I was chatting to a young medical student, a very bright chap from West Africa, who was nonetheless perplexed by a certain element of his course. The puzzle, for him, was the point of offering cervical smear tests to men who had transitioned to become women. The course module was very clear, he said, that these people must not be left out, despite not possessing a cervix. I hope a later part of the course teaches him how to behave while carrying out a cervical smear test on a non-existent cervix, so as not to cause offence. Poke around a bit with that spatula thing in whatever has recently been excavated, and perhaps comment admiringly, along the lines of: ‘My goodness! What a splendid cervix. I don’t think I have ever seen one quite so robust or pristine. You should, as a lady, be very proud.’ We should thank God that at least the NHS has not adopted this policy yet.
I tried to explain to the lad that we are now living in a world which could best be described as ‘post-real’, where truth and fact have no purchase and that, for the sake of his career, he had best go along with it all unless he wanted to be outed as a fascist bigot, or a bigoted fascist, whatever. One day, not too far down the line, he may be faced with the problem of treating a man who identifies as a unicorn and presents with a complaint relating to his fetlocks. The temptation to nail some horseshoes to his feet may be close to irresistible, but he should resist nonetheless. Go along with the game and offer reassurance.
All this occurred at a rather uplifting meeting held in a delightfully renovated former whorehouse in central London, organised by a group called Turning Point UK. This lot are the British wing of an American organisation which is attempting, with some success, to turn the tide of political idiocy on US campuses, and I think they deserve your support. Their MO is to approach a university and then organise a meeting at which interested students — usually 30 to 40 at a time — can be reassured that it is not always necessary to hate capitalism to complete a degree, and that their opinions are valid even if they do not find accord with whatever deranged harridan has recently been -elected by a minuscule percentage of the student body as the local NUS chief. Turning Point UK is broadly conservative, although not party political — which was how I was able to be speaking there, as a representative of the Social Democratic Party.
Their chief problem at the moment is getting access to universities — they are often no-platformed, as occurred recently at the ultra-woke University of York. The authorities there feared that Turning Point UK might bring ‘reputational damage’ to the college as a consequence of their links, in the USA, with the Republicans. It is a mark of the totalitarianism of our times that an organisation can be blackballed because its sister organisation contains some people who quite like the President of the USA. But that is where we are right now, sadly.
My job was to unveil the SDP’s new Charter for Academic Freedom, which my party will be rolling out in universities across the country, beginning with a gig at the -Buckingham University Free Speech Society in January. The charter will enshrine a series of fundamental rights for both students and lecturers which I think we might all agree on:
- fundamental right to express your own opinions without being silenced by those who disagree with you.
- fundamental right to be grotesquely offended by what other people might have to say, and then quite quickly to get over it.
- fundamental right to be treated as equal, no matter your colour, creed or gender. No protected characteristics.
- fundamental right — indeed a duty — to challenge established orthodoxies.
- fundamental right to an education which is politically broad and comes from a wide variety of viewpoints.
- fundamental right, if you are a female student, to enjoy privacy from the other sex and to compete in sports against other people of your own gender.
- fundamental right to be able to hear outside speakers at your university who possess a wide variety of views.
- fundamental right to be judged by your lecturers purely according to your academic ability, regardless of how greatly your political views might differ from theirs.
I might add to that: a freedom to show appreciation by loudly banging your hands together in the traditional manner known as ‘clapping’, or by waving your hands in the air if that’s what floats your boat.
The temptation is to give up on the universities, with the lament that they are always left-wing and nothing really changes. That would be a mistake, I think. It is true that universities in modern times have always been somewhat to the left of the general political mindset, and to be honest I have no great problem with that. But today they have become metro–liberal echo chambers where dissenting views are not merely brushed aside, but those who hold them are penalised and vilified.
This charter enshrines what would 20 years ago, I think, have been unquestionable rights which have since then been -eroded. And the students will know that there will always be one party, the SDP, -supporting them in their right to express modern -heresies, even if as a party we might disagree with some of those heresies.
But there is also this. Politics devolves from culture. You cannot change the politics unless you first address the culture; and at the moment this intolerance of — particularly — socially conservative views is present in the media, the judiciary, our schools, the House of Commons. Here’s a way we might start to change all that.
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