DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Tragic decline of free speech on campus

There was a time when universities prided themselves on being cauldrons of debate, where ideas and ideologies of all shades were tested, dissected and analysed.

In recent years that fervent commitment to free expression has waned, giving way to a stultifying, almost Orwellian orthodoxy.

Suggest in these seats of learning today that a trans woman is not the same as a biological woman or that not all white people are privileged and you are likely to be pilloried. If you are an academic, you’re likely to be sacked. Some call it wokery. In reality it is censorship and a gradual crushing of free speech.

A troubling study by the respected think-tank Civitas shows that this culture of intolerance is at its worst in some of our most renowned universities.

Civitas compiled a league table of our 'wokest' institutions. At the top were Oxford (pictured), Cambridge and Bristol

Civitas compiled a league table of our ‘wokest’ institutions. At the top were Oxford (pictured), Cambridge and Bristol

Scouring official websites, promotional material and media reports for variables such as decolonisation policies, transgender regulations and the use of trigger warnings, Civitas compiled a league table of our ‘wokest’ institutions.

At the top were Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol, followed by several other universities in the Russell Group – supposedly the gold standard of higher education.

The Mail is pleased Rishi Sunak is appointing a ‘free speech tsar’, part of whose role will be to monitor and combat campus censorship and cancel culture.

Cambridge professor Arif Ahmed is tipped for the job. But as this survey shows, he will have his work cut out.

His first task should be to remind universities that their primary function is to educate our young people – not indoctrinate them.

A flawed prescription

The Mail congratulates Sir Keir Starmer on finally acknowledging that the NHS must ‘reform or die’. His prescription for change, however, would make a desperate situation worse.

Most bizarre of the Labour leader’s proposals is that patients should be able to self-refer directly to specialists, bypassing their GP altogether. This would put unbearable extra pressure on already overstretched clinicians to no good effect.

His other main suggestion, to end the private GP contracts brought in by Tony Blair in 2004 and nationalise primary care, will probably have support on his party’s Left.

But even if it could be achieved, it could take decades. The service is in an existential crisis now. It needs a detailed plan for root-and-branch reform, not gimmickry. Sir Keir’s lack of any real ideas gives Mr Sunak an opportunity to seize the initiative.

If he can bring an end to the strikes without breaking the bank, drive through new labour laws to mitigate future action, accelerate recruitment and begin to cut waiting lists, he may yet win back the public’s trust. If not, he can start packing up the Downing Street flat.

Risks of Gender Bill

Meanwhile, Sir Keir is tongue-tied on the question of whether he would block Nicola Sturgeon’s ill-judged Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

This legislation allows anyone in Scotland over the age of 16 to change gender without medical diagnosis. A biologically male teenager could therefore have the right to attend a girls’ school and male prisoners self-identifying as female could request a transfer to a women’s jail. Before long, there will no doubt be attempts to extend such rights to the rest of Britain.

As UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has the power to overrule this legislation. SNP leader in Westminster, Stephen Flynn, says it would be an outrage if Mr Sunak chose to intervene. Many voters, on both sides of the border, would regard it as an outrage if he didn’t. He should get on and do it.

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