Unlikely allies: Godfrey Bloom & feminism vs. left-wing censorship

James Williamson observes how radical feminist censorship is damaging to genuine feminist speakers.

Controversy often has a habit of following certain people. Many of these people, condemned by the media and the public alike, may choose to lay low; disgraced celebrities may develop a keen passion for agoraphobia, denying accusations presented against them. Shamed politicians may resign from the spotlight, replacing party politics with an unassuming pair of gardening gloves somewhere out of the way. Perhaps retire to a cottage in the Chilterns, and wait for all this pesky controversy to blow over. As it happens, Godfrey Bloom MEP is not one of these people.

It undoubtedly requires a unique determination to be hounded out of UKIP – a party priding itself on saying what the traditional parties purportedly will not – for being too outspoken. Mr Bloom, now an independent MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has managed exactly that. Of course, politics is not generally a particularly forgetful field, as Mr Bloom witnessed on Friday night, as he spoke at the Durham Union Society supporting the motion that we do indeed live in ‘a woman’s world’.

It undoubtedly requires a unique determination to be hounded out of UKIP.

The wording of this motion was perhaps deliberately controversial – it would be difficult for anybody to confidently assert that women do truly benefit in society over men. Whether or not one believes that equality has been achieved, particularly in the developed world, the debate was almost certain to provoke some of Mr Bloom’s more infamous opinions. Surely disappointingly for some, the evening’s controversy was not in fact provided by Mr Bloom himself, but by a group of protesters bearing the banner of student group ‘Durham University Students Against Austerity (DUSAA)’.

The placement and timing of this protest was, at best, misguided. The DUSAA do, in fact, express concern at issues which are clearly valid for many people in Britain – measures of austerity undertaken by the Coalition government, for example. The unfortunate decision to voice genuine and important concerns by opposing a debate, however, is perhaps the worst venue at which to do so without shooting their own cause in the foot.

In this particular case, the DUSAA’s focus was somewhat more specific: as one protester remarked that the protest was ‘about showing the Union Society what a ****ing abysmal thing it is to invite such a misogynist piece of ****’ to debate his views. Unfortunately, the desire of the protesters to be seen making a stand seemed to hold more importance to them than their cause itself. If Mr Bloom’s views are quite so unjustifiable, nothing could support the protesters’ cause more than allowing himself to voice these opinions on a public stage and be proven wrong.

If Mr Bloom’s views are quite so unjustifiable, nothing could support the protesters’ cause more than allowing himself to voice these opinions on a public stage and be proven wrong.

Those protesting were even detrimental to the voice of those in agreement with them. One of the members of the opposition to Mr Bloom in the debate was Social Secretary of the Durham University Feminist society, Flo Perry. Throughout her opening speech in the debate, Ms Perry was an extremely engaging speaker, winning over much of the audience and bringing a genuine feminist viewpoint and cause directly to Mr Bloom. Meanwhile the protest outside, attempting to drown out the controversial MEP’s speech through a combination of megaphones and angst, simply risked devaluing Ms Perry’s engaging and valid feminist arguments, to the extent that she was forced to begin by apologising for the disruption.

Thankfully, despite the best efforts of Durham’s most valiant social warriors to devalue their own cause, both sides of the debate were civil, orderly and provided thought-provoking arguments, as Union President Rishiraj Goenka effectively quashed minor attempts at disruption from the audience. Furthermore, as the motion and Godfrey Bloom (alongside Sebastian Payne of The Spectator) were defeated through formal debate, the protest outside was indeed proven to be entirely futile, if not utterly detrimental to its own ostensible purpose.

It is worth reiterating, as mentioned above, that the cause of the DUSAA is to many people a valid and important one. As proven time and time again throughout history, peaceful yet vocal protest is an effective way to raise awareness of political and social opinion. An absurd decision, however, is to attempt to further one’s own cause through attempts at censorship of opposition, as was the case in Durham on Friday. The students outside the debating chamber, disagreeing so strongly with Mr Bloom’s views, should have welcomed the opportunity to debate him and challenge somebody whose views they so strongly dispute – particularly if the group were quite so certain his views were easy to defeat. Whilst attempts at censorship will only serve to validate those whom are censored, there is no greater triumph of opinion and democracy than a public consensus such as was reached against the Godfrey Bloom and Sebastian Payne’s proposition in Durham – a result that the DUSAA and feminists alike should proudly aim to broadcast and promote, not aim to censor. DUSAA and feminists alike should proudly aim to broadcast and promote, not aim to censor.

