The ‘Uprising Against Fascism’ Me Arse

It’s ridiculous, and says quite a lot about media priorities, that the appearance of Nick Griffin and David Irving at the Oxford Union Society has made front page headlines in Britain today. Yes, they are a pair of Nazis. But Nazis have always caused a frisson of illicit excitement in a certain sort of British Hooray Henry, so it is therefore unsurprising that they should make the occasional appearance at places like the Oxford Union Society.

You would think, from all the coverage given to this event, that this particular members’ club was some sort of hallowed chamber where only the most noble questions of the human interest were discussed, and that to invite this pair of Nazi cranks to speak there was to somehow elevate their ideas to the level of Isaiah Berlin and god knows who else. Yet the reality of such members’ clubs is somewhat different: meeting places for braying horse-faces in blazers whose level of desire for status, recognition and an extraordinary CV outstrips their level of intellectual curiosity by orders of magnitude.

Had Irving and Griffin been speaking in a barn somewhere in deepest Norfolk, no-one would have given a rat’s ass. But because it’s the Oxford Union Society (which is not the same thing as the Oxford University Student Union), and therefore a recognisable component of the establishment, there was uproar in the press, even though the venue itself, and the outcome of its debates, have zero relevance to the lives of the overwhelming majority of people in the country.

And the reason for this, as this chap sensibly notes here, is that ‘the nation’s press enjoys stories about the Oxbridge elite from which so many of its writers have come‘. But two paragraphs later, he himself swoons at the Oxbridge mystique by noting that ‘Irving and Griffin are clever people: Griffin is a Cambridge graduate’, which must mean he’s at least the intellectual equal of Prince Edward or Jonathan King. We all know the potential those two have for fascist demagoguery, but they choose to use their powers for good.

The coverage, and a large part of the uproar, is not about free speech, nor combatting fascism, but, through an elaborate pantomime, the preservation of the prestige of symbols of establishment power, and the fact that the establishment matters: even the president of the Oxford Student Union said that ‘it was “disgraceful” that the pair were being given the same platform as past speakers including Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.’ Kermit the Frog too, but that is an inconvenient detail.

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