Brendan o’neill

My advice for the next ‘free speech champion’

I was delighted to hear the government plans to appoint a ‘free speech champion’ to the board of the Office for Students. His or her responsibility will be to make sure universities in England do everything that is reasonably practicable to uphold freedom of speech within the law, including preventing external speakers from being no-platformed by student activists. This legal duty has been on the statute books since 1986, but there is no enforcement mechanism. That’s why this announcement is so important. The new free speech tsar will have the power to fine universities that don’t uphold the law. Theresa May’s government took a dummy run at this when it

I wish I had kept my Brummie accent. I’d be taken more seriously

‘No one wants to send their son to Eton any more,’ I learned from last week’s Spectator Schools supplement. It explained how parents who’d been privately educated themselves were increasingly reluctant to extend the privilege to their offspring; some because they can’t bear for their darling babies to board, others because the fees are way out of their reach, or because class prejudice is so entrenched these days it means their kids probably won’t get into Oxbridge. Then again, if you don’t send your kids to public school, you’ll be denying them never-to-be-repeated opportunities like the ones that boys at Radley have had this week: the chance to see not

There’s a right way to lose at the Oxford Union. I did the wrong way

The way not to win a debate at the Oxford Union, I’ve just discovered, is to start your speech with a casual quip about Aids. It wasn’t a scripted joke. Just one of those things you blurt out in those terrifying initial moments when you’re trying to win the audience over with your japeish, irreverent, mildly self-parodying human side before launching into your argument proper. It only happened because when my turn came to speak there wasn’t any still water for me to drink and I was parched. So various Union officers proffered me the dregs of the other speakers’ half-drunk bottles. ‘Oh my God, I might get Aids,’ I

Everyone says they’re Charlie. In Britain, almost no one is

Je suis Charlie indeed. This is the problem with placards — there is rarely enough room to fit in the caveats, the qualifying clauses and the necessary evasions. I suppose you could write them on the back of the placard, one after the other, in biro. Or write in brackets and in much smaller letters, directly below ‘Je suis Charlie’: ‘Jusqu’a un certain point, Lord Copper.’ Then you can pop your biro into your lapel as a moving symbol of freedom of speech. Only a few of the British mainstream national newspapers felt it appropriate to reproduce the front cover of the latest, post-murder, edition of Charlie Hebdo, which shows the Prophet

Warning: these books could seriously damage your health

Welcome to 2015, the year that speaking and writing freely had to stop. Anything that might cause trauma to anyone of any race except the white one will be expunged, and the perpetrators of politically incorrect speech or written word will be airbrushed for ever. The word trauma derives from the Greek and means wound. The literary canon will be the first to bite the dust as it’s one big trauma, especially for feminists. The Great Gatsby, for example, is bonfire material because of a variety of scenes ‘that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence’. And let’s not forget The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as racist a book as ever

Unpaid internships turned me into a banker – but I still think they’re a good thing

My thanks to ‘AndyB’, the only reader who posted an online comment on my column last week. It was ‘Don’t you ever go on holiday?’ and the answer is yes I do, and here I am deep in the Dordogne, glass of rosé to hand, lunch on the terrace in prospect, scanning cyberspace for some fizzing ingredients to make an Any Other Business cocktail. Upbeat economic news from home, led by ‘CBI lifts growth forecast amid optimism’, merely adds to the mellowness of mood. As for local issues to raise the pulse, there isn’t even a decent ruckus to be had over shale gas, since François Hollande has barred all