Recent years have seen a free speech crisis manufactured in this country. Writing for this site yesterday, Charlotte Gill points to a minority of Cambridge students objecting to their university honouring self-righteous transphobe Jordan Peterson with a fellowship as incontrovertible evidence that students have waged war on free speech and will not rest until the last dregs of conservatism are dead and buried.
Right-leaning students have, unsurprisingly, latched onto this trope with great gusto. I sit on the committee of the LSE Conservative Society, but I have no qualms about calling out what I see as a culture of mass self-pity and extraordinarily disingenuous claims to victimhood among young Tories. “You can’t say anything,” they moan, inadvertently broadcasting their lack of life experience and inability to comprehend societal oppression intimately familiar to swathes of their peers.
It seems to me that the root of the issue of social positioning. Even on diverse university campuses, Conservative groups tend to be overwhelmingly white, male and middle class. The go-to social event is a pub crawl in which competitive beer chugging and excruciatingly chauvinistic rowdiness are unavoidable. One LSE student, who is indifferent to politics but loyally attends all Tory Society events, once described the group as ‘the only drinking club that doesn’t require any sport’. It is an intrinsically masculine and privileged environment that, if you are not accustomed to it, comes across as extremely harsh and abrasive.
When it comes to political discourse, this approach to university life translates tremendously poorly. In the style of former Chelsea star Didier Drogba diving to the ground and clutching his face in confected agony at the slightest touch, white Tories shriek in horror when their ethnic minority peers voice objections to the notion that their families should have been forbidden from emigrating to the Green and Pleasant Land. God forbid left-leaning should dare to express even a flicker of emotion in these conversations. Straight Tories expect their LGBT+ peers to calmly debate, without emotion, their right to exist.
Young Conservatives, through no fault of their own, often lack the experiences and perspectives of countless others on highly sensitive, hot-button issues such as abortion, trans rights or the realities of low-income life. Difficulties begin to arise when they adopt hard-line and uncompromising positions on those issues and then proceed to charge into the debate like bulls in china shops, dismissing those who attempt to draw attention to the consequences of their words as either wet liberal snowflakes or liberty-smashing totalitarians.
The situation is worsened immeasurably by the tragically prolific brand of student Tory that feels the need to be ‘edgy’ with politics, using it to carve out their entire image. The number of students who think it endlessly hilarious to quip witlessly about culling the poor or self-identifying as a toaster is the real discredit to my generation.
The key distinction to be drawn is between the right to free speech and the right to a platform. Young Conservatives have just as much of a right to express their politics in the appropriate forums on campus as everybody else, but they seem obsessed with pushing the boundaries of that to and beyond its limits. They do not have a right to be listened to, nor even respected, especially when they insist on engaging in loud, shallow bigotry.
Student Tories’ knee-jerk reaction to any and all opposition from other students to their sweeping, prejudiced proclamations is the closest thing I have ever witnessed to snowflakery, by a country mile. Conservatives on campus are not under attack by any stretch of the imagination; they, for the most part, are the ones doing the attacking.