A Better Debate About No Platform? My Speech At the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations

Free speech advocates need to acknowledge that our approach asks people to lay their identities on the table for dissection. If people balk at that suggestion, our response should not be to call them ‘thin skinned special snowflakes’

This is an edited transcript of my speech to the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations Festival, delivered on 15th November 2016.  This first appeared on the Leeds Beckett University Politics and Applied Global Ethics (PAGE) blog.  You can listen to the unalloyed version of the speech on SoundCloud or via the player below.

Some Arguments Against No Platform

I want to first set out my views on No Platform policies. In short, I think they’re bad for free speech and they’re bad for the people they seek to protect.

The idea of No Platform is that it seeks to avoid giving someone the credibility of speaking at a prestigious institution. Those who call for No Platform claim it is not a form of censorship, because the person is subjected to the No Platform rule can always take their words elsewhere. Moreover (they say), legal protections for free speech relate to the government, and since the government is not involved in choosing who speaks at a university there is no real issue. Why can’t we choose who does and does not speak on our campus? Continue reading “A Better Debate About No Platform? My Speech At the Leeds Beckett Festival of Politics and International Relations”

Brexit Plus Plus? Here’s What Happen’s Next, America

Americans would do well to remember that the surprise ‘Leave’ vote in the UK on 23 June was not the culmination of a chaotic political period, but the beginning of one.

The day before the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump declared that the result would be poll-defying “Brexit Plus Plus” election upset.

He was sort of right, in that he pulled off a surprise electoral college victory (although, since Hillary Clinton won the popular vote Mr Trump’s ‘plus plus’ suffix might be said to be inaccurate).

Americans would do well to remember that the surprise ‘Leave’ vote in the UK on 23 June was not the culmination of a chaotic political period, but the beginning of one.   Continue reading “Brexit Plus Plus? Here’s What Happen’s Next, America”

I Admire the American Political System

Recent events elsewhere in the world have made me particularly appreciate the American system.

The 2016 US Election has been, as they would say, a ‘dumpster fire’.  The media have graded one candidate on a curve, and the discussion has been almost entirely about personalities. There does not appear to have been any sustained news cycle dedicated to policy.  Indeed, even the discussion of actual policies in the debates was atrocious.

It’s clear that the country is incredibly polarised. Nevertheless, I still admire the American political system.

One silver-lining of the Trump candidacy is that there has been plenty of discussion about the US system. I don’t mean admiration for the electoral college (although I’ve heard some good arguments for its retention recently) but more simply and fundamentally, the fact that everything is subordinate to the Rule of Law, and a Constitution which places and incredibly strong emphasis of individual rights and protections against government over-reach.

This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but recent events elsewhere in the world have made me particularly appreciate the American approach.
Continue reading “I Admire the American Political System”

No-one In The Labour Party Has Staged A ‘Coup’

Any political party that did not have a mechanism for a sitting leader to be ousted would be pretty much the definition of anti-democratic

The worrying news from Turkey has made me think about the way in which the recent political machinations within the British Labour Party have been described (usually by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn) as a ‘coup’.

I’m sure the people who use that word do not mean to suggest that the 171 Labour MPs who want Mr Corbyn to resign are equivalent to soldiers with guns.  But use of the word does imply that the manoeuvrings are anti-democratic.

But they are not.  They are profoundly democratic. Continue reading “No-one In The Labour Party Has Staged A ‘Coup’”

Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign

The Leader of the Opposition is not leading the opposition. He has turned a tautology into an oxymoron.

Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP has two jobs and two job titles. First, he is Leader of the Labour Party, a position to which he was elected by a majority of those eligible to vote, in every voter category (members, registered supporters, affiliates).  If that were the whole story then a leadership challenge would be completely undemocratic and wrong.

However, Mr Corbyn is also Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.  This is not some ceremonial title you get when elevated to a particular position, like Lord of the Isles or Second Lord of the Treasury. Instead it is a post that fulfills a crucial rôle in our democracy, scrutinising Government actions and Bills on behalf of the entire country, including people who did not vote Labour.  Just as the Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury, by the way) is accountable and answerable to everyone, so too is the Leader of the Opposition. Continue reading “Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign”

Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates

Now Britian has voted to leave the EU, there is a lot of discussion about at the moment over when or if Article 50 will be triggered.

Spinning Hugo suggests that it may never happen. He points out that the negotiating position of the UK is far stronger while Article 50 has not been invoked… and it will be instantly worse once it is invoked.  Since EU leaders have declared that they will not begin negotiations until Article 50 is triggered by the British Government, a stalemate has arisen.

