The National Union of Students and the Policy of ‘No Platform’ in the 1970s and 1980s
In 1974, the National Union of Students (NUS) voted to instigate a policy of ‘no platform’ for fascists and organised racists on UK university campuses. This meant the denial of physical space for groups such as the National Front (NF) to congregate and organise, by any means deemed necessary. This policy was developed by the far left groups within the NUS, primarily the International Marxist Group (IMG) and the International Socialists (IS), but also supported by sections of the Broad Left coalition (which included the Communist Party). With the rise of the NF in the 1970s, the ‘no platform’ policy seemed very prescient and was part of a wider anti-fascist movement that culminated with the Anti-Nazi League between 1977 and 1979. Although the ‘no platform’ policy seemed straightforward when applied to the NF, almost as soon as it was implemented different groups wanted the scope of the policy widened—the IMG wanted to apply it to the right-wing Tory group, the Monday Club, while various pro-Palestinian groups wanted it applied to Zionist and pro-Israel groups. While the policy was challenged at NUS conferences throughout the 1970s, the policy remained steadfast. In the 1980s, various student groups used the policy to oppose a wider range of people on university campuses across the country, including those deemed ‘sexist’ or ‘misogynistic’. Many of those on the far left who supported the original policy in 1974 criticised its broader application in the 1980s, and there was a feeling that the policy had been captured by the new enthusiasm for identity politics. This chapter explores the original intent of the ‘no platform’ policy and its wider socio-political context and looks at how the policy became abused by sectional interests in the late 1970s and early 1980s.