A student debate featuring two BNP politicians has been cancelled amid fears of violence
Durham Union Society (DUS) abandoned plans for a multiculturalism debate after urgent talks with police. The Unite Against Fascism (UAF) group had vowed to stop the event, and DUS president Anna Birley said the National Union of Students (NUS) planned to send coachloads of students into Durham, putting them between the rival groups.
She said she was confident the debate would have been intelligent, responsible and an opportunity for students to challenge offensive views; and was disappointed the focus had become the threatened confrontation outside.
Simon Assas, from the UAF, called it a victory for common sense and for people who wanted to stand up against racism and fascism. He said a Jewish student had reported a changed atmosphere on campus since the debate was announced. However, a BNP spokesman said the enemies of free speech had won the day and that students would not like the “book-burners of the UAF dictating what they can and cannot listen to”.
Police said they did not ask for the debate to be cancelled.
Many students are angry it has been called off. A Facebook group called Durham University Students for Freedom of Speech quickly gained more than 1,900 members. Co-founder Paul Nicholls called for a peaceful protest against what he said was the NUS betrayal of students outside the chamber on the day the debate would have been held.
NUS president Wes Streeting said the NUS believed there was no place on university campuses for the BNP; and that the idea the NUS, rather than the BNP, had caused a welfare and public order issue was preposterous.
University registrar Carolyn Fowler said the university was not prepared to provide an occasion for extremist groups to engage in provocative and intimidating demonstrations, and that it supported the DUS decision. The debate was due to take place this Friday. Speakers were to be Kulveer Ranger, an advisor to Boris Johnson, Conservative MP Edward Leigh, BNP MEP Andrew Brons and Chris Beverley, a BNP councillor in Leeds.