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KCLCA “Port and Policy” Debate Sparks Heated Controversy with Motion to “Restore the British Empire”

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Last Thursday, the King’s College London Conservative Association (KCLCA) held their fifth “Port & Policy” debate this academic year. The event’s motion to “restore the British Empire” sparked heated controversy, with KCLCA facing criticism from the KCL Labour Society, the KCL Politics Society, Liberate KCL, the King’s College London Students’ Union (KCLSU) and the University College London Conservative Society.

In KCLCA’s announcement of the event two days prior, they declared the debate’s motions would be:

  1. THW [this house would] Scrap Party Members’ Right to Elect the Leader
  2. THW Restore the British Empire

The post’s caption stated that the event would only be open to members of KCLCA or another London Universities Conservatives (LUC) group, or people who had confirmed their attendance with KCLCA:

In response, Liberate KCL, a student society aimed at dismantling “the corporate university, as well as the racist, imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal and cisheteronormative systems it reflects and reproduces”, stated in an Instagram post on the day of the debate that they would be holding an “emergency demo” protesting the event:

Liberate KCL instagram post

Liberate KCL also contacted the KCLSU Head of Governance and Compliance, Caroline Crawford, asking for the event to be shut down. Ms Crawford replied, “We don’t have a ‘no-platforming’ policy at KCL and KCLSU… We appreciate some topics may be considered inflammatory or controversial by some students but so long as there is an opportunity to challenge, discuss and debate such free speech is permitted.”

Shortly after this announcement, KCLCA announced the event would no longer take place in the Strand campus’ Anatomy Museum as originally planned. The new location was kept private:

kclca instagram update

According to an anonymous source within KCLCA, everyone in the society agreed to move the event so that Liberate KCL would not shut it down. Roar attempted to find out the debate’s new location, but it became clear KCLCA would not disclose it to anyone who had not registered to attend prior to it being changed.

During this time, a number of people, including a member of Roar’s editorial team, received anonymous phone calls with “No Caller ID”.  In the first call, the caller asked who the receiver knew at Roar and what position at Roar he held. They then offered to tell Roar the location of the event in exchange for its Editor-in-Chief’s phone number. In the second, the caller again asked for the receiver’s position at Roar and wanted to know who at Roar was interested.

When Roar spoke to the several people at the KCLSU desk in Bush House that evening, they shared that they had also been receiving “No Caller ID” calls from what they thought to be KCLCA members. A source within Roar shared that they heard Ali Gibson, a former KCLSU officer, had also gotten a call and that KCLCA members were calling people and giving them false locations. Liberate KCL also state members received “taunting” calls from anonymous numbers.

The KCLSU officers Roar spoke to also confirmed that the booking made for the event on campus had been cancelled. Strand campus security additionally asserted that KCLCA no longer had any bookings on campus that evening.

Nonetheless, several students were searching campus for the event. Outside Strand campus, Liberate KCL protested the debate, one representative telling Roar:

“As much as we’re in a university setting and people conflate all these really big ideas and as much as we use a lot of academic jargon, I think, at the end of the day, when we’re describing politics, we hate fascism, fascism sucks and everything that we can do, we’ll stand against it. And if that means going to another location or speaking out any time, that’s what we’ll do. It’s as simple as that.”

As revealed by an Instagram story posted by a KCLCA member, the event was moved to University College London (UCL).

The debate, as well as the hours leading up to it, was not smooth sailing. An anonymous source within KCLCA shared that the second motion was not accepted by the UCL Conservative Society and the University of Westminster Conservative Association (UOWCA) in the planning stages of the event and was changed as a result. However, to their surprise, KCLCA members attempted to debate the original motion anyway “since it was a KCL event”.

In response, “the other two societies got upset and started swearing and shouting and threatening random people”. According to the King’s Business Review, tension escalated on both sides, with the UCL Conservative Society chair called a “weak bitch”. UCL Conservative Society and UOWCA members then left the event in protest.

Shortly after leaving, the UCL Conservative Society released a statement on their Instagram:

icl tories instagram story

The King’s Business Review stated that while other societies wanted to scrap the second motion, a current senior KCLCA committee member kept but rephrased the motion to something “less radical”, landing on “THB the British Empire was a force for good”. Their source claimed that other Conservative societies have little influence over the agenda for “Port & Policy”: “When it comes to port and policy, KCL are almost always the sole organisers”.

An inside source told Roar that after the other societies had left, KCLCA continued debating the controversial motion until evicted by UCL security. They claim this happened because the UCL Conservative Society had intentionally booked the event to start 30 minutes early (and therefore finish 30 minutes early) so there would not be time to debate the second motion.

It is unclear why KCLCA went through with their second motion despite backlash from Conservative societies and other groups. However, an anonymous source within KCLCA stated:

“Yeah I mean it was a debate so obviously I don’t see the issue. And we’re joking around. Student society. Nobody is advocating for exploiting 21% of the world.”

Another anonymous KCLCA source said:

“I’m not sure as to why they decided to discuss said motion as I found it to be extremely offensive. My understanding from past events is that the other conservative associations have little to no creative input when it comes to deciding on motions for port and policy. I usually tend to avoid port and policy events as it has been rather unpleasant since the start of this academic year and I believe that the association is straying away from the values of the conservative party. Instead of facilitating healthy debate, the association this academic year has been extremely hostile towards people with differing opinions. Circling back to this week’s event, I think they were just trying to enforce their dominance and acted poorly. I sympathise with the UCL and LSE conservative associations and am appalled by the actions of their KCL counterpart. I believe the association owes an apology to their counterparts and the wider King’s community for acting so poorly. As a member of the young conservatives I despise the manner in which the KCLCA is representing the party as I believe the party does not stand for being openly racist or shutting down differences in opinions.”

Since the event, several student groups have released statements condemning KCLCA and their event on Thursday night. Liberate KCL’s official statement can be found here.

On Friday, KCLSU released a statement reiterating a “zero-tolerance approach to harassment, bullying and intimidation, as outlined in our policy.” They added, “We expect all students and members of our community to treat each other, and to conduct themselves, with dignity and respect. At the same time we also hold, together with the universitya strong commitment to the values of freedom of expression as outlined in our joint statement.”

KCLCA’s event also culminated in a rift between themselves and the KCL Labour Society. KCL Labour are refusing to participate in the second annual political debate hosted by the KCL Politics Society unless KCLCA apologise. It has subsequently been called off. In response, the society’s President, Augustin Agabriel told Roar:

“From the Politics Society’s side, we were organising the second debate between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservative party societies on the 27th of February. Considering what happened with the Conservative society, the Labour society doesn’t want to participate in that event anymore and asked the Conservatives to apologise. Obviously, the Conservatives and Labour don’t want to change their position; they’re sticking to what they decided. We’re trying to be the mediators but it’s kind of complicated at the moment. We do strongly condemn the decision of the Tory society to organise such an event, but we’re very deceived and disappointed that the debate won’t go ahead because of both parties’ decision to stick to their position.”

Roar has reached out to KCLSU for a specific statement regarding the event, but they have not yet responded.

Roar has additionally reached out to KCLCA for a statement, but they have not yet responded.

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