Discovering the notorious journalist was the surprise after dinner speaker must have been like finding a turd in a kinder egg
Christmas parties, eh? Time for a good knees up. One too many Baileys. Maybe scan a photo of your arse on the office photocopier, and a snog with that bloke who looks a bit like Ben Shepherd off of Tipping Point — when he stands to the side, in low-light, and you’ve had three snowballs and half a Moretti.
Not if you’re a student at Durham University’s South College. Those poor souls were made to pay a tenner to be subjected to an after-dinner speech from none other than Rod Liddle! You know, Rod Liddle. Rod. Liddle. That obnoxious bloke who makes a living by…well…being obnoxious. After all, nothing says ‘festive fun’ more than a speaker notorious for his transphobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic spewings.
Liddle’s played a blinder this time, though. Not content with getting paid to write inflammatory op-eds on child pornography and paedophilia or taking a pop at Muslims, gay men and anyone transgender, he’s managed to bag himself a speaking gig, a trending hashtag on Twitter, and entrance to the rather lucrative ‘self-cancellation club’, where he’ll join such august company as John Cleese, Kathleen Stock, and Jeremy Kyle, all of whom have raked it in with media opportunities to share the horror of being censured and silenced.
On the other hand, the bloke who invited Liddle, Professor Tim Luckhurst, Principal of South College and Associate Pro Vice Chancellor (Engagement) at Durham University, has got himself into a right old pickle.
While giving his old mate, Rod, a publicity boost, he might just have got himself the boot from his cushy number at Durham Uni.
In case you don’t know, Liddle, the rent-a-provocateur and general gobshite on a stick, has been trending on social media for the past few days for doing a turn as the surprise after-dinner speaker at South College’s Christmas Formal. Poor students, it must have been like a kid finding a turd in their Kinder Egg.
To put this in context, the students paid to attend the event, the speaker was not advertised in advance, and there was no opportunity for student response post-speech. Needless to say, some students walked out just before Liddle’s talk, and others continued to leave during his speech. Student action was met with cries of “at South College, we value freedom of speech” and ‘Pathetic!’ from Luckhurst, the Principal of their College — as if a right to free speech also means a right to an audience.
Once the story had gained traction on social media, Luckhurst sent a written apology to South College students. Unfortunately, as Rachel Cunliffe notes in The New Statesman, it was a ‘nonpology’ and didn’t address the issues around the staging of the event or the haranguing of students by the Principal's wife, Dorothy Luckhurst, after Liddle’s speech.
Dorothy Luckhurst attempted to mock students complaining to her husband about the event, asking them ‘what are you frightened of?!’ and calling one ‘a silly… (inaudible)’ and another ‘an arse’. She then took to Twitter to label the students who’d walked out of Liddle’s speech ‘a bunch of inadequates.’
I wasn’t at the event but I’m betting that the students weren’t frightened of anything until Dorothy started doing the Charleston while repeating the word ‘arse’. Utterly terrifying.
Tim Luckhurst didn’t fare much better in his discussions with students. The Daily Mail has attempted to revise the incident as a bunch of fragile little wokeists responding hysterically to calm, mature academics and accompanied a screenshot of two horrified attendees at the event with the caption: ‘Professor Luckhurst tried to calm the students who gawped at him as he educated them on free speech at universities.’ Good try, but if the camera had panned down then we would have seen that Professor Luckhurst’s feet were surrounded by all the bollocks he’d dropped that evening, including telling a student who complained that Liddle’s speech was ‘disgusting’ that he shouldn’t be at university if he was unable to listen to argument.
But Rod Liddle doesn’t deal in argument. He deals in provocation, which is fine if that’s what people choose to pay for and read in his columns. Liddle was foisted on these students, however, and for what? This wasn’t exactly a prime learning moment — except maybe for Luckhurst. He may consider himself a noble defender of freedom of expression — running at students crying ‘Freeeeee Speeeeeeech!’ with academic robes flying, like some posh Braveheart — while students are pathetic snowflakes but, in the end, it’s Luckhurst who’s shown himself up to be an absolute melt.
Of course, The Spectator tried to frame the event as a failed attempt to cancel their editor. Not that their editor went down like a cup of cold sick with an audience. Nothing so banal. No, the event has to be framed as a battle in the culture war with Captain Liddle emerging a hero of free speech.
Hold. Your. Line. Tally ho!
I’m sure Liddle is delighted with furore provoked by his latest after-dinner gig. He’ll be able to pose edgily for more selfies and posture about imaginary threats to freedom of expression in his column for The Times.
Here he is on GB News, asking for an apology from Durham University… never one to let the facts get in the way of a controversial soundbite, he says, ‘Rather than giving extra courses to their students in how to become prostitutes, a course on good manners might not come amiss.’ You can almost see the point sailing right over his head. Not that he cares.
And now Durham University has a proper PR shitstorm on its hands. Not like the wilful media misrepresentation of support workshops for sex worker students of a few weeks ago, but serious reputational damage that echoes the very real issues of racism, classism, and misogyny that have dogged the university for years. While Durham University is doing some good work to try to distance itself from the image of a prestigious but fossilised institution that’s mired in bigotry, the South College Christmas Formal debacle threatens to at best overshadow and at worst undo those efforts.
Liddle’s mate Luckhurst has scored a spectacular own goal both for himself and his employer. By making students pay a tenner to be subjected to Liddle by stealth and then calling them names when they protest is literally adding insult to injury. Liddle makes his living trying to get cancelled. He’s in his element. Like other Heads of College at Durham Uni, Luckhurst makes his living by purporting to ‘generate a sense of belonging and community as well as providing support and wider wellbeing for students’. Who’s the inadequate now?