The furore surrounding the proposed Oxford Union forum has intensified over the weekend. As the shadow defence minister, Julian Lewis, resigned his union membership in disgust over its decision to invite the Holocaust-denier David Irving, and BNP leader Nick Griffin, to speak in tomorrow’s debate, all sides of the liberal gamut have been busy publicly expounding their opinions. While Lewis has decried the arrogance of the Union, claiming that it is “sheer vanity” of the organisation and its members to imagine that any consensus it reaches will succeed in damaging the standing of the largely abhorred party, the Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, one of the speakers billed for the ‘limits of free speech debate,’ argues that it is the “views of these extremists which are a disgrace…not their right to hold their views.”
According to the tenth article of the European Convention on Human Rights, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” and that entitlement is a fundamental principle to the preservation of a democratic society. Lewis should be applauded for exercising his right; but it is rather paradoxical that he should do so (seemingly unaware of the irony) in circumstances that would forbid the extension of this right to all members of society – no matter how disgraceful – Irving’s in particular – their views. In light of the recent kerbs of democratic freedoms in Pakistan, the ECHR precept that it is a human right to hold opinions and “impart information and ideas without interference by public authority,” is something that should be safeguarded, rather than censured.