NUS to ‘no-platform’ Benn and Galloway?

September 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm (AWL, Feminism, Free Speech, Galloway, Jackie Mcdonough, men, misogyny, strange situations, students, SWP)

The Last WikiLeaks Supper

Above: the Messiah Julian and his rape-denying disciples, including Benn and Galloway

The expression “hoist with one’s own petard” springs to mind:

(from the Counterfire‘ website):

Leading anti-war campaigner and socialist Tony Benn will be ‘no platformed’ like Tommy Robinson of the racist EDL and Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP if a motion to the National Union of Students gets passed this week. If local student unions follow the national union then Tony Benn may be refused a platform in any student union in the country.

Refusing to allow fascists a platform has long been the policy of the left and the student movement. But in a remarkably ill-thought out move the National Executive of NUS is about to apply the same policy to Tony Benn and Respect MP George Galloway.

The reasons given for this unusual step are comments they made about the charge that Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange raped two women in Sweden. The motion states that Galloway ‘referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as, “bad sexual etiquette’ and that Tony Benn said of the Assange case, “the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape”.’

Tony Benn has since, at the request of Goldsmith Students Union, of which he is the honoury president, retracted his remarks, apologised and restated his life-long commitment to women’s liberation. But still the NUS is persisting with its resolution.

The comments in both Galloway’s and Benn’s cases are of course wrong. It is wrong to state that non-consensual sex is not rape, and it was wrong to try to defend Assange from extradition by dismissing the claims of the women involved.

But beyond this, there is a fundamental problem by responding to these comments by trying to no platform Benn and Galloway. ‘No platform’ is an exceptional position that the Left has typically campaigned for Unions and other organisations to adopt in the fight against Fascism.

It is an unprecedented departure from the left’s defence of freedom of speech on the grounds that there can be no free speech for those who would deny such freedoms to others. There can be no democracy for those who would use genocide and extermination to end democracy.

These conditions clearly do not apply in this case. It is the exceptional danger posed by Fascism that prompted the tactic of no platform to be applied exclusively to fascists. To apply it indiscriminately to other political views we oppose means fascists cannot be isolated by the no platform policy as an exceptional threat.

Backward ideas about rape are profoundly upsetting and damaging to the fight against women’s oppression. However, the prevalence of these ideas (which the motion acknowledges) points to the fact that they stem from the sexist society in which we live. Therefore it is within society that we have to fight these ideas.

Surely it is much better to have Tony Benn, a figure that many people look up to as an inspiration, apologise and restate his commitment to women’s liberation as he has done, than to let damaging remarks remain unretracted where they can continue to damage and distract our movement. This is a fight we can win – we can change people’s minds, we can challenge sexism in our movement.

Astoundingly, if the writers of the motion genuinely believe these remarks have put Benn and Galloway beyond the pale, then there are a lot of people missing who should be named in this motion.

While the motion makes brief reference to Roger Helmer (UKIP MEP) and Andrew Brons (an MEP for the fascist BNP and a former leader of the fascist National Front), why are the members of the Coalition government who are overseeing massive cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services not in this motion?

Why not the whole of the Cambridge Union Society who invited Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak there earlier this year? Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved? All these people have gone far further than to make an offensive remark.

What’s more, the NUS would not dream of no platforming war criminal Tony Blair. And the NUS quite regularly opens its platforms to Zionists. In this context the attempt to no platform Tony Benn and Galloway looks absurd.

And why is the NUS, which has let its members down so badly over the fight against fees and cuts, not organising against the closure of rape crisis centres? Where are the leaflets, the posters, the protests, the pickets and the demos?

Tony Benn was a wholehearted supporter of the student movement of 2010. Which is more than the NUS executive can claim. It would be better if the NUS spent less time either censuring or no platforming Tony Benn and George Galloway and more time actually defending its members.


A response from AWL students, here.


  1. pinkagendist said,

    Fan as I am of this blog- we make a terrible mistake as a society if we don’t recognize nuance. There are differences between manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, murder, pre-meditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder at al.
    Of course, rape is rape, but as with every single crime there are aggravating or attenuating circumstances.
    …and just as a reminder Blair and Jack Straw stopped the extradition of Pinochet. Flouting an international arrest warrant issued by Baltasar Garzón.

  2. Mike Killingworth said,

    If this is merely a tactic to draw attention to the issue, then clearly it has succeeded.

    My strong suspicion is that what feminists object to is not the view of this individual male or that one, but the requirement for “beyond reasonable doubt” as a precondition of conviction. After all, if a woman frets about an innocent man going to jail (and even becoming himself the victim of sexual assault whilst there) she’s not much of a feminist, is she?

  3. parliament. said,

    Most certainly bad choice of words for wee Geordie.Like Assange, we Geordie, has been hung and dragged throw the blogs.and villafeid as a sexist monster by all female blog readers.Aye his words were not the best,his Glasgow may have come out.

    That said,is not our capitalist profit world full of bigots,There is a conundrum for the comfortable profit.

  4. representingthemambo said,

    For those of us not au fait with the intricacies of student union politics, who is proposoing this motion and what is their political affiliation?

    Are you sure this isn’t just an attack on the left per se?

    Also, bracketing George Galloway and Tony Benn together is absurd. One can have many diasgreements with Benn but he isn’t the vain and frankly seedy self-publicist that Galloway is turning into.

  5. Rosie said,

    It looks like Tony Benn has not been included in the final motion. Rightly so – he retracted his statement and apologised, and that should be enough.

    Piece about it on the Huffington Post.

  6. sackcloth and ashes said,

    ‘Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved?’

    Hang on, I thought your kind were saying that the women concerned were liars, and were shills for a CIA honey-trap.

    Don’t please pretend that you actually give a fuck.

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