By Gabriel Princewill-
A serious row has been brewing at the highest levels of the Oxford Union after the Union’s President, Stephen Horvath’s last-minute announcement to host Donald Trump’s former right-hand man Steve Bannon.
Oxford University students and various campaign groups and took to the streets to express their strong resentment over the invitation of controversial Bannon.
Incensed union insiders complained that a majority of the Standing CommitteeUnion were not informed of invite Bannon until the event was made public on Wednesday. Union Secretary’ Nick Brown, had called an emergency meeting of the Standing Committee- the society’s governing body to vote on cancelling the event on Friday following several student protests calling on the invite to be withdrawn. It was to no avail.
One of the factors causing agitation among the inner circles of the union was the apparent secrecy that surrounded the invitation. The president of the union and a select few others kept the decision to invite Bannon secret from other union members for weeks. This was in spite of the fact they were privy to the arrangement in advance. Union insiders were incensed and complained that a majority of Standing Committee were not informed of the decision to host Bannon until the event was made public on Wednesday morning.
Hundreds of protesters later flooded the streets to protest Bannon’s invitation to the Union, as they decried the number of far right speakers that have been invited to the Union in the past. The news sent many members into a frenzy, almost threatening to disunite a union that has been going strong for several decades. The union’s treasurer elect Amy Clegg, and Standing Committee member, Anika Farouk, signed a motion strongly opposing Bannon’s invite, but to no avail.
Following the announcement of Bannon’s invitaytions, student campaign groups announced demonstrations against the decision to host Bannon. The former adviser of American president Donald Trump, is detested for what is believed to be a perpetuation of anti-Semitic and white supremacist sentiments . Close to 200 people attended a protest outside the Union on Friday.
Oxford University, who have students in the Union, have distanced themselves from the event. The The The university union have emphasized the autonomy of the Union, which is self regulated and comprises a formidably bright group of students.
Among the angry protesters were Student Union’s Women’s and LGBTQ+ Campaign groups, its Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, the Oxford Labour Club, and the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign. They all called for students and locals to protest Bannon’s speakership.The protest, called ‘Oxford Students Oppose Steve Bannon’, criticises the Union for “repeatedly hosted far-right speakers, including Tommy Robinson and Marine Le Pen.”
The protest, called ‘Oxford Students Oppose Steve Bannon’, criticises the Union for “repeatedly hosting far-right speakers, including Tommy Robinson and Marine Le Pen.”The protest’s event description on Facebook reads: “Bannon’s talk is members-only and was not announced until just days before, giving Oxford students no opportunity to voice our strong opposition to a man who’s helped orchestrate the current rise of fascism.”
Union Treasurer-elect Amy Gregg, who seconded Brown’s motion, called the manner in which Horvath disclosed the invitation to the committee as “highly irresponsible, highly inappropriate, and highly unfair”. She also expressed deep anger that the committee were denied an opportunity to have a cost/benefit analysis of the event.Committee members also called for proper “infrastructure” be implemented at today’s event, to ensure Bannon was adequately challenged, as she expressed fears of him going unchalleneged..
Steven Horvath, president of the Union said:
“I am sure there will be people who challenge the value of free speech in relation to this invitation. The event with Mr Bannon provides an opportunity for our members to hear from an individual who has been at the centre of a rise in right-wing populism, as well as to critically question and debate the ideas and rhetoric of Mr Bannon. President of Oxford Union, Steven Horvath said:
“It is only through listening to the opinions of others that we can fully understand those opinions. Whether we are inclined to agree or disagree with them, there is a profound intellectual value in critically thinking through why we agree or disagree instead of just rejecting them out of hand.”Hovarth may have a point here which is easy to overlook, although it is an entirely different question whether Bannon should be given a platform at all.
Anti-racist groups were quick to attack the event which was poised to go on. Ian McKendrick from Oxford Stand Up to Racism said: “We condemn the Oxford Union invitation to Alt-Right guru Steve Bannon to speak on 16 November. The Oxford Union is once again giving a platform to a far right speaker, and by doing so legitimizing racism.
“Bannon is attempting to build an Islamophobic international of far-right groups and is looking to fascist Tommy Robinson here in Britain as a key figure for his movement.”
He added: “We call on the Oxford Union to stop giving credibility to racism and fascism and cancel the invitation to Steve Bannon.”