Outrage at BNP invitation

May 11, 2007

A furore has erupted after a Bath University student invited the British National Party on to campus, writes Melanie Newman. Students and staff will rally in protest on May 14 when Nick Griffin, the BNP's leader, is to deliver a talk on the party's performance in recent elections.

Mark Humphries, university secretary, said the decision to allow Mr Griffin to use its premises was "an outworking of the university's principles of freedom of speech". Bath's code of practice relating to meetings on campus forbids denying access to any individual or organisation on grounds relating to their beliefs, policy or objectives.

Yvonne Aburrow, secretary of the Bath branch of the University and College Union, said the issue was not one of freedom of speech but of freedom from harassment. "There are a large number of people from diverse backgrounds at this university who will feel less safe because this event is going ahead," she said. UCU members would be joining a protest against the event, she added.

The UCU, like the National Union of Students, has a "no-platform" policy on the BNP to try to prevent far-Right groups from using universities and student unions to promote their views.

However, Peter Yu, vice-president (communications) of Bath's Students Union, said the union did not have a no-platform policy and was adopting a neutral stance on the visit. "We are advising students on how to organise a peaceful protest but will not be joining it," he said.

The BNP has just gained its first councillor in the South West - in Cosham, east of Bath - after no other contenders stood. Mr Griffin was invited by Danny Lake, a politics undergraduate who is also national organiser for the Young BNP.

Mr Lake told The Times Higher he was often asked questions on the party's policies. "To provide a more in-depth response to these questions and increase academic awareness of modern nationalistic politics, I felt it would be a good idea to help interested persons at the university meet the source of so much so-called controversy," he said.

BNP press officer Phil Edwards told The Times Higher that he had addressed final-year politics undergraduates at Nottingham University in 2005, invited by the then director of the Centre for the Study of European Governance, Catherine Fieschi, now a director of think-tank Demos. She said she had invited Mr Edwards to speak at a closed meeting for students who had spent a year studying the far Right.

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