The minister for universities, Jo Johnson, is on the warpath for freedom of speech, he claims.
Under new plans an Office for Students (OfS) will have powers to fine universities that do not defend free speech, a “fundamentally British value,” Johnson outlined.
But is Johnson’s concern really about the curtailment of free speech?
Is it about defending the right to speak up on Palestinian rights, or against the Prevent strategy?
Unlikely. It is a response to “safe spaces” on campuses and the “no platforming” of speakers.
I suspect we will see the OfS quite happy to go along with the Islamophobia behind banning Muslim speakers and Islamic society debates on university campuses.
The relative silence on this issue stands in stark contrast to the outraged response to the chief Tory whip Chris Heaton-Harris writing to universities last week.
He asked for the names of lecturers “who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.”
He was rightly met with an outraged response. Academics slammed Heaton-Harris’s request as “sinister” and “McCarthyite”.
The Tories quickly disowned him. Jo Johnson claimed that Heaton-Harris was just researching a book and that the letter “probably should not have been sent”.
The outrage directed at the Tories over Heaton-Harris’s attack must also be directed against them over the Prevent strategy.
It must also be directed at the Tories and university bosses when Palestinians or victims of torture and rendition are prevented from speaking.
Academic freedoms and freedom of speech must be fought for and can’t just be for those the Tories deem to be deserving.
Miriam Scharf, East London
May’s cap con trick
Theresa May’s decision to scrap the housing benefit cap should not be congratulated. It should never have been proposed in the first place.
The announcement of the cap resulted in plans to build over 7,000 supported homes being scrapped.
Often the only option local authorities offer people is private renting outside the borough.
And May’s U-turn offers no hope to many. There need to be rent caps on private landlords and the hated Housing and Planning Act must be scrapped.
What we really need is a massive programme of social house building for all.
Morag Gillie, North London
Fighting the demolition
People on the College Bank estate in Rochdale where I live have been organising against the proposed redevelopment of parts of the estate.
There are 761 properties and we’ve got almost
600 signatures of residents.
Rochdale Borough Housing (RBH) calls itself a mutual with an elected talking shop. Above it is a board of directors which has real control.
There will be planning applications for the development. But if RBH doesn’t get its way it can appeal it.
We are looking to have a meeting in the town hall with councillors and the MP.
Robin Parker, Rochdale
Stand Up To Racism conference inspires
I thought Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) conference this year was really good.
I went to the talk on Black Lives Matter—it was very powerful.
I got a sense of the stuff happening behind the scenes of the news stories you read.
It was great to hear people speak about the solidarity they’ve received and what they’ve been doing to fight against the police and the legal system.
The whole day was very empowering and I came out feeling we can do something.
At Sheffield Hallam we’ve been having fortnightly SUTR organising meetings and stalls every week we’re not meeting.
We had a Love Music Hate Racism event as well.
We’ve had a lot of interest, more regular meetings are the next step.
We’re also planning activities around Islamophobia Awareness Month in November.
Francesca Yepes, Sheffield Hallam University
Benn shows up the right’s weaknesses
Staff in the UCU union at my workplace, Leeds University, were on strike for three days recently over management’s attempts to introduce new formulations into the rule book.
They want to introduce the phrase “some other substantial reason” as a ground for dismissing staff.
At the end of lively picket lines each morning we held a rally at the front of the university.
On the last day Hilary Benn MP unexpectedly turned up.
We offered him the megaphone and he addressed our rally, he then joined us for a photo next to our union banner.
Not only is this a sign of the impact of Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum movement. Benn is a Blairite but he has clearly judged that, to be selected for his Leeds Central constituency again, he needs to be seen at protests.
Lesley McGorrigan, Campaigns officer, Leeds University UCU
I Cannot think of a single reason to support the Catalans, a rich community that wishes to shrug off its poorer neighbours. In what way are they oppressed?
Mike Brogden, on Facebook
Catalonia suffered massively under Franco. Today most Catalan socialists I know do not buy into the narrative of dumping the poorer parts of Spain.
Tony Ratcliff, on Facebook
If the referendum had gone ahead it would have been very close, probably a no vote according to polls.
Spanish prime minister Rajoy could have allowed it and maybe set up a constitutional court to reconsider the issue of referenda.
Instead he sent the police in to beat people up. After that almost everyone wanted out.
Lynne White, on Facebook
Universal Credit is a con
Universal Credit (UC) is a serious attack on all but the rich.
People in work with a decent wage could need to claim it if they become unemployed or fall sick.
Job Seekers Allowance and most Employment and Support Allowance claims are only payable for limited periods before you are means tested.
It is not just be unemployed people who will be victims of UC.
We all need to make sure UC is completely scrapped like the Poll Tax.
Dean Smith, Totnes
The NHS is for all of us
I read with alarm your report that hospitals are to start charging migrants up-front for healthcare (Socialist Worker, 25 October).
We can’t allow the racist and bigoted Tories to divide us.
The NHS should be free for everyone and properly funded and resourced.
Phil Jones, Bristol