Who are the middle-aged journalists obsessed with ‘snowflake’ students?

Leave me alone, pops

Safe spaces are destroying university life – at least, that’s what Mick Hume thinks. The journalist says safe spaces are a real danger, a “wolf in safety officer’s clothing.” If it was up to Mick, safe spaces at universities would be banned altogether.

There’s just one problem: Mick went to uni 40 years ago.

Hume is just one of a growing number of older journalists who are obsessed with what students are doing, scribbling tabloid columns in which they voice their wishes for “ban-happy” Student Unions to be, well, banned. From their outdated ivory tower, these outraged old writers don’t bother with Mosul or Trump or the migrant crisis, instead turning their pens against 19-year-olds in Manchester who might not want to listen to Blurred Lines.

Hume is editor-at-large of Spiked, a site which prides itself on berating students about their decisions: their Free Speech Rankings accumulate all the bans taking place at universities across the UK. It’s the brainchild of middle-aged editor Brendan O’Neill, a man whose obsession with student life is bordering on creepy. It was he who first coined the term “Stepford student,” a name he invented for the large amount of young people who don’t like him.

You can imagine him ranting about the “Stepford students” a bit too passionately at weekends, raising his voice and sloshing red wine as his fellow dinner party guests feign interest. They have “brains bereft of critical faculties,” he says. They’re “programmed to conform.” He is complaining about being banned from speaking on campus, something which older journalists like Milo Yiannopoulos rely on to gain a cult following among disillusioned students. The “lust to ban” is at odds with free speech, O’Neill believes.

Brendan in his trademark trilby

But this isn’t about free speech. This isn’t about what students are banning, or what they should be banning. This isn’t even really about students.

This is about cronyism, about a group of left-out 40-somethings getting together in the corner of the SU bar and sneering at how students don’t act like they used to when they were at uni. They think uni hasn’t changed since the 1500s, and that banning Germaine Greer from the Union is akin to burning Bruno at the stake. They use phrases like “special snowflake,” “damp rag” and “ban brigade”, words no actual student would ever use – the language of the old and embittered university obsessive.

One of the most cringeworthy members of the gang is Martin Daubney. The ex-Loaded editor was once famous for publishing pictures of boobs, and is now trying to claw his way back from obscurity by complaining about Muslim Students Associations being “offendatrons.” 46-year-old Daubney’s lexicon is hopelessly out of touch, and as he urges young people to “make love with exotic partners while listening to Jamaican reggae” you’ll probably be able to hear an entire generation audibly cringe.

Daubney’s language represents one of the most nauseating parts of this whole crusade. He uses words reserved for your dad’s mate who reads the Daily Mail and thinks Farage speaks hard-truths, not educated 20-year-olds at forward-thinking institutions. Bar banning sombreros, a lot of students don’t think safe space culture is necessarily a bad thing – and even when they do, journos like Daubney would rather steal the limelight from them on daytime TV than let them actually voice their opinion.

Men like Daubney, Hume and O’Neill can’t understand that it isn’t all about them, which is why it’s no surprise they’re in the same boat as Katie Hopkins. When the notorious troll came to speak at Brunel University last year, she was trolled in turn by an entire lecture theatre standing up and walking out the moment she started speaking.

The students had made their voice heard – they didn’t want to listen to Katie Hopkins. So how did she respond? With a Daily Mail column in which she claimed “we no longer teach students how to think but what to think” and blamed the walkout on the very culture she’d spoken out against, on students who are “plagued by lazy thinking,” and even on staff she claimed had “actively encouraged” the protest. She notes that two students, as opposed to the 50+ who walked out, apologised to her – so she must be right.

Hopkins and Hume’s indignant columns, Daubney’s self-indulgent TV appearances, O’Neill’s furious takedowns of Stepford students – these are people who claim students are having their free speech restricted, while refusing to let students speak freely for themselves. It’s their “thing,” and they’ve carved out their own niche in talking about issues which aren’t theirs.

Regardless of what you think about safe spaces, about Student Unions, about the NUS or whatever, they’re student issues for students to talk (and write) about – not middle-aged men who haven’t been at uni for half a century.