This is a compelling analysis, but I am reminded of the the Unexpected Hanging Paradox:

A judge tells a condemned prisoner that he will be hanged at noon on one weekday in the following week but that the execution will be a surprise to the prisoner. He will not know the day of the hanging until the executioner knocks on his cell door at noon that day.

Using logic, the prisoner deduces that he will never be hanged. When the executioner knocks on his door on a Wednesday he is therefore totally surprised. Continue reading “Article 50 Will Be Triggered When Illogic Dictates”

My Gut Tells Me Teresa May Will Be Our Next Prime Minister

Anyone who can present a calm and collected facade will be an attractive candidate. Teresa May is doing this.

The perils of not posting your blog post immediately after you’ve written it!  I wrote this last night when the two main leadership contenders were Boris Johnson and Teresa May, and he was the bookies’ favourite.  Now Michael Gove has entered the race saying “Boris is not a leader”, Johnson’s odds have lengthened significantly and Mrs May is now the favourite.  I don’t know how that affects the principles I set out below.


The Conservative Party has begun the nomination process to elect a new party leader and therefore our next Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson is the favourite but my gut tells me that Teresa May will win.

Making pronouncements based on what one’s intensities say is a perilous practice. Often you end up talking shit or vomiting nonsense. Allow me to offer some head-like reasoning for what I feel in my waters. Continue reading “My Gut Tells Me Teresa May Will Be Our Next Prime Minister”

The Typography of Labour Resignation Letters

Apparently, Tweeting a copy of one’s resignation letter is now A Thing.

This tweet of mine garnered a few fav-hearts and re-tweets, which suggests that this is the sort of thing people are interested in.

Of course, the content of the letters is the really important part, so far as the authors are concerned. But design and presentation is incredibly important, despite being 99% Invisible when done right. We can gather some insights into the thoughts of the authors by how their resignation letter is laid out.

I compiled a Storify of a couple of dozen Labour Shadow Cabinet resignation letters, and added comments about their design.  Continue reading “The Typography of Labour Resignation Letters”

Are Young People To Blame For Brexit?

I see a lot of Remainers complaining on social media about susceptible, low information voters. But absent voters are as surely as culpable.

As people try to make sense of, and come to terms with the result of the EU Referendum, it’s become fashionable to complain about old people. For example, the Independent has a piece entitled ‘How old people have screwed over the younger generation’ demonstrating how younger people voted in greater numbers for Remain over Leave, while older folk did the opposite.

Yes, the senior generations did impose their views upon the junior generations… but that’s only because they showed up to vote.  Since the result was announced on Friday I’ve been looking for figures on turn-out, and found these numbers from Sky Data. Continue reading “Are Young People To Blame For Brexit?”

A Terrible Day, But We Will Regain Our Optimism

It is part of our political and social history and should loom large in our collective consciousness.

I posted this yesterday evening on Facebook.


The TV news reports about the death of Jo Cox have actually been quite sober. Reporters have refrained from speculating on the motives of the alleged killer. It’s very easy to find a picture of a suspect from friends or family, but the media have declined to grant this man notoriety. Instead they have focus on the life and achievements of someone who was by all accounts remarkable.

During the obituaries, two almost irrelevant facts jumped out at me. She was 41 and only 5 feet tall. These incidental traits are also shared by the person I woke up next to today, just as Brendan Cox must have woken up next to his wife this morning. A rush to get the kids ready, a piece of toast grabbed out the door, and an expectation that we will all see each other again in a few hours. We all did that this morning: me and my family; Jo and Brendan Cox and their kid; You and yours.

And now she is gone, and he is having to tell his kids why.

This is not like getting cancer. This is not like a car accident. This is not like the unexpected death of a pop star, however influential. We do not know whether the killer is mentally ill or whether there are deeper and more sinister reasons for his actions. But this is an act that has emerged from our society. It is part of our political and social history and should loom large in our collective consciousness.

In a blog post that is being wildly shared on social media tonight, Alex Massie says he does not remember feeling as bad about the country as he does tonight. I think 7/7 comes close.

It is indeed a terrible day but I am bizarrely confident that we will regain some optimism. And the reason I think that is because of how quickly we have seen an outpouring of solidarity, and affirmation of ideas of love. Led by none other than Brendan Cox, who put love for family and the human dignity at the centre of his astonishing statement this afternoon.

Led by none other than Jo Cox, who spent her life seeking to make the human experience better for others.