I’ve long had a soft spot for Cambridge, the charming, picturesque fenland university for people not quite ambitious enough to get into Oxford. But I don’t think its Union debating society has done the place any favours by cancelling at the last minute its invitation to the US talk show host Michael Savage.
Savage was due to speak – via videophone – against the motion “This House Believes Political Correctness is Sane and Necessary” on October 15. The reason he had to do it by videophone, of course, is that he is officially banned from entering Britain.
Home secretary Jacqui Smith issued her fatwa against Michael Savage in the summer as one of the Labour government’s more risibly desperate measures to try to distract public attention from its awfulness. Her thinking went on the following lines: “Hey, I know. I’ll make a long list of the scariest, most murderous terrorists in the world, officially declare them banned from Britain then, at no more public cost than it took to issue the press release, I will be hailed as the Home Secretary who made Britain Safe.”
Then some bright spark noticed that the list included rather too many members of the Religion of Peace (TM). So Jacqui Smith – that brilliant intellect who declared that Islamist terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007 were “if anything anti-Islamic” – felt compelled to throw in a few non-Muslims too. Very handily Michael Savage – the popular US shock jock about whom no one in Britain had heard up until this point – was white, right-wing and Jewish. Bingo! The man was banned.
And now Cambridge Union has given the poor fellow another kick in the teeth by cancelling his only UK appearance. The Union is blaming technical and legal reasons:
“We have reconsulted with our counsel, and been informed that there are numerous legal issues with Dr Savage speaking here and so because of all of the technical, financial and legal problems involved, we have come to the reluctant conclusion that the event cannot proceed.”
Savage suspects that dark forces are at play and the British government leant on the Union.
“What did the socialist Brown regime fear I might say during the debate?” Savage asked. “What are they hiding from the general public that would have been exposed? Why do they wish to hide what they did to an innocent broadcaster?”
From my experience of the Cambridge Union, I’d say cock-up is far, far more likely than conspiracy. “Legal” reasons sounds like student-speak for “We got nervous about the potential controversy and protests by leftie agitators and chickened out…”
UPDATE: just had a nice, polite email from the Union’s president elect saying the most pressing reason was financial.
We proposed to Dr Savage that he speak by videophone (/Skype), but his team demanded higher spec equipment than we were able to provide and were not willing to negotiate or contribute to the costs.
The £5000 plus that this event would have cost us – following their demands – was not an expense we could justify.
I believe this bit (though I’ve yet to be convinced by the legal part). Cambridge Union is not awash with cash and is very dependent on its members’ subscriptions. I don’t blame Americans for not knowing this – most British people wouldn’t either. There’s a common assumption that if it’s Oxbridge it must have money to burn. But 19 to 22 year olds – even clever ones – are skint. Especially now Oxbridge is so discriminatory you haven’t a prayer of getting a place these days if you were privately educated.
UPDATE 7pm GMT
Just had an email from Michael Savage’s producer, rebutting the Union’s rebuttal:
The communication you received from the Cambridge Union is inaccurate. To begin with, we were never quoted a cost of 5000₤ to us. The price they quoted to us was 3500₤, in a setup that they proposed to include 2 manned cameras, a sound engineer, a video production manager on site within the Union Chamber, a Polycom unit linked to two manned auxiliary cameras and microphones for the outgoing signal from the Chamber, two 50” plasma screen to display the incoming signal and a 17” monitor placed on Dr Savage’s seat in the Chamber. We did not feel that this elaborate a setup was necessary and were working with the Union to assemble a scheme which would be higher quality and have a more reliable connection than Skype, but be more affordable to them than what they proposed. We were then told that the event was cancelled. It is clear to me that these obstacles could have been overcome if there was a real desire to have the debate.
Moreover, the Cambridge Union cited ‘numerous legal issues’ that were never brought to our attention prior to the cancellation. What did they fear? In view of their having invited Dr. Savage in the first place, and having had ample opportunity to investigate the legal ramifications of this decision in advance, I believe it is fair to raise the question of whether they were pressured by any outside source to cancel the debate.
When I put this to the Union’s president-elect Jonathan Laurence, he said “No outside pressure was put on us. It was a very difficult decision to make”. But when I pressed him to explain what on earth these legal ramifications were he said he couldn’t comment further because of the chaos of Fresher’s week.
Hmm. I think my sympathies are back with Michael Savage.