The decision of the College Historical Society (the Hist) to cancel the awarding of its Gold Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Public Discourse to Nigel Farage is the correct one. But the whole spectacle surrounding it is unfortunate considering the rise of the “snowflake” students trope.
The decision was correct simply because it is hard to argue that Farage has made anything even close to an outstanding contribution to public discourse. He did more than anyone else to force last year’s Brexit referendum – mainly by fomenting the UK’s abhorrent anti-immigrant wave and perpetuating lies about the EU and how much it costs its citizens. He has blamed “open-door immigration” for increased traffic on UK motorways, and has said that he hasn’t got a clue whether climate change is being driven by increased carbon-dioxide emissions. The list goes on.
Farage may not have made an outstanding contribution to public discourse, but he is a thought-provoking – or, at least, interesting – speaker, if only because his views resonate with so many people.
If there is any place on campus where Nigel Farage should be heard, it’s in the rooms of our august student debating societies. In the past three decades, they have heard from people like Jörg Haider, an Austrian politician who at times sympathised with the policies of Nazi Germany, and Holocaust-denier David Irving. Anjem Choudary, who had hailed the 9/11 terrorists as martyrs, was invited to speak at the University Philosophical Society several times (he has since been jailed in the UK for encouraging people to join ISIS).
In 2017, the notion of universities being places where divergent and controversial ideas can be exchanged is under threat. Protests in January by Students for Justice in Palestine saw the cancellation of a Society for International Affairs event with the Israeli ambassador. Last month, Trinity students tore down pro-life posters.
When the Hist meets tomorrow to decide whether to cancel his appearance outright, it should consider that such a move would only play into the “safe space” narrative that suggests students can no longer cope with even hearing incendiary views. Given the esteem that societies like the Hist are held in, it’d be prudent for the society to try and avoid adding fuel to that kind of narrative.