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The university that gave us Thatcher and Gladstone is surrendering to a mob mentality

Christ Church, Oxford (<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_Church,_Oxford#mediaviewer/File:Tom_Quad,_Christ_Church_2004-01-21.jpg">Wikipedia</a>)

The Oxford Students for Life Society has until 4pm today to secure a venue for its debate on the motion “This House Believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All”.

The event was originally scheduled to take place at the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre at Christ Church College, Oxford. But the authorities have now said that the debate will not be hosted by them following a campaign by the Oxford University Women’s Campaign to cancel the debate.

This is how the group expressed its opposition to the debate on Facebook: “We thought we should go and say hi! Bring your friends, and if you want take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate’.”

Oxford Students for Life say they lost the venue because of “security concerns”. And given the bile spewed all over this protest page (warning: the language is bad) I’m not surprised Christ Church is nervous.

But they shouldn’t give in to this. This is not about abortion. It is about liberal democratic principles and guarding the ethos of an outstanding academic institution.

Academic and political debate is, after all, a way of settling arguments without using our fists. In the House of Commons there a red lines on the floor of the chamber – traditionally two sword lengths apart – which members from opposite sides of the Houses are not allowed to cross. The lines are a reminder that they are there to debate not brawl. The very term “Parliament” is derived from the French word “parlement”, meaning “speaking place”). How bitterly ironic, then, that the university that gave us Thatcher and Gladstone is surrendering to a mob mentality devoid of tolerance and critical reasoning.

In the meantime, Oxford Students for Life still need a venue. Can you help?