There is no greater triumph of opinion and democracy than a public consensus.


  1. It should be noted that the hypocrits of Durham Union Society, who are so keen to speak about freedom of speech, are less demanding when it comes to actually applying it: their systematic censorship of all opposing ideas to their on their Facebook pages is hilarious when you know the same people consider expressing an opinion opposed to their as “censorship”.

    • Why is that hypocritical. A person has a right to say what they likes. That doesn’t mean that everyone on facebook is therefore required to give them a platform to do so. Likewise if a society chooses to offer that platform it does not give anyone the right to try and shut that down because they don’t agree.

      • Oh the irony: what is horrible censorship when it comes to opposing DUS stupid and unproductive debates is suddenly a great exercise of democracy when DUS prefers silencing the opposition to such debates rather than answerin with arguments. How convenient, isn’t it?

        • So follow your argument through. I am allowed to start putting the most racist and sexist statements on your facebook wall or you are anti-free speech and full of censorship.

          And what would be a “productive” debate? 2 feminists standing up there agreeing with everything the other says? If you want a decent debate on issues of sexism you naturally need someone to represent the views you are trying to debate against.

          • If I want someone to represent masculinist points of views, I hope these points of views can be represented by someone who has other things than insults to present. Which is the case. This is a University, my friend, not a circus.

            And if you find any heinous terms in what has been erased from DUS’ Facebook page, give me a call. Note that on the DUSAA page, on the contrary, opposition has been answered to argument after argument.

            All you are proving here is that your society’s viewpoint on freedom of speech is that you are allowed to speak, and your opponents are allowed to be insulted, kicked out of debates, and censored, because you consider their freedom of speech as a constraint to yours. It is just funny that you come lecturing people about “free debates” in that context.

          • Except you are still not understanding it. It doesn’t have to be heinous. I could put adverts on your wall. I could just put my random mumblings or thoughts on there. Doesn’t mean you have to keep it there and not delete it. It is your wall and you have the choice over what goes on it.

            As such the union can choose to allow or disallow anyone they want in their debate or on their page. You do not have a right under freedom of speech to go into any location and hurl insults. If you do so then you disrupt the debate and as such can be asked to leave. That is not an affront to your FoS.

          • There were still no insults, my friend, just people disagreeing with you and making points about that. Not even aggressive ones. You can frame it however you want, it remains the same problem: when someone disagrees with you, you censor them, and then whine about them censoring you, which is hilarious.

            I know it’s hard to bear such contradiction when you try to present yourself as a white knight of freedom of speech, I’m really sad the reality of what your society does and how it completely ridiculises everything they say about freedom of speech unpleases you, but I’m not responsible for that.

            The DUS has shown in this controversy how hypocritical they were on questions of freedom of speech, by censoring criticism, by lying on why people opposed the debate, by trying to kick out these opponents, by actually kicking out people opposing Mr Bloom in the debate while insults coming from his side were accepted.

            I’m going to say it one last time: DUSAA has never opposed Mr Bloom’s right to free speech, just affirmed that he already has audiences and that a University is not his place; what’s more, DUSAA has never criticised masculinist viewpoints that have the right to be expressed, but the fact that the choice of the person to express them has been a choice of controversy, insult and provocation over argument; finally, DUSAA has regretted that the choice of the topic of the debate, instead of beng serious (which does not meen a-controversial) was the choice of a ridiculous, un-concrete and clownesque topic that fits neither the importance of the subject, nor the quality expected in a top-class University.

            Now, except in the closed group of the DUS members who try to convince themselves that the debate was a great moment of their academic life, everyone is making a joke out of Durham University. While Cambridge has people like Cari Mitchell or Jo Phoenix invited to its events, we has the Bongo-Bongo dude. Which may just be the difference between a top-quality University and a meh-quality University.

          • I said it didn’t have to be insults. Is your facebook wall, google+ profile or whatever open for anyone to write anything on it? If not does that mean you are censoring people? Of course not so you can’t use that logic against the DUS.

            You say he is a joke but regardless of any opinions on him you or I share he is an elected mep and not once but twice. A large body of people voted him to represent them and to just dismiss him shows a huge disrespect for democracy. After all if his opinion is to be ignored and silenced you silence those people as well.

