Statement on the Counterterrorism Bill

Ever feel anxious, reserved, or lonely? Ever felt a desire for social, political, or moral change? Ever dared to criticise UK foreign policy, or the truthfulness of our politicians and media?

If you can say yes to any of these things, then the new 2014-2015 Counterterrorism Bill, currently making its way through Parliament, allows the police to target you for domestic extremism and radicalisation.

Among other things, it targets ‘non-violent extremism’, including anything which would ‘create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit’. This definition is so wide that it potentially includes anything critical of our government or society. In other words, this law makes us all domestic extremists.

It also places a statutory obligation on your University and its staff to spy on you and report you to the authorities. If they don’t, they can be held in contempt of court and potentially face prison.

Obviously, this applies to practically everyone at university, from conservatives to anarchists. Wouldn’t this render the bill impossible to enforce?

No; precisely the opposite. Making everyone guilty means that the police can legally target whoever they decide to dislike. And we all know who that will be.

The targets will be Muslims, ethnic minorities, and people on the left who are innocent of any crimes. This bill will entrench and encourage the deep institutional racism and Islamophobia of our country’s police. And it will extend police persecution of, and assaults on, student and other activists. It will also further stigmatise students with mental health issues, discouraging them from voicing their sufferings and seeking the help they need.

This is an attack on legitimate student dissent, on a student movement which is fighting for free, fair, and democratic education. Students across the country have been campaigning against austerity, rising tuition fees, and the imposition of the authoritarian, neoliberal university. For this we have been spied on, registered as domestic extremists, and assaulted with batons and pepper-spray on our own campuses.

In the wake of widespread support for the COPS OFF CAMPUS campaign, this government is seeking to turn the entire university into an extension of its repressive policing.

The police don’t need this new law to target people who are guilty or suspected of actual wrongdoing. They can do that already.

It lets them spy on, stalk, and persecute individuals who are innocent of any crime. We’ve already seen this happening under the existing ‘Prevent’ strategy, which the new bill extends and makes mandatory.

In January 2014, for example a Birmingham Defend Education activist was targeted as a domestic extremist. He was unlawfully arrested, held for 30-40 hours in police custody, and suspended from his course.

Not content to leave matters there, the West Midlands Police turned to harassing his relatives over concerns of ‘domestic extremism’ and ‘young people supporting terrorists’. The letter sent to the activist’s family reeks of Orwellian fear-mongering, promising that ‘[y]our son is not in any trouble’ and that the Prevent initiative ‘is about supporting individuals […] not about criminalising them.’

Given that Prevent actively gathers intelligence on the politics, sexual activity, and mental health of innocent people, Cambridge Defend Education may be forgiven for suggesting that education activists are doing just fine without such invasive ‘support’.

Sir Peter Fahy, the chief constable of the Greater Manchester Police, says that leaving the definition of extremism open to whatever ‘securocrats’ like himself decide, risks ‘a drift to a police state’. We couldn’t agree more. Under the hazy label of ‘extremism’ – of which even the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit accepts there is ‘no legal definition’ – we are all becoming enemies of the state.

Universities can and should be somewhere we learn to come up with and develop alternative ways of thinking and doing things, where we explore different points-of-view and the arguments for and against them, and where we learn to think and speak for ourselves. This requires practices of critical inquiry; it requires challenging assumptions and orthodoxies; and it requires going to the root of the problems facing our world and society, and finding out what we can do about them.

This new law will crush precisely these freedoms to think differently, to criticise those with power and influence, and to challenge the government and its actions in any way. Nobody has the right to take away your freedom to speak up against violence and injustice! Nobody has the right to threaten Universities or their employees with prison sentences for not snitching on students who dare to think or speak in ways the police and politicians decide to dislike!

Come to think of it, if extremists want to destroy our freedoms and our democracy, why is our government doing it for them?

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American-backed private Universities plan dropped

It is not often that CDE links to the Telegraph:

“A Higher Education Bill, which was to be introduced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, has now been delayed indefinitely and is unlikely to be published before 2015.”

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Selma James speaking at Occupy Cambridge University (27 November)

Legendary feminist and Marxist Selma James speaking at Occupied Lady Mitchell Hall in Cambridge University on 27th November.

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Occupation Ended 30-11-12

The occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall ended today with students joining UCU picket lines and marching with thousands of strikers through Cambridge. Students collectively decided to end the occupation on its eighth day with a general assembly, attended by local trade unionists, students, and community members. In its eight days in occupation, Lady Mitchell Hall has served as a hub for student organising against the White Paper and in support of the public sector strike. Over five hundred students have participated in the occupation since last Tuesday. Events included a rare poetry reading by J.H. Prynne, talks by Selma James and Raymond Geuss (on free speech), workshops on Higher Education reform, film screenings and musical performances. Last night Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) passed a motion in support of the aims of the occupation and vowing to engage with its activities in support of the strike and against the White Paper. At the time of departure fifty-five academics at the University of Cambridge signed a statement in support of the occupation. Throughout the period of occupation, students were inundated with messages of support both nationally and internationally, from student organisations, trade unions, and local groups fighting the cuts.

