LSE student who tried to ban free speech society shares tabloid ordeal pain

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By Katie King on

The motion filed by Maurice Banerjee Palmer was meant to be ironic

Image via BBC iPlayer

They say all publicity is good publicity, but that’s certainly not how LSE student Maurice Banerjee Palmer sees it.

At the beginning of February, the unsuspecting final year law student hit the headlines when he put in a motion to have his uni’s “self-important and ill-informed” free speech society banned.

In a university-led culture heaving with bans of pretty much anything that toes the line of political correctness, Palmer’s actions seemed to touch a nerve. The story was picked up widely by the national press, including big name publications like The Independent and The Daily Mail. A quick Google search of Palmer’s name reveals streams of tabloid articles about him.

A touch of fame is something not often come by for undergrad law students, and we were interested in following up with Palmer to find out how he feels about this — now diminishing — media storm.

And the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not very good. The intense press coverage came as “a bit of a shock” for keen cycler and hopeful barrister Palmer, who described seeing his name splashed over the news as a “very stressful” experience.

Speaking to Palmer, one thing became very clear very quickly: he is fiercely unhappy with how the story was covered. When asked about his reflections on being in the news, the disgruntled final year told Legal Cheek:

Some journalists didn’t do the legwork to find out what was going on and they got the story wrong.

Palmer explained that he had taken exception to the LSE free speech society for painting the university in a bad light and making statements in the London press that, legally, were untrue. He filed the motion in response to this — to hold the society to account and to demand some kind of fairness and accuracy. It was, he said, “a joke”, and not some sort of anti-free speech tirade. He explained:

I was just trying to hold these people to account. It’s disheartening that people weren’t really interested in the message.

The LLB-er continued:

I was portrayed as a nutcase. Basic journalism demands balance and accuracy, but some articles were really unethical and biased.

The long-term effects of this “media bullshit” shouldn’t be underestimated. The final year’s thoughts have begun to turn to what he’s going to do when he graduates in the summer. Dependent on his degree result, his big dream is to join the commercial bar, and he’s understandably worried the extensive press coverage will hinder his chances of securing an interview. He’s also considering doing a masters — but would keep out of students politics wherever he ends up.

Palmer is also in the midst of campaigning to be next year’s GenSec for the Students’ Union, a full-time position that starts in July. Palmer is well aware that the press coverage he received made “a big splash” at his university, and this means that some students will have already formed their first impression of him — one that may not be accurate.

More widely, the aspiring barrister told us that the experience has made him lose a lot of faith in public life, and has made him question the integrity of the media. Palmer, who has done work experience at magic circle giant Linklaters’ Dubai office, told Legal Cheek:

I had a look at conduct guides for journalists and I think quite a few of the guidelines were breached. I was quite interested in journalism, but this experience didn’t inspire hope.

Palmer assures us that he’s not bitter about the whole ordeal. Unusually for a third year in the thick of revision and coursework stress, he speaks fondly about his time at the London-based Russell Group uni — and says that his media fame has definitely “added some colour” to the experience.