United Kingdom

Tory war on 'cancel culture': Speakers no-platformed by universities can seek compensation

The Conservatives opened a new front in their war on 'cancel culture' today, unveiling a new law forcing universities to protect freedom of speech.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will aim to end the so-called 'no platforming' of speakers and academics on campuses.

Regulator the Office for Students will get the power to fine institutions and student unions for breaching new duties designed to foster 'a culture of open and robust intellectual debate'.

People who believe their freedom of speech has been impinged will also get the power to go to court to seek financial compensation. 

Universities have been dogged in the past few years by campaigns to block appearances from figures seen as controversial by some students and staff.

They range from far-right figures to the legendary feminist campaigner Germaine Greer, who has been targeted by the pro-trans lobby over her views on people who change gender.

The bill will ensure 'freedom of speech can thrive for all staff, students and visiting speakers', and ensure 'that academic staff feel safe to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without being at risk of losing their jobs, privileges or promotion'.

Giving the showpiece address in the House of Lords today, the monarch said that the new law would 'protect freedom of speech'.

Giving the showpiece address in the House of Lords today, the monarch said that the new law would 'protect freedom of speech'.

Universities have been dogged in the past few years by campaigns to block appearances from figures seen as controversial by some students and staff, including Germaine Greer (left) and Amber Rudd (right)

Other figures who have been no-platformed include the former home secretary Amber Rudd. 

In early 2020 she was invited to speak at Oxford University by a student society, but the event was cancelled minutes beforehand because of protests over her links to the Windrush scandal.

She had been due to address the UNWomen Oxford UK society. But She arrived to an empty hall after Felicity Graham, president of society, was forced to cancel the event following a majority vote by its committee. 

Ms Rudd resigned as home secretary over the Windrush scandal, which saw those of Caribbean heritage who arrived between 1948 and 1971 wrongly detained, threatened with deportation or wrongly refused re-entry to the UK. 

Her barring came after Oxford historian Professor Selina Todd was blocked from appearing at a feminist festival following threats from trans-rights activists. 

At the time Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threatened intervention against institutions that fail to defend democracy. 

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