The Rise of YUUKIP

Image: Bob Taylor

Image: Bob Taylor

Going to university can be a tricky situation, socially. Presuming you moved out, you’re probably a few hundred miles away from your best friends, and not everyone has the willpower and physical fortitude to re-enact the famous Proclaimers song. Societies, then, serve a quietly important function in the background of university life, by providing social groups for people with like-minded interests.

If there isn’t a society for that interest, well, you can make your own! And, recently, a lot of people already have; YUSU just ratified over twenty new societies for the new academic year. The newcomers range from “wait, why didn’t we didn’t already have that” (Fashion Society, German and French Societies) to “could be interesting” (Hip Hop Society, American Politics Society) to “societies based on a vicious struggle for power threatened by invasions from across the sea”. That’d be A Society of Ice and Fire, the one dedicated to Game of Thrones (and the accompanying books).

And actually, thinking about it, that description also matches YUUKIP – the York University UK Independence Party. They, too, were ratified this week and managed to claim their own spot on campus with the rest. Hopefully without any Romanians next door to it.

Naturally, complaints soon followed, from a plethora of students who disagree with UKIP’s far-right policies. Though a UKIP branch in York would certainly bring together students with similar interests, opponents feel that the party’s divisive views concerning immigration endanger the unity of the larger university community.

In response, YUSU President Sam Maguire cited University regulations, which unambiguously defend “freedom of speech within the law”. While he denounced the “racist and homophobic” remarks routinely reported from UKIP representatives he – rightfully – admitted the society could not be shut down unless it specifically infringed on YUSU rules.

Compare that decision to the one made by the University of East Anglia. They recently shut down a debate that was set to include UKIP parliamentary candidate Steve Emmens, after more than 1,100 people signed a petition opposing it. The founder of the petition said a UKIP presence on campus threatened their advocacy of “diversity, integration and tolerance”. UKIP itself retaliated, decrying the decision as “the worst kind of political censorship”.

And, perhaps just this once, they’re not wrong.

It’s understandable why groups, both on our campus and East Anglia’s, want to keep UKIP off their campus. Not everyone agrees with their message, particularly on university campuses (those infamous hotbeds of “student lefties”, as UKIP MP Douglas Carswell tweeted). Some might be disappointed that, as an official YUSU-ratified society, YUUKIP could potentially claim money from them for student events. But provided the society itself isn’t spreading hate speech or trying to incite violence, they deserve a platform as much as any other party does.

Besides, when you’re dealing with an organisation whose big draw is saying the unsayable, as the scrappy underdogs speaking the truth against a “Westminster elite” looking to drown them out, to bar them from campus debate entirely just gives them legitimacy. Allowing them to put their policies out in the open gives students and other political societies the chance to argue back as they will – “free speech”, after all, doesn’t protect against disagreement.

So, unlike in East Anglia, YUUKIP’s here to stay, and another voice has been added to the political debate on campus. Unless they start being openly racist on social media. Then they’ll have to join a hockey team.


  1. Your sentiments on this issue are welcomed, but if I were you I’d expect a plethora of debate, abuse and correction. And I disagree with you on quite a lot of points – to me, it’s clear that UKIP a) obviously deserve a huge platform, given the extent of nationwide support outside the student bubble and b) don’t deserve to unambiguously called “far right” and doing so is desultory to political discourse. The rise of UKIP is a complicated phenomenon, linked to the failure of our political system and the homogenization of political culture, and cannot be very easily dismissed as just some upsurge in far right nutters, as many Guardian article-writers have learned.

    I say to you, just about how many students are politically inactive/apathetic? To what extent does this have to do with the limited choice of political societies on campus? And then, another leap in logic – how can we combat this political apathy? Let’s give an answer: by allowing properly organized political societies who follow all the rules to join YUSU and receive support. Surely this leads to a healthier student democracy?


    • Was it ever said in the article that the soc shouldn’t be ratified? I’m not sure why such a defensive stance was needed. The point of the article was that rule-abiding societies are welcome, debate is welcome, and all YUUKIP need to watch out for is the fact they are polarising and so have a huge number of detractors.

      And I’m not sure why UKIP’s support outside students demands that they have greater representation to students.


      • I didn’t mean to adopt a “defensive” stance, and I apologise if you took my comment in this way. I understood the point of the article, but objected mainly to its tone, a tone which is surely out of fashion considering that UKIP have such huge nationwide support (let it be known at this point that I’m not in any way a UKIP supporter, just someone who objects to their misrepresentation). “from a plethora of students who disagree with UKIP’s far-right policies”… I think phrasings like this are highly naïve if you’ve ever met a UKIP supporter in real life (I have met many and spoken to them extensively. None of them I would say are ‘far-right’. There are certainly far-right politicians and voters attracted to UKIP, but that doesn’t make the whole party far-right).

        As to your point about UKIP specifically among the student body, I’m fairly sure that UKIP have a reasonable level of support among students, enough to warrant a society and not be (predictably) condemned in such a rebarbative fashion. If any other society that hasn’t even had chance to do anything wrong at all became ratified, would it receive the same level of flak? I would say no.

        So what I’m saying is that these predictable responses and comments about UKIP, which I would argue amounts to a kind of hysteria, should be replaced by actually productive debate. ‘Free speech’ cannot be fulfilled unless it is entrenched into the way a society works and opposition groups are given the chance to organise.


  2. I doubt that this party will last very long, they’ll probably quote Enoch Powell’s “River of blood” or Winston Churchill’s “The River War” and be branded racists and islamophobes…