LSESU rejects motion to ban Speakeasy free speech society

LSE has had a 'shocking score' when it comes to banning free speech, according to 2016's Free Speech University Rankings

A students’ union anti-ban group which looked set to be banned itself has emerged victorious after an overwhelming number of votes were cast against its disbandment.

At a union general meeting on Friday - which convened to debate whether the Speakeasy society with the London School of Economics Students’ Union (LSESU) should be banned - 226 voted against the motion, while just 57 voted in favour.

A further eleven ‘undecided’ votes were cast, meaning the motion on banning Speakeasy reached quoracy and, therefore, did not pass, confirmed the LSESU.

Speakeasy first made news earlier this month after being formed when it was revealed the London School of Economics (LSE) had a “shocking score” when it came to banning free speech in this year’s Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR).

The society was formed amid “an epidemic” of campus censorship at universities across the nation, according to the Free Speech University Rankings 2016 (FSUR), which said it found 90 per cent of institutions censor speech, up from 80 per cent in 2015, with students’ unions four times more likely to put bans in place than the actual universities.

FSUR said at the time of the rankings’ release: “Our findings reveal campus censorship has become more entrenched than anyone could have possibly imagined. In the past three years alone, 148 bans have been enacted on UK campuses. Universities are meant to be spaces reserved for unfettered debate and the pursuit of truth.”

Therefore, Speakeasy said it was aiming to promote a set of values on campus by staging campaigns against no-platforming and censorship. The group added: “We will write, host events, invite speakers, and protest on an issue-by-issue basis against infringements of free speech in the LSE.

“We hope to spark positive discussion on free expression and wider social controversies, and celebrate freedom of speech.”

However, shortly after its formation, a motion to ban the society was brought forward by Bachelor of Laws (LLB) student Maurice Banerjee Palmer who wrote in LSE’s student newspaper, The Beaver, how “it would be hilarious if the anti-ban society was actually banned.”

Taking issue with the group featuring in a London newspaper, Mr Palmer continued: “I think the Speakeasy/Free Speech Society is self-important and ill-informed. My focus is on their feature in the London Evening Standard because that piece of misinformation went out to three quarters of a million print readers and millions of online users, who have no other information to go on.

“I don’t deny that the current trend of what is being called ‘campus censorship’ ought to be debated. But let’s do it with a bit of accuracy and fairness.”

In the motion debate which look place on Thursday 25 February, LSESU said it had noted: “That the Speakeasy society leadership appeared in a double-page spread in the London Evening Standard on Monday 25 January 2016.

“The article described the LSE as ‘one of the most “ban-heavy” universities in the country’. The founders said their purpose is to resist censorship and spark debate.”

Representing Speakeasy were philosophy undergraduate Yusuf Oum Tayara, and international relations student Connor Naylor. Mr Palmer was also present with his intent to oppose and, proposing the motion, he told the crowd: “I don’t disagree with free speech.”

Mr Palmer continued: “The Evening Standard put the LSE across as the safe space bubble. This is not accurate or fair. I decided to do the thing I thought was quite funny, but others didn’t quite see the funny side.”

Mr Tayara went on to say: “We’re more nuanced than the Standard article. The main point for us is to discuss the boundaries of free speech and safe spaces. We are not going to invite people just for the sake of offence, or anyone who will inflict physical violence. We’re not self-important a*******s.”

Also opposing the motion, Mr Naylor said: “There has definitely been an appetite to engage with this argument. We’ve politicised people on the issue of talking about free speech. We are the LSE chapter of free speech groups across the UK.”

Prior to the vote’s results being released, LSESU general secretary, Nona Buckley-Irvine, told the Independent the union did not want to see the society disbanded. She said: “While I disagree with their claim that LSE is a safe space bubble - we do not even have a safe space policy - we have a tradition of pluralism and resolving issues through debate and discussion.

“I am sure the society may have a useful contribution to make if they are able to distinguish between free speech and freedom to offend.”

Coordinator of FSUR, Tom Slater, said the union general meeting’s vote was “a victory” for on-campus free speech, something he also said was “a testament to the desire for change” which saw many students vote the motion down.

Speaking with the Independent, Mr Slater continued: “LSE has become a hotbed of censorship in recent years, and has received a ‘red-light’ ranking in the FSUR for two years running.” He also described how LSE students “are clearly sick of being patronised,” adding: “That’s why this result is so welcome.

“Most students go to university to broaden their minds, not to be told what to think by students’ union bureaucrats. Now, the silent majority are making their presence felt.”

Miss Buckley-Irvine said: “I entirely welcome the result that will see the Speakeasy society continue to exist. We have a proud history of taking action against discriminatory materials that marginalise particular groups in our union, and against hate speech. The vote to maintain the Speakeasy society is testament to the fact that we are proudly in favour of free speech.”

Speakeasy has yet to respond to the Independent’s request for comment.

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