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KCL Conservative Association to Miss the Bi-Annual Political Debate After Rejecting Condition of Attendance

KCLCA logo and name
14 November 2023. Photography courtesy of Emma Carmichael.

The Kings College London Conservative Association (KCLCA) will not play a part in the upcoming KCL Politics Society Bi-Annual Political Debate after their President was not invited to attend, with private messages revealing the KCLCA’s attempt to stage a London University Conservatives (LUC) boycott in response.

On January 23, the Politics Society extended an invitation to the KCLCA on the condition that President Isaac Farnbank was not one of their two speakers. The Politics Society stated that this decision was concerned with the professional conduct and adherence to King’s College London Students’ Union (KCLSU) guidance expected of all representatives at the debate.

The KCLCA then declined to attend this semester’s event because of this condition.

Last autumn’s KCL Politics debate ended in controversy when KCLCA President and LUC Chair Isaac Farnbank responded to a heckler, “You’re a teenage girl, what do you know about foreign affairs?”. The comment resulted in audience outrage which was increased by later comments about Hamas and Israel. There were strong concerns that these remarks did not comply with the KCLSU’s Safe Space Policy.

In response to the condition of attendance, the KCLCA voiced free speech concerns, accusing the KCL Politics Society of impeding free debate. Messages from their official account seen by Roar accused the Politics Society of “censorship” and said that exclusion from the debate was “insulting”. The KCLCA went on to say “other London Tory Societies will also not participate in any debate” in “solidarity”.

They informed the Politics Society that “we would actively boycott any event without Conservative representation, and actively encourage the student community to do so too”.

Recent months have seen calls for a stronger response from some King’s students against the KCLCA. After the award-nominated Roar exclusive about the presence of a BUF armband at a Port & Policy event was posted online, Instagram comments left by KCL students included calls to “de-ratify” the society and for it to be “banned”.

This would not be the first time that KCL students have suggested de-ratifying the society. In 2020, a petition was started following comments from previous KCLCA President Charles Amos, who was ultimately removed from the presidency.

One commentator called the BUF armband a “moral stain on the student union”. However, this is not a unanimous sentiment, as one King’s student pointed out the “irony” of wanting to ban a society in a “free and supposedly higher education institution”.

In response to a Roar request for comment, the KCL Politics Society said:

“Exclusion was never our intention. We went to the Tories with a reasonable proposal of inclusion that singled out an individual member that posed the original issues. Free speech is a vital pillar of the society and something we would never hope to diminish.

We do however work inside a much larger framework with unseen obligations and principles to follow. Risking de-ratification risks the one central non-partisan space in King’s being lost, a macro erosion of safe free speech and the potential loss of the largest political home for Kings students.”

KCL Politics Society

A KCLCA spokesperson said:

“At all times, the KCLCA has been open to dialogue with the Politics Society and the other political parties at King’s. We believe passionately in the vitality of engaging with a range of views and in defending the right to free speech of every individual.

The President and Vice-President of the Politics Society were elected on a platform that included restoring healthy political dialogue between the respective parties on campus. We welcomed this and engaged fully with them to deliver the autumn debate.

It is beyond regrettable that they have actively decided to abandon this commitment. In so doing, they are breaking their pledges and repeating the very same mistakes that their predecessors made, which contributed to the effective breakdown of dialogue between the parties early in 2023. […]

We encourage members of the student community who believe in free speech, and fair, open, equitable debate, regardless of their political persuasion, to consider whether their attendance at this event is appropriate and conducive to the improvement of campus politics.”

KCL Conservative Association

The LSE Conservatives, who are not part of the LUC organisation, initially intended to speak at the Politics Society event as the KCLCA replacement, stating that they “haven’t spoken to [KCLCA] in months”. Outgoing LSE Conservatives President Jyoti Nag-Chaudhury also told Roar that he hoped the event would be the start of future collaboration with the KCL Politics Society, stating “I’m sure if the event goes well then the society would love to”.

“This term, the LSE Conservative Society will represent the Conservative Party’s perspective, in an attempt to maintain open political dialogue whilst not encouraging harmful language and behaviours which fall outside of the views expressed by the party. This is in light of worries that KCLCA may not be doing so, as expressed by Tory HQ.”

KCL Politics Society Instagram post (04/03/24)

However, on 11 March the LSE Conservatives were forced to withdraw from the event, as the KCLSU external speakers procedure states that external speakers require a 15-day notice period. Since the LSE Tories changed their intended representatives only 13 days out from the event, they became unable to represent conservatism at the event.

New speakers have now been confirmed as ideologically conservative but non-KCLCA affiliated King’s students Patrick Schnecker and Charles Hinds.

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