In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

New Tab


Are speech codes on campuses really nothing to worry about? (Edited: Jennifer Moo)

Over at The Tab [1], that staunch citadel of journalistic integrity, the contributing editor Will Lloyd’s article posits the following question: “When will the press realise SU weirdos don’t represent normal students?”

“Usual foreground anxieties”

Apathetic to any concerns about speech codes on university campuses, Mr Lloyd writes:

Apparently nothing will ever teach the rest of the country that 90 per cent of students pass through uni without engaging with or thinking about politics. It says nothing to them about their lives, which are marked by apathy, the desire to have a good time, the usual foreground anxieties about sex and essays — and radiating in the background, the thought “how do I get a job out of this?” They’re not worrying about whether things their SU’s do are “illiberal” or not.

Polling focused solely on university students is somewhat sparse. The British Election Study, which provides surveys based on every election since 1964, suggest a 2015 turnout among those aged between 18 and 24 of approximately 58%.


As ballots are secret, this is estimated from survey data. (Source: House of Commons)

As Sky News reports [2]:

If confirmed, the turnout would be a marked improvement on previous years, up from an estimated 52% in 2010 and just 38% in 2005.

YouthSight estimated turnout among undergraduate students was 69% [3]. This fieldwork was conducted over a week after the election, and so might be an overestimate.


This is not a true ‘exit poll’, but shows a strong preference towards Labour. (Source: YouthSight)

However, it does concord with the idea that most students voted. Even if the claim that “90 per cent of students pass through uni without engaging with or thinking about politics” were just a statistical placeholder, and a weaker position about a majority of students being entirely apathetic of politics were taken, this is still in defiance of the data.

“Sticking my head in the oven”

Mr Lloyd persists:

The abstract concept of free speech is of interest to your pink hair and piercings feminists, your virginal meninists – in short it’s of interest to weirdos and the Oxbridge lot. The kind of people who start up in the pub about Gamergate while you sit there and think I could be back home, sticking my head in the oven, rather than having to listen to this.

It is easier to insult people rather than engage them in discussion. The problem with calling for three cheers for apathy is that people tail off after the first cheer. Even if it were true that those interested in speech and expression codes on campuses — what guest speakers are allowed, what songs can be played, what clothes can be worn — were somehow strange, that would not make them wrong.

Universities are important houses of inquiry, discussion and insight. It is vital that students should be unhindered in their pursuit of truth and exploration of knowledge. This holds whether those barriers are born from unions, administrators or the ignorance of their fellow students.

The average student is interested in politics. Moreover, it would make the students’ unions perform better in their representative roles if the average student got involved in that kind of politics too.


[1] Lloyd, W., 2016. When will the press realise that SU weirdos don’t represent normal students? The Tab. Available from: [Accessed: 23rd January 2016]

[2] Sky News, 2015. Six Out Of 10 Young Voters Turn Out for Election. Available from: [Accessed: 23rd January 2016]

[3] YouthSight, 2015. Student Vote – Labour Dominates. UKIP & Lib Dems Rejected. Available from: [Accessed: 23rd January 2016]



This entry was posted on January 26, 2016 by in Student Politics and tagged , .
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