Peter Hitchens

Diary – 2 November 2017

Also: the beauty of Liverpool and fighting for the right to make bad, tasteless jokes

Where better to be than in Liverpool on a crisp autumn evening, haranguing an open-air meeting of students? I hadn’t done a soapbox speech since my Trotskyist days 45 years ago, and had forgotten how exhilarating it is — the questions sharper, the audience more alert, the tempo brisker, and the missionary feeling of spreading the word. Also, the students didn’t cough all the time, which they tend to do in stuffy lecture rooms.

But I had never meant to do this. Months before, Tom Willett, of Liverpool University’s politics society, had asked me to come and speak about my favourite subject, the fact that there is no ‘War on Drugs’. It should have been inside in the warm, not in lovely Hope Street next to the poignant Suitcase Sculpture, where it actually ended up happening. In fact, from Tom’s correspondence with the Student Guild, I see that it very nearly took place in the Mandela Room. But then the Guild asked me to agree to its conditions for speakers. These were breathtaking in their effrontery. I would have had to accept (for example) that they were entitled to see my speech in advance, to inform the police of the meeting and even to record the names of those attending. I have since learned that student officials also did a little probing into my past utterances, showing special interest in my non-mainstream views on same-sex marriage and ‘addiction’.

They actually prepared a lengthy risk assessment in which ‘concerns’ were expressed about these opinions. Who and what do these people think they are? Where do they think they live? When I told Tom I couldn’t accept these conditions, he bravely agreed to go ahead anyway, on private premises and outside the student union’s control, risking his own money to book a room.

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