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Mogg Madness: Bristol University is rejecting free speech

With BUCA bankrupted in paying for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the University is rejecting free speech on campus by not covering security charges for speakers.

By Sabrina Miller, First Year English

With BUCA bankrupted in paying for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the University is rejecting free speech on campus by not covering security charges for speakers.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset was invited to speak to the Bristol University Conservative Association (BUCA) on the 16th Febuary 2018. What should have been an exercise in debate, dialogue and discussion turned into a logistical and financial nightmare for the society.

Rees-Mogg is notorious for attracting protest, often violent, due to his provocative views that many struggle to digest. Following incidences at the Conservative Party Conference in 2017 and the Univesity of the West of England in 2018, BUCA legitimately feared for the speaker’s security. Despite this, BUCA refused to be scared into submission and the event proceeded, however this decision came at a large financial cost for the society.

In order to afford the last minute, additional security, BUCA paid £496, a cost that has not been reimbursed by the University.

The University’s refusal to support the Conservative society is ironically elitist. The University is implicitly implying that if you cannot afford to provide security for your speaker, then they should not be allowed to speak. This is an extremely damaging precedent to set. It means that speakers who challenge the mainstream way of thinking- and are perhaps therefore some of the most important speakers to bring on campus- may never get as far as the front door.

By refusing to support societies who wish to bring in more controversial speakers the University of Bristol is essentially acquiescing to the demands of violent protestors who wish to curtail the principles of freedom of speech. The University is insinuating that intimidation tactics are an effective way to keep certain views off of campus and that is fundamentally unacceptable. Whilst the university may not be doing this consciously, they are inadvertently supporting this new political elitism that aims to close students ears to different, but legitimate perspectives. The university must realise this and act now.

Unfortunately, at the moment politics is extremely polarised and it is fairly obvious what the dominant political view on campus is. Students on the left are rarely willing to engage with those on the right because to them the right holds views deemed illiberal and unacceptable.

For many, Rees-Mogg epitomises this, due to his anti-abortion, anti- gay marriage and pro-Brexit stances.

However that does not mean that Rees-Mogg should not be heard on campus. The University of Bristol’s Freedom of Speech policy works to, “promote free speech and encourage debate of all kinds” which means that “all views, including those that can be difficult to hear, should be able to be expressed and heard with tolerance and mutual respect”.

Despite the University’s claims that they support freedom of speech, by not helping the society insure Mogg’s safety, it is clear the University is all bark and no bite. In order to ensure all views are heard and freedom of speech remains protected, the University needs to guarantee safety for all its' speakers. This will ensure that all views have an equal opportunity to be heard even if they are inflammatory.

As long as someone isn’t breaking the law, they have a right to speak on campus.

Featured Image: BUCA/Robert Porter

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