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Support the strikes!

On Wednesday 30th November, more than 3 million public sector workers will be striking to defend their pensions. Teachers, for example, will be expected to pay between 50% and 64% more into their pension fund in order to receive less the same amount over a shorter period of time, with the retirement age being raised.

The occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by Cambridge Defend Education has been called in solidarity with striking workers.

This is an emergency

The government’s cuts pose a fundamental threat to our public sector. These changes will disproportionately affect women and the most vulnerable in society. The Unison union, for example, has calculated that a nurse who has worked for 27 years would be forced to pay £597 extra each year into her or his pension scheme, but receive £1,275 a year less when s/he finally retires. All people’s best-laid plans will go awry overnight.

We urge all public sector employees to support strike action. We encourage non-unionised workers to join a union – on the picket line, if needs be! – and for employees of Cambridge University who are not directly involved in the industrial dispute to stand in solidarity with the pickets on Wednesday. Whether you work in the public sector or the private sector, this concerns everyone.

There will be pickets at the Sidgwick, Downing and New Museums sites. We will be providing hot drinks and food to striking academics and university staff all morning on the Sidgwick site, and visiting pickets all round the university to show our solidarity.

CUSU voted to support mass walkouts by students, and we encourage all students not to cross the picket lines, nor to attend lectures, and to come to the CUSU rally outside Great St. Mary’s Church at 11.30, and march to Parkers Piece for noon, where thousands of striking trade unionists will be rallying.

To find out more about actions taking place in your area, click here.

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An academic’s letter to Professor Goldhill on the Willetts Protest

Dear Prof. Goldhill,

I recently read your response to the occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall by the Cambridge Defend Education group, posted on the CRASSH website. In it, you mention that many people have since emailed you expressing their sense of shame that David Willetts was prevented from speaking; I have taken that as an invitation to email you with a different view.

I feel compelled to do so partly because your response represents an exercise of symbolic capital that – in the context of the campaign against current government policy – seems to me a thousand-fold more irresponsible than the students’ actions last week. Your comments demand that space be made for ‘other voices’, and I trust that you believe you are intervening on their behalf by condemning the protests. Implicit in that rationale must be your awareness that your voice is invested with a certain authority dependent partly, but of course not wholly, on your esteemed position within the University. You will not be insensitive to the irony I’m getting at: your defence of others’ voices demands all views be treated equally, but that very defence is predicated on the knowledge that some voices are more equal than others.

Students and colleagues will read your statement of condemnation not as an expression of fair-minded concern but as a work that defines what is politically acceptable for them within the institution you represent. As a junior researcher, I am more than aware that a degree of career risk attends direct criticism here – in fact it is precisely that sense of ill-defined discomfort which prompts me to write. You will excuse me if – as a consequence of this discomfort – I feel that the term ‘totalitarian’ was misapplied by your statement.

The pretence that there exists a public sphere in which heterodox voices can commingle productively also underpins the criticism of CDE itself. I find it bizarre that so many rational people believe that Willetts’ visit represented a chance for rational debate. His relations with the HE sector are in tatters, and his visit to Cambridge represents part of an attempt to conceal that fact. It was an advertisement – not an evaluative process. CRASSH seems to consider his talk on par with a speech made by a visiting academic holding controversial views. But Willetts was not there to announce that he had found previously undiscovered Homeric material in Shakespeare, or to discuss the pitfalls of game theory. He was there to make a vicious policy respectable. I would have been far more disturbed by the protests had the interrupted speaker been a Holocaust denier: because the Holocaust denier’s illegitimacy is already manifest by social consensus. Willetts is in power, not on the fringes. He holds out hope that his systematic destruction of the public university can be made to seem democratic and virtuous.

I want to suggest to you therefore that allowing him to speak would – in itself – have been a political act. We might have engaged him in rational debate for hour upon hour, but in this case doing so would have meant participating in a social event designed to stymie those very principles we would be so reasonably advocating.

After a decade in which politicians have invested so much capital in seeming to listen, engage in dialogue, consult and engage, it seems totally irresponsible not to recognize that giving them the opportunity to do so is to confront them on their terms. Any such engagement would be a priori ineffective. Do we want our protests to be effective? Or do we want to fill in petitions provided by government websites, write mild emails to managers, and generally shuffle around in the way our opponents assumed we would? Let us not go on tip-toes.

