Let’s actually challenge Maurice Glasman’s views

This is a response to Toni Pearce and Dom Anderson’s blog: ‘Challenging Views‘.

Tomorrow NUS is hosting an event called ‘We Are The Change’. The organisers invited Maurice Glasman as a keynote speaker. A group of student officers complained.  It then seemed he had pulled out.  Now he is back in.

Maurice “zero immigration” Glasman should not be banned but neither should his views be endorsed. It is not a question of ‘no platforming’ him: he is no fascist. But that alone is not sufficient reason to invite him to deliver a keynote speech. Toni Pearce and Dom Anderson’s defence is confused and muddled.

It falls down on two counts. They assert that Glasman is not a fascist so should not be ‘no platformed’. But this misses the point. They argue that his views should be openly challenged and debated. This is true. But it is not happening. As a result, NUS is endorsing his views when we should be challenging them.

Glasman will deliver a lecture on community organising. He will share his belief that the role of organisers is to empower communities to solve the problems they have already identified. Unlike his left-wing rivals, he is ‘anti-ideological’: he believes that organisers should not strive to explain social problems; instead we should only tackle the immediate causes. For instance, he would approach the problem of soaring rents by confronting landlords. This is a good start but ignores the context of the housing shortage, and its political roots.

His ideas on community organising must not be artificially separated from his reactionary opinions. He is a populist. He contends that the Labour Party should consider a total freeze on immigration – renegotiating our relationship with the EU if necessary. This is not unrelated to his ‘anti-ideological’ views on community organising. It is a sad fact that many UK nationals wrongly identify migrants as the source of their problems. With no intellectual tools to confront this crude analysis, Glasman capitulates. His position is in total opposition to NUS’s internationalist approach, and should be fiercely challenged.

This does not mean, as Toni and Dom recognise, that he should be ‘no platformed’. But their discussion of ‘no platform’ is a distraction. When we say ‘no platform for fascists’ it means that we will not allow them to organise. It means that we will prevent them from spreading their message. It means that we will not participate in anything in which they are involved. This is an extreme response which we reserve for those who threaten democracy, who would annihilate oppressed groups, and who wage all-out civil war on SUs and trade unions. ‘No platform’ means more than ‘no invitation’. The question is whether he should be invited as a keynote speaker, not whether he should be ‘no platformed’.

Not being a fascist is a weak criterion for selecting a speaker. It barely narrows down the choices at all. There are billions of non-fascists. Why invite Glasman and not a grassroots trade unionist, a migrant activist, or a militant feminist? There is no shortage of community organisers with better credentials than his. The NUS leadership appears not to agree.

They justify his invitation with a passionate, but utterly irrelevant, defence of open debate. Of course, we should not listen only to those with whom we agree. A culture of constructive debate is central to a thriving democracy: it facilitates the process by which poor ideas are replaced with better ones. The NUS leadership is right to assert that we should “stand up for our views and continue to challenge those who do not share them”. But their assertion is not mirrored in their actions.

If we are serious about challenging Glasman, we should invite him to debate not to lecture. His views should be interrogated. He should defend his position. He and his detractors should be given equal opportunity to speak. Nothing like this is happening. He will share his wise words with us for fifty minutes before answering a few questions at the end.

The leadership plead that we should challenge reactionary views in a spirit of open discussion. But they are doing no such thing. A debate would be a real challenge. A keynote speech is not.

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