Students speak out against derogatory Hitler impression at Union debate

Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon was uninterrupted as he used derogatory terms during a Hitler impression during Thursday’s debate


CN: This piece contains discussion of racism, antisemitism, and homophobia

The Cambridge Union has apologised for comments made by speaker Andrew Graham-Dixon, during the “This House believes there’s no such thing as good taste” debate on Thursday (04/11).

Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art historian and television broadcaster on the opposition side, used highly offensive language during his speech, including using the word ne****s times saying “I don’t like art made by Jews or ne****s,” whilst paraphrasing Hitler.

The Union President moderating the debate did not interrupt these comments, nor the lengthy Hitler impression the speaker performed. In footage obtained by Varsity, Bradwell can be heard responding to the impersonation: “thank you Andrew, for what is perhaps the longest Hitler impression this chamber has ever received. A remarkable accomplishment for tonight.”

Photo Credit: Author’s Own Screenshot via The Cambridge Union 

Keir Bradwell, this term’s president, apologised in a public letter posted to the Union’s Facebook, stating that he was “lacking in courage” to speak against the speaker in front of 400 people.

Bradwell continued in his apology saying, “I strongly believe in the values of free speech that we [the Union] have defended throughout out 206 years of existence.” but added, “on this occasion, I got the balance between my role as representative of our membership and facilitator of speech wrong.”

Students speak out

Students who attended the debate described the statements by Graham-Dixon as “disgusting” and “absolutely terrible”, with one student stating that “it is not defensible by arguments of free speech,” and another explained that he made his point “through completely inappropriate means.”

As is part of debating practice at the Union, students watching are encouraged to make comments through floor speeches. One student challenged Graham-Dixon’s comments, pointing out the “deplorable nature” of his impression.

A statement released by the speaker in question, Andrew Graham-Dixon, addressed the comments he made whilst trying to prove there is such thing as good taste. He describes how he “caricatured” Hitler, by “paraphrasing his crass and insensitive statements about art and race.” He explained the intention of his speech was “to underline the utterly evil nature of Hitler and his regime.”

He defended his actions, explaining that “those familiar with my work will know that I have always spoken out against racism or any form of discrimination.” He further apologised  “sincerely to anyone who found my debating tactics and use of Hitler’s own language distressing.”

He continued that upon “reflection I can see that some of the words I used, even in quotation, are inherently offensive. It was not my intention to upset anybody, merely to persuade them that bad taste and bad morality often go hand in hand.”

The Cambridge Union, the oldest debating society in the world, is a passionate “defender” of free speech, priding itself on being “a unique forum for the free exchange of ideas and the art of public debate.” This latest news comes as Downing Street push for the maintenance of free speech at universities with the landmark Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill.

Feature image credit: Wikimedia Commons