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Kate Smurthwaite’s comedy show cancelled at Goldsmiths

I think there are good reasons to oppose the proposals relating to universities in the Counter-Terrorism bill which is currently at committee stage. But there are some ironies around this issue.  One is noticing who else has concerns about the bill.  5Pillars thinks it will turn the UK into a police state – but they are hardly in a position to invoke liberal values in defence of their rights and freedoms.  Meanwhile, although many of those working or studying at university have spoken out against the bill’s possible impact on freedom of speech, some groups and individuals within  university communities are already doing their best to limit free speech without any legislative pressure.  Spiked has been focusing on this issue for some time now.

Just one recent example of this phenomenon is the cancellation of Kate Smurthwaite’s gig at Goldsmiths. This was triggered by  concerns about Smurthwaite’s views on sex work and accusations that she was Islamophobic.  The first issue seems to have been the main problem in this instance.  It should be noted that her show was not cancelled because the Student Union or some other body within the university directly no-platformed or banned her.  But signs of aggressive disapproval from some feminist students seem to have made the gig’s organisers and the university’s security twitchy.  Smurthwaite was first told that she should avoid the topic of sex work because of the university’s ’safe space’ policy, and then told that the show could not go ahead. Understandably, she was put out:

People can say things, others can complain, someone needs to assess those complaints and see if they’re worth acting on. Obviously I think I should have been allowed to perform. Especially as my show – which is not in any way about the sex industry or the burqa – is about free speech. Actually there is no better time to heckle than halfway through a show about free speech!

You can read her full account here.

I’ve seen Kate Smurthwaite perform twice and I don’t think she said anything which might be construed as anti-Muslim bigotry although she is certainly a staunch secularist.  I don’t happen to agree with her about the desirability of the Nordic model for sex work legislation.  But, as she says:

“I find it very strange that anyone would feel they couldn’t enjoy a comedy show unless they agreed with 100% of the political views of the person performing.

Perhaps she can at least get some material for a new show out of this fiasco.

Update: This, from the NS,  is a useful write up of what happened.