The continuing wrangle over freedom of speech on campus took a twist this week, as it emerged that secret plans for an election leaders’ debate to be broadcast live from an Oxford college were ditched on the grounds that the unnamed moderator was a “liberal extremist”.
Academics have previously won concessions over government plans to control the terms of debate within universities, however hopes of a general softening of policy appear to have been dashed.
Times Higher Education understands that Home Secretary Theresa May stepped in personally to veto the debate at All Fool’s College, Oxford, arguing that the moderator hand-picked by David Cameron from within his constituency was “too progressive” for his views to be “compatible with mainstream British values”.
“The Home Secretary got wind of the plans late in the day, but May was adamant that this individual was not someone she could countenance,” a source said. “Surprisingly, though, her objections were that he was far too liberal; it’s not an argument we’ve heard before.”
Speaking to reporters while on the campaign trail in Brands Hatch earlier today, May stuck by her decision. “Extremism swings both ways,” she said, “and we need to guard against universities becoming out of sync with mainstream British society; a moderator with excessively liberal views was inappropriate.”
She added: “I’m a Home Secretary who acts without fear or favour, so I did not hesitate despite this individual being a member of the powerful liberal cell known as the Chipping Norton set. Believe me, I’ve made more tough decisions than he’s had hot dinners.”
Jeremy Clarkson was unavailable for comment.