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“Weird and perverse”: KCLCA’s Provocative Port and Policy Debate Reveals The Dark Side of Free Speech

Picture credits: Times Higher Education

Staff writer Fred Taylor explains the controversy created by KCL Conservative Association’s latest debate and describes its implications for free speech. 

‘This House Would Restore the British Empire’ read an Instagram post from the KCL Conservative Association’s (KCLCA) recent debate event. The debate was opposed by other University of London Conservative Associations, who walked out at the event, with KCLCA members hurling “vulgar and sexist” abuse at them, according to King’s Business Review. Students showed their rage about debating such a controversial topic in the comment section, and several student organisations opposed and protested the event. However, is this just a case of liberal snowflakes getting angry over what, in the end, amounts to an exercise of free speech? 

The short answer to that is no. But the long answer involves an explanation of what exactly the debate concerned. The debate was not about whether the British Empire produced a net positive impact in the countries it colonised, or if the atrocities they are said to have committed are less dire than widely thought; both already very controversial topics. But no, this debate was about whether Britain should presently restore the extent of its past jurisdiction. 

What this would involve, in practical terms, is the UK imposing its authority on some of the world’s largest democracies including India, Bangladesh and South Africa. Supposedly, these countries would not agree to such rule, and, as such, the UK would have to invade the home nations of around two billion people. To suggest that that is even plausible is an intellectual travesty, even by the KCL Tories’ standards, whose past debate motions have included ‘This House Would Permit Gentlemen to Carry Handguns’.

Putting practical concerns aside, is there any argument in favour of the UK taking control of over one quarter of the world? To any normal person the answer to this is no. It would go against internationally-accorded principles of liberal democracy, sovereignty for independent nations, and racial equality. To say that the UK is in a better place to decide how government should be run in Namibia, New Zealand or Nigeria, or to say that these countries should be subservient to our country is an appeal to racist ideas, which see the white Briton as superior to the ‘uncivilised foreigners’. These ideas have rightly been debated out of existence and are deeply vulgar and wrong.

Going further, talking about bringing back the British Empire, an entity which caused the death and suppression of so many different peoples, is very offensive and inappropriate, and is not the image that any association should wish to present itself with. And, in case anyone needed a reminder of its atrocities, here are some of them.

In 1899, during the Second Boer War, the British army forcibly moved thousands of Boers into internment camps, causing the death of around 48,000 due to poor hygiene and sanitation, diet as well as inadequate shelter and overcrowding. In the 1950s, as a response to the Mau Mau rebellion, the British army confined 1.5 million Kenyans and frequently brutally tortured their innocent subjects. In between 1640 and 1807, the British Empire was, along with other colonialist forces, accountable for the transatlantic slave trade, kidnapping, and shackling of 3.1 million Africans who were sent to the Americas to live a life of slavery. These are just three examples, the reality of the extent of the suffering under the British Empire would need a lot more space.

The final contention is that this is just free speech, and that the KCL Tories should simply be criticised for the issues they support, not those that they debate. And although having a debate on certain issues is deeply offensive to the average person, that is the price to pay for free speech. There is some truth in this position. I am not saying that Conservative-minded irredentists should not be able to discuss their irredentism, I am simply saying that this should not occur with KCLSU funding, and that the KCL Tories should really look themselves in the mirror for discussing the pros and cons of the UK savagely invading a quarter of the world. The Conservatives have recently been getting a lot of stick for being out of touch with the broader populace: Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, Rishi Sunak’s ample fortune, and Lee Anderson’s comments on 30p meals are just a few of the examples. And KCL Tories are simply proving their critics right when they come up with debate titles such as these.

Simply put, this debate proposal is a weird and perverse one, which is deeply insulting to so many and betrays the very principles that Western civilisation is built upon. While the right to free speech should not be impeded, why the KCL Tories see this as an appropriate and constructive use of that right is beyond me. If someone is truly disgusted by the anti-democratic genocidal crimes our country has committed in the past, then they would not see a discussion of its reoccurrence as an entertaining or eye-opening one. 

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