Gopal accuses government of ‘double standards’ over cancellation

Home Office staff were due to hear from prominent scholar as part of series to mark Black History Month    

October 14, 2021
Home Office, a ministerial department of the UK government located in Westminster
Source: iStock

A University of Cambridge academic has accused the UK government of “right-wing double standards” over a Home Office decision to cancel a talk she was due to give at the department for Black History Month.

Priyamvada Gopal, professor of postcolonial studies at Cambridge, said she was due to give a talk this week based on a brief asking her to discuss how her book Insurgent Empire could help the Home Office “better understand” links between colonial history and its policies today.

But the academic said her agent was told by email a few days before the talk was due to happen that due to “unforeseen circumstances” the department would be “unable to proceed”, according to a statement on her blog.

A report from the Guido Fawkes political blog quoted a source saying that the department had cancelled the talk due to Professor Gopal having “racist views”.

In a previous post, Guido Fawkes had drawn attention to the event and pointed out Professor Gopal’s criticisms of the government, including a tweet in which she said that the home secretary, Priti Patel, was “a reminder that many Asians in British Africa had ferociously anti-black attitudes and were used by colonial administrations to keep black populations in their place. An attitude she brings to government.”

On her blog, Professor Gopal dismisses the suggestion that this was a “racist statement”, adding that her criticisms of Ms Patel and “her participation in anti-blackness are also a matter of public record”.

“I had been under the impression that criticism of politicians was allowed in a democracy,” she writes, saying that claims “that those who work critically on empire, race and racism are ‘the real racists’” were “absurd”.

She also says that the decision to cancel the talk represented “double standards” and was “at odds” with the government’s “loud claims to defend free speech no matter what the expressed views might be”.

“What we are witnessing, yet again, is an open and uninhibited demonstration of right-wing double standards at a time when the Tories have announced fines for university groups which cancel speakers or ‘no platform’ them,” Professor Gopal writes.

In a statement, a government spokeswoman said that it had “committed to opening ourselves up to challenge and external engagement and our events draw on a range of speakers” following the review into the Windrush scandal.   

“Due diligence checks are always taken on any speakers and it is important to note speakers who come to these events are not always representative of the view of the government,” she said.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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