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Union drops Nick Griffin invitation

by Xin Fan | Tuesday, 15 January 2013 | Click here for original article

A letter from the Oxford Union inviting MEP and leader of the British National Party Nick Griffin to speak in Thursday’s debate on same-sex marriage was published on an anti-fascist blog yesterday afternoon, prompting a hasty retraction.

The leader of the far-right party was asked to speak on the motion ‘This house would be glad to have gay parents’. In a statement released shortly afterwards, the Union “rescinded the invitation in no uncertain terms”, describing it as an “error”.

Griffin has reacted angrily to the Union’s statement on his Twitter account, railing against what he called “disgraceful cowardice”.

The letter, published at the Hope Not Hate blog, which monitors far-right activity in the UK, appeared to be written in the name of, and undersigned by, the Union president.

It promised Griffin that the Union would “guarantee [him] a great welcome in Oxford” and he could expect a keen audience, “many of whom are European”.

However, the Union claimed that a new Secretary’s Committee member, who had “arbitrarily sent out a batch of invitations to several people”, was responsible. It maintained that the letters had not been cleared by senior members, and said, “We stress that the invitation, though it may have looked official, was not signed off by the President, and was not made on behalf of the Oxford Union.”

As well as failing to rescind the request, the same committee member also sent out unapproved invitations to Mitt Romney and Lady Gaga. The Union resolved to take “disciplinary action” against the individual in question.

It is not clear how the letter was obtained. Hope Not Hate told Cherwell, “We're making absolutely no comment as to where we receive any of our information on the far-right. However, we are glad that the Oxford Union has seen sense and rescinded the invite to Nick Griffin.”

The letter made reference to Griffin’s 2007 Union visit, describing it as “thought provoking and stimulating”. Griffin’s appearance alongside Holocaust-denying historian David Irving drew in hundreds of protestors, and a sit-down protest in the debate chamber resulted in clashes with security guards. Griffin compared the protestors to Nazis, and described them as a "mob which would kill".

The Union stated that it “commends the work” of Hope Not Hate, which has since published clarification. In relation to the BNP, it said, “The Oxford Union does not wish to be associated with the BNP in any way whatsoever. We strongly disagree with their views. It is unfortunate and deeply regrettable that this miscommunication has occurred.”

Responding on Twitter, Griffin wrote, “Oxford Union debating society having surrendered to leftist threats & rescinded my debate invitation, now 'commends the work' of left thugs.”

He has threatened to turn up nonetheless, tweeting, “If I get back from parliament I'll go anyway. As a life member of the Cambridge Union I have reciprocal membership."

The Oxford Union confirmed this arrangement, stating, “As long as they are neither creating a disturbance nor posing a threat to others, no paying members of the Oxford Union, nor members of the Cambridge Union, who hold reciprocal membership, will be denied access to the Union and its facilities within opening hours.”

The news comes in the wake of arguments over another of the Union’s invitees this term, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

LGBTQ Society President Simone Webb commented, “[Griffin] isn't the person to present the most well-thought-out arguments against same gender parents.”

“He was probably invited due to his controversial image. However, I think this is different in nature to Assange's invite, as Griffin was being invited to a debate where his views would be explicitly challenged.”

Regarding Griffin’s vow, Webb suggested, “If anyone turns up to the Union who is not a member, guest or invited speaker I see no reason why they should be allowed in. But were he to be admitted, I am confident his views would meet with vigorous challenge.”

The debate, on the motion ‘This house would be glad to have gay parents’, will take place at the Oxford Union on Thursday at 8.30pm.

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