Comedian Harry Enfield 'no-platformed' for 'black face' in Nelson Mandela show – The Telegraph
A number of 'controversial' speakers have been rejected by university societies amid fears of backlash, according to a study
Harry Enfield is among speakers who have been “quietly no-platformed” by a university debating society because he defended using “black face” to portray Nelson Mandela, a study has found.
The Oxford Union decided against inviting the comedian after he said in a BBC interview two years ago that he had no regrets about blacking up to play Nelson Mandela in a play in 2007.
Other speakers said to have been rejected by the historic debating society for past comments or views held included the former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
At Cardiff University, Sir Tony Blair was rejected as a speaker by its politics society over fears he could be “picketed” by people who considered him a “war criminal”.
Students told a researcher at the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, which conducted the study, that it would breach their “duty of care” as the former prime minister’s presence could upset students who might have had relatives who fought in the Iraq war.
“Quiet no-platforming”, a phenomenon whereby events or speakers are rejected over fears they might be too offensive, is exposed by the study.
Josh Freeman, author of the report, said that students “are shying away from difficult topics and controversial speakers because they fear a backlash.”
“It is deeply concerning that one of the most important British Prime Ministers since the Second World War, who was democratically elected three times, should be quietly no-platformed,” he added.
“However controversial Blair may or may not be, how are students supposed to learn or decide what they believe if they are not even exposed to the full range of mainstream ideas?”
A spokesman for the Cardiff Politics Society said it was "not aware" of the decision not to invite Sir Tony but researchers said not all current committee members had been involved so they might not know about it.
The report cited instances where students have been subject to “abuse and harassment” for their involvement in running speaker events.
It found that only 19 UK universities had a debating society that hosted outside speakers in the last academic year, and most had a Left-wing bias.
Of the 502 speakers invited across those universities last year, 278 were neutral, 125 were Left-wing and 91 Right-wing. Five speakers were described as far-Left and two as far-Right.
Oxford was said to have more of a Left-wing bias than Cambridge. UCL Debating Society invited no Right-wing speakers last year, the study found.
Mr Salmond was said to have been rejected as a speaker because of past sex allegations which he has been acquitted of. A spokesman for the former Scottish First Minister said: “Mr Salmond has a standing invitation to speak at the Oxford Union. Perhaps as students they should be introduced to the important concepts of factual accuracy and freedom of speech.”
An organiser at the Manchester Debating Union told researchers that an event with Katie Hopkins at Exeter in 2018, which provoked protests, was a reason to avoid contentious speakers.
The report warned that the new Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill, which is passing through parliament and would allow individuals to sue institutions over free speech breaches, could have a “perverse effect” as students could fear legal action if they organise controversial events.
A Cardiff University spokesman said: ‘The decision not to invite a speaker would be for our student Politics Society to take. The university was not involved.
“We take all reasonable steps to ensure that – within the law – freedom of speech is protected on our campus.”
Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said: “Exposing students to new ideas and perspectives is a vital part of the university experience so this report is right to highlight the risk of unintended consequences if we get legislation wrong.”
A spokesman for the Oxford Union said: "The Oxford Union promotes critical thinking through the exchange and debate of a wide range of ideas and opinions, presented by a diverse range of speakers – some inspiring, others controversial. We believe that the discussion of complex, sometimes controversial, topics should not only be encouraged but is an essential element of any free, progressive society.
"We acknowledge that certain speakers may hold views that are regarded by some as unacceptable but nonetheless believe that it is more important to debate an issue in full rather than shy away from a difficult subject or to silence certain voices.
"As per our Guest Speaker Invitation Policy, we only host speakers who agree to be challenged in the context of a debate or an interactive discussion. Regarding the names of those allegedly cut from speaker lists, we are not able to verify the content of previous interviews given by former students as the composition of our committee changes every term but would note that this approach is inconsistent with our philosophy of ‘hosting and challenging’."
Mr Enfield and Sir Tony Blair have been contacted for comment.
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