300 anti-fascists crowded the gateway entrance, and representatives from the city council, trades council, French Institute and Marston mosque attended to reiterate that fascists like Marine le Pen were never welcome.
Report from Comrade P. Marshall:
“I arrived at St Michael’s Street around 5, when the protest was set to start. There was already a long line of students waiting to get in to the Union, stretching all the way out into New Inn Hall Street. There were many Communist Party members and supporters there, in addition to me. Most of the students in the line had been given UAF (Unite Against Fascism) leaflets, and some leaflets which said ‘No to Fascism’ in several different languages. We waved the Communist Party flag above the crowd, and the Oxford Communist Party banner was hung up on the wall near the gate.
“Nobody saw le Pen enter the Union, so she must have gotten there well in advance, or entered through a tunnel or a back entrance. There’s a back entrance on Frewin Court which was being guarded by three police officers, and there’s probably other entrances through the colleges and surrounding buildings. Somehow she got in without people noticing.
“After a certain point it got dark and the debating chamber filled up, it became obvious that the students waiting in line weren’t going to get to attend the debate. Some of them left, some of them joined the protest. Those still hanging around near the gate set about arguing with the protesters; there were a couple of people from the Conservative Association and one guy who didn’t look much like a student. The protesters became hostile towards those remaining, encouraging them to go home. At around the same time a group of masked people moved in to stand in front of the gate, so even if security opened up there was no way any more students were getting inside.
“Le Pen’s speech was delayed because the Union security were concerned that she couldn’t safely cross the courtyard into the hall. They thought people would chuck stones from over the wall. There were some people trying to get over the wall, I don’t know if they succeeded but if they did they were quickly ejected by security. I didn’t see anyone carrying stones. In any case le Pen sat in the Union bar for about half an hour while everyone in the debating chamber waited.
“Eventually she made her way inside and started her speech. We all made loads of noise outside, drumming and singing. I don’t know if anyone inside the debating chamber actually challenged her, but if anything they must have heard us outside. Then it got cold and there was nothing left to do. The crowd quietened down and people started to leave, the trades council left for a meeting, most of the communists did the same, UAF packed up their stall and speakers. There was an incident while that happened; some masked people went up to shout at the guys packing up the stall, they got really aggressive. Me and a couple of others stepped in and the masked people, having made their point, walked back into the crowd. It was only a small thing but it soured the mood significantly.
“The crowd was whittled down to about 100 people and I left shortly after that. When I got home I heard from people who stuck around that le Pen had been whisked off the premises under a police escort.
“I think we did a good job. Marine le Pen did get to make her speech, but we put across a strong message that she wasn’t welcome in Oxford. Most of the students seemed sympathetic, and there was broad support from lots of other groups.”