          • Thanks for closing the cycle, friend, so we’ll be able to close this going-nowhere “discussion”: as said earlier, “Bloom has indeed no occasion of delivering speeches, after all.”

            Being invited in a University has never been about being elected. Understanding that is apparently the other difference between organisers of good debates and organisers of meh debates.

          • Mr Bloom spoke at the Oxford union in January and was previously a guest lecturer at the university. He is also a democratically elected MEP.

          • Mr Bloom was never a lecturer at Oxford. But if you want to talk about his invitation there, since it is one of the reasons that everybody knows the guy has nothing to add to a debate, be my guest, quote it.
            And repeating an argument doesn’t make it true: being elected has nothing to do here, Bloom never has, even on a masculinist point of view, held an interesting and constructive argument on the question. Having nothing to say on the topic, I hardly see why it would be a good idea to invite him.

  2. I’d just like to draw attention to the DUSAA event description, which should clear up the fact that no attempt at “censorship” was made.

    “Durham University Students Against Austerity oppose the invitation of Mr Bloom – an individual with a long track-record of sexism, racism, and ableism – to our University campus, holding that his bigotry and oppressive politics will outweigh the usefulness of his contribution to any conversation.

    With academic discussion of women’s rights on the campus already woefully scarce, it is of particular consequence that the DUS should see fit to draw upon the words of an avowedly sexist MEP; it is insulting to expect women to defend their rights against a misogynist.

    We deplore that the choice that has been made appears to privilege provocation and polemic over constructive debate. Inviting Bloom to the debate is a gimmick that betrays the Union Society’s lack of interest in women and its disrespect for the thought-provoking discussion it purports to promote within the university.

    While we cannot prevent Mr Bloom from holding his views, we can express anger at the DUS for providing him with a platform from which to propagate them. We are aware that Bloom’s supporters, and indeed many of his detractors, will oppose this position on the basis of freedom of speech. We do not, however, deny him this right, but rather exercise our own by protesting this Friday on behalf of the many groups he seeks to vilify”.

    Whilst I cannot say that this necessarily speaks for all of those protesting last night, it certainly does for me. I protested because a) the decision made by the DUS that Mr. Bloom was the best speaker that could have been selected for the debate, however, once this decision had been made we did not attempt to forcibly stop him from debating; and b) not being a member of either the DUS of Feminist society I wished to exercise my free speech, showing Mr. Bloom what I think of his abhorrent views. If he was to be given a platform, we were to have one too.

    I did not try to censor Mr. Bloom, I respected his right to freedom of speech. Likewise, I chose to exercise my own.

    I hope this clears things up.

    • Apologies, the formatting has been removed from my response. I put in old and highlight the lines: “We are aware that Bloom’s supporters, and indeed many of his detractors, will oppose this position on the basis of freedom of speech. We do not, however, deny him this right, but rather exercise our own by protesting this Friday on behalf of the many groups he seeks to vilify”

    • But you did not just exercise your own. Your attempted to abuse your right of speech to silence out another. Freedom is speech means you have a right to say what you wish to say. It doesn’t mean everyone has to let you shout it out in any location you wish. A true proponent of free speech would have engaged in the debate rather than try to have it drowned out. As the article said, the easiest and best way to get rid of these ideals is to actually let these people speak and then challenge them in a proper open debate. They soon end up looking like idiots. A prime example is the bnp. The more air time they got (such as on question time) the more people started realizing what they were and how stupid they sounded.

      • Since freedom of speech isn’t about letting any other guy say stuff just because they want to, or actively promoting their possibility of saying such stuff, then DUSAA’s opposition to the invitation of Mr Bloom was not an attack against freedom of speech. I’m glad DUS finally recognises that fact.
        Just to be noted: the debate was drown out by its organisers, who chose to organise a “fun” debate instead of an intelligent one. The opinion of these people on freedom of speech was clearly demonstrated when they chose to kick out of the room people who had dared calling Mr Bloom a “misogynist” (which is an extremely violent insult indeed).

        Stop lecturing about freedom of speech, man, this is not the issue.

        • Arh I understand now. You think freedom of speech is your right to hurl insults at people and a useful debate is a forum for which to hurl said insults. Frankly I blame pmqs for turning the word “debate” into insult slanging match.

          • “Frankly I blame pmqs for turning the word “debate” into insult slanging match.”
            In which case you should have been protesting with us, my good sir.

