MP condemns ‘vain’ Oxford Union debate

A shadow minister has resigned his membership of the Oxford Union debating society in protest at it providing a platform for Nick Griffin and David Irving.

The BNP leader and disgraced historian are booked to appear at a free speech debate at the self-styled world-leading debating society this evening.

Student officers of the union have been accused of “vanity” and “juvenile provocation” for providing a platform to the two men.

Mr Irving has pleaded guilty to Holocaust denial while Mr Griffin was convicted in 1998 for incitement to racial hatred.

In a letter to the union’s standing committee, Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative MP for New Forest East, said the students should be “ashamed” of their position.

He argued the right to free speech does not mean the men should be given access to a “privileged platform”.

The BNP has accused Dr Lewis of “selective snobbery” for his objection to their Cambridge-education leader appearing on at the union.

The MP, who is a defence shadow minister, said he was resigning his membership after 37 years with “great sadness”.

He wrote: “Nothing which happens in Monday’s debate can possibly offset the boost you are giving to a couple of scoundrels who can put up with anything except being ignored.

“It is sheer vanity on your part to imagine that any argument you deploy or any vote you carry will succeed in causing them damage.

“They have been exposed and discredited time and again by people vastly more qualified than you in arenas hugely more suited to the task than an undergraduate talking-shop, however venerable.”

Defence secretary Des Browne and television personalities June Sarpong and Austin Mitchell have cancelled planned appearances at the union.

Hundreds of students are expected to protest outside the event tonight and it has been officially condemned by the Oxford Student Union and Jewish and Muslim societies.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, has also criticised the debate.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, he said the invitation was an “absolute disgrace”.

Mr Phillips said: “As a former president of the National Union of Students, I’m ashamed this has happened.

“This is not a question of freedom of speech, this is a juvenile provocation.”

The Oxford Union maintains people of all views should be given a platform for debate.