This morning, the Liverpool Daily Post carries a lengthy report – with photo – of last night’s Senate House occupation debate with the Tory alderman, Joseph Norton:
A Liverpool alderman, strongly opposed to the sit-in by Liverpool students at Senate House last night accepted a challenge to speak to them in the building they have occupied for the past ten days. Alderman Joseph Norton, who advocates withdrawing grants from students who disrupt the life of a university, entered the building “feeling a bit like Daniel in the lion’s den.”
The 58-year-old Conservative solicitor then told 150 militants assembled in the brightly-lit Senate Chamber: ” I am here to tell you quite fearlessly and honestly what I think of your action. I think you are wrong and I think you are misguided in what you have done. It is an act of violence well on the road to anarchy.”
The challenge to speak had come earlier at a meeting in the Students’ Union addressed by Alderman Norton. For 90 minutes he discussed issues raised by the students. At the end of the meeting, to which he had been specially invited, Alderman Norton said: “My time is yours. I am prepared to go on talking about this problem for as long as you like”.
Up jumped one of the militants: ” Will you, or will you not go over now and talk to us in Senate House ? I’m asking you that now”. Alderman Norton, who on Tuesday backed a move in the city’s education committee which could lead to the withdrawal of grants from some of the students, said after a slight pause: “I would be delighted.”
A red flag was fluttering on the masthead above Senate House when the alderman, himself a Liverpool University graduate, entered the building. He was offered a cup of coffee while the students held a meeting to decide if he should address them. “I will only speak if they want me to,” said Alderman Norton.
After his opening remarks, the students fired questions, which frequently broke into hostile exchanges. Otherwise the meeting was orderly. At one point Alderman Norton said: “I believe that the majority of you are being led by a handful of revolutionaries. These are people who have heard the thoughts of Chairman Mao. “What do you think would happen if you tried this at Peking University? I think Chairman Mao would have some very effective thoughts on how to deal with you.”
There was applause when a student protested: “But this did happen at Peking University and it was supported by Chairman Mao. It is now known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”
As many times as Alderman Norton said that democracy should not be threatened by militant minorities, the students argued that if their grievances were not listened to this was the only course they could take. Alderman Norton said that of course they should use every possible means of putting forward their views, but these means should be peaceful.
On the withdrawal of grants, he said it was important that all local authorities should have an agreed policy. Otherwise it would be unfair. If grants were withdrawn the move would have to come originally from the university, then it would be discussed by the council. This was not, said Alderman Norton, a rubber-stamp procedure.
Every case would be fully investigated. “We are not sadists who deliberately want to blight people’s lives,” he said.
At the end of the 60-minute meeting, extended by a quarter of an hour by wish of the majority, the student chair thanked Alderman Norton for agreeing to the debate.