Free speech or self interest?

Many years ago a naïve young Turgon attended a school debate; the motion “This House would ban the National Front”. One quote I remember was from Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” (although it seems Voltaire did not actually say that – see link). If you are interested the motion was defeated and the first speaker for the opposition achieved greater things going on to become the current Editor of the Newsletter. The rest of us just went on. I guess it was appropriate that someone who spoke for free speech went on to be a journalist; although I have no idea what his view on such matters would be now.

Oxford Union not to be confused with Oxford Students’ Union rather immodestly proclaims itself to be “The world’s most famous debating society.” Okay it seems to be a bit more upmarket that my school debating society or my other alma mater of debate QUB Students’ Union.Late last year, however, this most prestigious organisation was the scene of a near riot following the decision seemingly fronted by the Union President Luke Tryl to invite BNP leader Nick Griffin and the previously imprisoned David Irving who failed in a libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust denier (not that that failure has stopped further threats of libel – see link).

My initial impression of this was of extremely intelligent, liberal minded young people at Oxford thinking that they could take on and humiliate people whose views are pretty unacceptable to practically everyone. I suspected, however, that the students were making a mistake as they failed to take into account the encyclopaedic knowledge these two individuals have of their field and, hence, their ability to spin a huge number of “facts” to “prove” their position. As such I thought the idea of a debate showed a group of young people who were very clever, but naïve and maybe a bit arrogant.

A friend from Wales who attended Cambridge and is interested in politics, however, suggested an alternative option. This was that the President of Oxford Union is an excellent stepping stone to a career in GB politics. As such this president had gained great publicity and could in the future stand for one of the major GB parties and have as part of his appeal a free speech type ticket. Might this free speech ticket lead to even greater things than the editorship of a newspaper and was Mr. Tryl being more self serving than Master Templeton was when he supported free speech all those years ago?

Any thoughts?