Yesterday, The Rebel, a right-wing online media publication based in Canada, released a video of Tommy Robinson being confronted by several York students. In the beginning of the video, he claims that his talk scheduled back in January was cancelled “due to threats of violence by far-left organisations and communists”. This far-fetched claim, which Robinson has been pushing for the past four months, suggests that the free speech problem on campuses in the UK is worse than it is in actuality.
He claims that the University of York itself invited him to campus. In truth, one of the student media societies, Nouse, invited him to come talk in a series of lectures they planned to host, entitled “Nouse Events”. After the event was postponed, Nouse’s contact with Robinson began to look for another host. The person they found was a student claiming to work for York Vision. However, at that time York Vision was struggling, and it was widely thought that it would have been incapable of hosting a talk on this scale. Following this, whoever Robinson was in contact with in the organisation did not complete the correct forms in order to host the event on campus.
Now, it is possible there was some confusion during the communications between Robinson, his contact, and whoever was claiming to work for York Vision, which has, in turn, led Robinson to believe that his event was cancelled in order to silence him. Indeed, this has happened to other people on different campuses. However, I do not think the reason it was cancelled truly matters to Robinson. Instead, Robinson could be using the situation to suggest that liberals, in particular, are eroding free speech on university campuses.
Robinson might claim that his event was cancelled due to “threats of violence”, but as far as I saw there were no threats of violence, even though there were attempts to ‘silence him’ after rumours that he was visiting the University of York were revealed to be true. The Student Socialist Society’s chair, for example, informed members of their Facebook group that Robinson was visiting campus and suggested a form of protest whereby they would book every ticket possible. This would have caused the venue to be empty, ultimately meaning that no-one could listen to his “fascist” opinions. However, the only protest which was actually being organised was planned to be held peacefully during the talk to allow students to express their disagreement with Robinson. There is nothing that suggests the use of violence was planned against this event like he claims.
Personally, I would have liked to see the talk be held, and would most likely have purchased a ticket to listen to what Robinson had to say and also to see how other students would have challenged him. But, alas, it did not take place due to a simple administration error, not threats of violence.
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