Nobody could accuse the CDE protesters of doing that – which in itself should give some of us pause for thought. I agree that the protest was disappointing in some ways; there were certainly things that might have been done differently. But let us not be condescending about those with the vigour to dramatize their opposition in a way which we – collectively as academics in Cambridge – have singularly failed to do. All these phrases of which moderate critics of CDE are so fond- ‘free speech’, ‘rational debate’, et cetera – can only be made to mean what we want them to mean when we understand them not as pure categories, but as contested, compromised, imperfect, and messy.

The protesting students’ actions were not the product of flawed and naive idealism. On the contrary, the protest seemed a wholly realistic and rational response to the nature of the event. Its critics, on the other hand, who are so glad to talk about practical considerations and realism about long-term prospects, are the real idealists. Their idealism manifests itself as a valorisation of free speech that is entirely abstract but at the same time totally unprincipled.

Yours sincerely,

Dr George Oppitz-Trotman

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All day: Banner Making for strike on the 30th

9am – 1pm: Economics Lectures – all welcome!

9.00am: MORNING MEETING – Building momentum for the strike – planning for the day ahead

10.30am: Workshop on talking to sixth-formers about the White Paper

LUNCH: Fajitas for all!

1pm: Raymond Geuss on Freedom of Speech and the University.

4pm: Henry Tam on citizen action and democratic participation – check out his blog ‘Question the Powerful’ here:

6pm: CUSU council EGM – voting to support the occupation

7pm: Marxist Discussion Group – ‘A Question of Leadership’ (Ken Loach) film screening

9pm: Life Drawing

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Events for Today – Sunday 27 November

Another full day of events at the Lady Mitchell Hall occupation.

We formed three working groups for organising against the Higher Education White Paper: an outreach working group (for making contacts with other occupations and student unions, as well as local schools and trade unions); a creative/media working group (for developing ideas like a documentary and short film on the White Paper, as well as stunts and posters for use in Cambridge); and a targeted information working group (for creating sets of information about the White Paper specifically directed to schools, undergrads, grads, and lecturers).

The working groups are meeting at 11am. It is essential that we start organising now if we want to have any chance of resisting the attacks of the government. Please come down and get involved. We need people, we need energy, we need to actively fight the White Paper to save Higher Education. If we don’t organise we will see the fall of Higher Education as we know it. This is a real threat and we need to react!

9:30 a.m. Breakfast
10 a.m. Fuel Poverty Workshop
11 a.m. White Paper Working groups meeting
1 p.m. Lunch! Open for all!
2 p.m. Academics on the crisis: Dr Brendan Burchell, Dr Larry King, and Dr Jeff Miley.
3.30-6.30 p.m.: Workshops! Alternative Futures; Feminism; Direct action; etc.
6.30pm-12am: An evening of music, talks and poetry. Featuring “Songs in the Dark” open mic, a talk from Selma James, a reading by Cambridge poet J.H. Prynne, and performances by musicians visiting from other occupations (see Facebook)

Find us at the Sidgwick Site: see map

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Events: Thursday 25th November

10am : Morning meeting

11am : Meeting on JCR motions regarding the occupation — this is important if you want support in dealing with discussions in your college about whether to support the occupation.

1.15pm: Lunch-time meeting — great if you can´t come in the morning.  Particularly focusing on political direction.

5.30pm: Protest against Michael Gove, The government minister for education, at the Law Faculty (

8pm: Why We´re Striking: Cambridge Lecturers Speak Out, at Mong Hall, Sidney Sussex College (

10pm: Acoustic open mic — music and poetry performance


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Statement from Jeremy Prynne on the disruption of Willetts’s talk

One aspect of this rather challenging business. the current occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall, which will involve sternest public disapproval of students for denying the right to speak to an invited visitor who happened also to be a Minister of State, will need to be addressed. When this series of lectures and discussions on the theme of ‘The Idea of a University’ was originally set up, various great & good names were included in the list of those invited to make a presentation, so as to open out a range of views about this topic at the present time and as it bears on the current situation at Cambridge. This list included *no* representation of the student voice, they were simply excluded, as if somehow they were merely customers for whatever their superiors debated so loftily. I took it upon myself to point out somewhat forcefully, early in the planning stage and in response to an issued notice of intention about this series, that the exclusion of any student voice was more than negligent, since of course the announced vast increase in fees would affect future students most of all, but this remonstrance was not acted on. It was to be a senior show, at the top end of the class divide, as if it scarcely involved students at all. And so now, confronted with the privileged invitation-to-speak issued to the principal architect of this massive threat to fundamental student access to *their* higher education, still leaving them without any voice in the matter, they stormed this citadel by taking the expression of their collective views into their own hands, drowning out the invited speaker with uninvited, prepared speech of their own. Their anger at being yet again ignored was very palpable. Much blame must be attached to the organisers of this series for effectively instigating this episode, and for leaving these vocal students to carry the public burden of blame largely by themselves.
Jeremy Prynne

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