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Blaise Tapp: The dangers of shutting down debate

ROW: Universities Minister Jo Johnson has suggested institutions could be fined for barring speakers who students disagreed with. PIC: PA
ROW: Universities Minister Jo Johnson has suggested institutions could be fined for barring speakers who students disagreed with. PIC: PA
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Like most people, I make a point of publicly claiming that I don’t have too many regrets in life. But that is the fattest of lies.

While I am too busy (either wiping backsides and falling out with my eight year old over my apparent inability to select the appropriate hairband) to spend that much time mulling over my myriad failures in life, the list of regrets is still a long one.

Ranging from the ‘if only I had listened to Big Pete and lumped a ton on the 3.15 at Kempton Park a week last Friday’ to the ‘I wish I could grow a beard that doesn’t make me look like Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost’, my regrets tend to border on the edge of petty.

But, as time passes, I have tended to find that the strength of some of these regrets diminishes; none more so than the doubt which gnawed away at me for years – my decision not to go to university.

Back in the mid 1990s, I was very much the odd one out in many of my social circles when I took the bold decision not to spend three years of my formative years at former polytechnics in either deepest darkest Essex or the more genteel surroundings of suburban Surrey.

Instead I went for, what I then regarded, as the grown-up option, and went down the vocational route into the not-
so-glamorous world of journalism.

So while my contemporaries were living it up largely at the taxpayers’ expense – this was before tuition fees – I was spending my brass, not on Mad Dog 20:20 and Monster Munch but on shirt and tie box sets from Burton.

At the age of 19 I was paying my taxes and it wasn’t that 
long before I was grumbling about the long haired 
layabout students who spent all day getting addled while becoming addicted to Diagnosis Murder.

Deep down I was gripped with jealousy, not to mention a nagging feeling that I had made the wrong choice.

As with many of you reading this, I have experienced some lows in my career, which, as recently as five years ago had me considering whether or not I should belatedly dip my toe 
into the waters of higher education.

But I have now settled on the fact that it is very unlikely I will ever get chance to don a cap and gown because I am not sure whether I would fit in.

I expect our seats of learning to encourage fierce debate but student bodies are more 
likely to ‘no platform’ groups whose opinions they disagree with.

Such groups tend to be right-wing and, while I abhor any form of extremism, the best way to deal with numpties who hold such views is to challenge them.

Cast your mind back eight years when former BNP 
leader Nick Griffin was given 
a seat on the BBC’s Question Time, amid a storm of public outrage.

The argument was that by giving Griffin and his goons the oxygen of publicity it would only succeed in making them stronger.

In reality, Griffin was humiliated; torn apart by both the panel and the audience and it is no coincidence that their core support fell away in the years after.

I am with Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who wants to fine institutions who bar speakers who their students disagree with.

If we don’t teach our 
leaders of tomorrow how 
to challenge idiots with 
dodgy opinions, we could 
end up seriously regretting 
it.