin Paterson

    People should vote against motion 2 in my opinion, the more I think about this the more I become against it.

    25 Nov 2004, 03:01

  20. "The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error . . . If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. "—John Stuart Mill

    No Platform doesn't seem very serious; it appears wholly insignificant in light of the magnitude of the challenge to our racially and culturally heterogeneous society posed by racist and fascist organizations. To ban such peddlers of hate makes us feel good, as if we're actually doing something to combat the sickness infecting our society that led to the BNP and other groups winning seats and elections. We bury our heads in the sand, and ban them from the Warwick Bubble; we can pretend that we on campus can be sealed off from racism and fascism, and thus feel safer and happier in our lives. And, in so doing, we contribute to the collapse of our society. The instant that we content ourselves with segregating those with contradictory, even despicable beliefs from ourselves, we lose an opportunity to shore up our own belief in the right of all to freedom, both of speech and of person. We do not challenge an offensive belief to convince our opponent of his ignorance; we challenge it to convince those around us, to make his utter incompetence so clear that he becomes a figure of ridicule. Humiliated, he is no longer a shadowy figure for those not convinced of his incoherence to ridicule, but is left out in the open, naked and exposed, bruised from the stone hail unleashed by his critics. No Platform would have us provide ammunition for his claims of unjust persecution, keep him at arms length to prevent our attacking him, and then turn our backs and assume he is no longer a threat.

    "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."—Noam Chomsky

    25 Nov 2004, 21:35

  21. I posted the "vote against motion 2" message earlier.

    I sent it to the voting people on wednesday and as expected they said "it is too late for us to put this on the website"

    how come I never knew that they required people to submit arguments against the motion unti this week?

    surely they should not have printed that leaflet out without having arguments against that motion.

    Someone could have played devil's advocate.

    They were willing to let someone play devil's advocate in the last democracy meeting for a motion.

    26 Nov 2004, 01:08

  22. Interesting article: Is America Becoming Fascist?

    26 Nov 2004, 13:49

  23. Ok, Elections Group could not accept your argument because the deadline had passed for Referendum Group formation and deadline for arguments. Once this is passed we have no power to say that an argument be put forward. We did however ask the for group if they would. They initially refused but then changed their minds. There is now an against argument up, it is not that one because you were not the first to send one.

    If Elections Group had posted an against argument without permission of the for campaign it would have been unfair on them, because they had kept to the rules.

    On the point of advertising the referenda motions, the whole of Union Council were emailed, as were all campaigning societies. We also intend to inform the boar in the future.

    Nick Seagrave
    Elections Group Chair

    26 Nov 2004, 16:40

  24. I vaguely recall one of the sabbs warning (it may have been in the word or the boar earlier this term) against believing in the 'warwick bubble', but surely shielding us from racist or fascist opinions only serves to strengthen the bubble as it just makes us naive to the real world?

    I voted against, I don't like racists or fascists but I support their right to have an opinion.

    26 Nov 2004, 18:20

  25. This is semi-spam:

    I've written an entry about a proposed counter-motion. Anyone interested, see:

    A counter-anti-fac/rac motion

    29 Nov 2004, 20:35

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