            Now you feel uneasy with the ridicule DUS brought on itself by organising this masquerade as a debate, which is normal. This is called growing up. Every opinion is worth hearing, as long as it is presented in an intelligent and constructive way. Making a joke of oneself is not an intelligent and constructive way. Take it as a constructive experience and get closure.

          • But please, try to respect yourself and stop whining about freedom of speech. In this context, coming from DUS which is absolutely disrespectful of this freedom, this is not even outrageous, just pitiful.
            Now if you’ll excuse me, your arguments have been answered a thousand times by members of DUSAA and organisers of the protest, who have proven that they weren’t censoring anyone. You can keep saying the same thing over and over, hoping for it to suddenly become true, but serious people have other obligations to attend to.

          • Oh so your answer to fixing an insult slanging match is to throw insults at a debate. Makes perfect sense. I’m not going to rise to your attempts at condescension or to insult my maturity because frankly it hilarious. The very concept of protesting against a debate is authoritarian. You didn’t like what he had to say so you attempted to stop him saying it. If you didn’t what was the purpose of the protest? Was it or was it not to have Godfrey taken out of the debate?

          • Man, you ridiculised yourself enough today, may I suggest avoiding sentences like “The very concept of protesting against a debate is authoritarian”? This is not serving your cause (but, once more, in your situation, I would hardly find anything that could).

          • I see you had to completely avoid the question about the purpose of the protest. Let me define a few English words for you.

            Debate: A formal discussion on a particular matter in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward

            Authoritarian: Showing a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others

            Now in my mind a debate was held. It had 2 opposing arguments in a formal public meeting. That is democracy and freedom. When another group comes along with a single agenda and attempts to silence one of those arguments it shows both a lack of concern for the wishes of those wanting to watch the debate. While it also tramples on the opinions of others because it tries to silence the opposing view. If you have every listened to any questions on radio 4, watched question time or even in pmqs you will see people frequently silenced or even asked to leave when they attempt to disrupt the debate. That is because unlike the childish free for all you might want it to be where the loudest voice wins a proper debate is done with dignity and respect. Maybe instead of shouting outside or heckling inside you should have been watching and learning.

          • I’m glad to see that your definition of “opposing Bloom’s ideas” is “attempting to disrupt the debate”, which is yet another case study of how DUS’ remarks about freedom of speech are hypocritical. Good day.

  3. Be nice if the writer learnt what a “radical feminist” is before using the term in his subheadings

  4. It’s very sad that poor lil’ James is unable to understand that the problem with inviting Bloom was not the fact that Bloom has ideas opposed to those of the protesters, but that he has nothing to do in a University, as a politician, and that poor lil’ James’ society’s choice of organising ridiculous debates about serious topics.

    Poor lil’ James prefers whining about censorship, which is absolutely true: except for the few platforms offered by Durham University, Bloom has indeed no occasion of delivering speeches, after all.

    It is nonetheless sad to see that poor lil’ James did not care to precise that people opposing Bloom’s ideas by calling him insults such as “Misoginistic” were kicked out of the room, while poor lil’ James’ society didn’t find offensive to answer to serious arguments “Lap it up while you can, young lady”. But hush, don’t tell poor lil’ James that his mates respect freedom of speech only when it’s the freedom of speech of backwards reactionnary people, he believes so much he’s in the Good Side.

      • Did so. One of these famous “censoring” protesters who, by the way, never opposed the idea of having their ideas opposed, but that of organising stupid debates with University funds. What poor lil’ Tom also forgets is that his society tried to have the protesters kicked out of the place by the police, which didn’t work.
        But once more, poor lil’ Tom’s notion of “freedom of speech” is very variable.

        • HAHAHHA you kidding. They called the cops then complained about censorship. Political correctness gone mad.

          • I’m afraid you’re mistaken, my good sir: “politically correct” only applies to people who do NOT actively take part in giving Mr Bloom and his comrades a platform.

      • A person was removed from the chamber after they began to use a floor speech to criticise the DUS, which, as was explained at the beginning by the president was not to be permitted. Floor speeches are always for asking a question of the debated matter or for offering an option on the matter. The members statement was not reliavent to the debate and was wasting time that could have been used by other members to make genuine points. He was given fair warning and repeatedly asked to stop speaking. It was not due to a personal attack on a speaker, which were also not permitted to any party.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here