Past impressions

May 21, 2004

I was surprised to read Lord Triesman's claim that his main aim as a student activist in 1968 was to get Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, elected president of the National Union of Students ("My Revolting Past", May 14).

His suggestion that in protesting against Dr Inch of Porton Down "the whole thing developed a momentum of its own" differs markedly from his contemporaneous report published in New Left Review .

In this, he wrote: "There is a critical difference between the cultural attitudes of the senate members and ourselves. They are from a generation that is paranoid about both communism and fascism on the grounds that they inhibit 'free speech' - a mystified absolute."

Triesman asserted that students "had let the chance to take over the university slip away". The lessons, he claimed, were these: "We must not be afraid of polarization... staff must not be encouraged to come in too soon.

They cannot help being a moderating influence... What we should do, if the situation were to arise again, would be to behave as provocatively as necessary and to effectively sanction the university to the extent that they need to use force."

He may no longer hold these views - fine - but surely the purpose of an interview is to explore changes in opinion, not to claim a past that did not exist.

Mike Sheaff
University of Plymouth

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