The Cambridge Union is not BBC 'Question Time' – let Marine Le Pen speak

There's a difference between Nick Griffin showboating for votes on national television and Le Pen exposing her views to the ridicule of a few curious students

Related Topics

A storm is brewing: Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Front National party, is set to speak at the Cambridge University Union tomorrow. The critics say that giving the MEP – who was re-elected for the second time in 2009 – a platform to speak at the Cambridge Union gives her ideas legitimacy and free publicity. Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer, has even demanded “the invitation to fascist Marine Le Pen [be] withdrawn immediately.”

Yet the woman who received nearly 4.5 million votes in last year’s French elections does not need free publicity. Indeed, the FN are now mainstream – it was only ten days ago that she appeared on BBC News supporting David Cameron’s stance on Europe.

Instead of continuing a prolonged debate about whether we should give the far right a platform, we should look at the very specific context here. Firstly, it is undeniable the Cambridge Union have proven themselves to be foolish in inviting Le Pen in the same week that the English Defence League will be marching through Cambridge. Next, Le Pen will not be on Question Time or any television show watched by a large number of the British population. Instead, she will be speaking to a small audience, predominantly made up of students and this makes a fundamental difference.

Included in the list of those attending the private members-only club will be students who want to find out more about her ideology. After all, a large part of the detailed commentary about the rise of the Front National and Marine Le Pen herself is in French and this will be an opportunity to learn more about exactly what she stands for – especially when her views appear to differ fairly drastically from those of her father. There will also be students who are studying the rise of the far right and the Front National in particular. It is one thing to read about and research a person’s views but an entirely different proposition to have the chance to question their stance in true Paxmanesque-style and make them squirm.

Remember that the environment in the Cambridge Union will be an academic one. Those in the auditorium will at the very least have a brief background of Le Pen and will know to be sceptical of the dangerous words being uttered. In a show such as Question Time, however, many viewers only find out about the politicians’ opinions – and occasionally even the politicians themselves – for the first time, and the argument for no platform is stronger (but one I would still oppose).

That the event is geared towards British students also changes the dynamic entirely. Le Pen will not be looking for new votes, instead her aim will be prove that she is a reasonable politician whose ideas no longer belong to an irrelevant fringe of society. She will no doubt downplay the xenophobic and extreme right wing tenets that formed the backbone of the Front National under her father and instead focus on increasing Euroscepticism and the changing role of Europe, as well as the failure of multiculturalism – both points made by the Prime Minister in recent years – in a ploy to prove her credentials. Yet those in the audience will be well aware of this and will in fact be on the lookout for the same tactics she has deployed since taking over the party leadership.

Once her speech is over, the audience will be able to challenge her not only on the issues that she wants to speak about but also on the more extreme, racist and Islamophobic tendencies of the party. Unlike a television audience, many of whom might only have vague notions of what a politician might stand for, students will force an answer on subjects that she has tried to avoid. Has the Front National truly undergone a transformation since the departure of Jean-Marie or is it only the party leadership that is different?

One thing, however, is for certain. Come tomorrow, Marine Le Pen will be looking to prove that she belongs in the mainstream and it will be up to the audience to show her just how wrong she is, and why nationalist parties such as her British counterpart the BNP do not have a place in British society.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living