Tonight the leader of the racist British National Party is to appear on the BBC TV program Question Time. This is a program which has run for many years and involves a group of the great and the good sitting on a panel, currently chaired by David Dimbleby and answering questions from a studio audience.
Having followed Question Time for many years I can attest that the subject to get the British people most riled was not Iraq or the credit crunch but fox hunting.
The news media have been full of controversy regarding whether the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, should appear on Question time and the response from the majority of political pundits is that he should not.
From what I can gather The British National Party believe in stopping immigration to the UK and “encouraging” (my emphasis) people of non-Celtic or Anglo-Saxon origin to emigrate to where their ancestors came from immediately before they came to the UK. I hear that their manifesto specifically prohibits people not of these “races” from joining the party.
I’ll state my position clearly up front. I believe that there is only one race of people, the human race. Individuals should not be picked off because of their supposed membership of some fictional race or indeed because of their religion or sexual orientation. I’m a bog standard ant-racist.
Having said that I am against further immigration to The United Kingdom for a couple of reasons: Firstly it’s too bloody crowded here already – Just look up the population density stats for the UK and compare them against other countries.
Secondly I believe that Tory and New Labour politicians in collusion with the controllers of large capitalist corporations are using immigration for cheap labour which, while it may make Gordon Brown’s spreadsheet glow with tax from profits, degrades the living environment of each individual in The United Kingdom. Bigger airports, more buildings, greater living density; all this contributes to making The UK a worse place to live.
By now, any of the people who regularly boast about their anti-racism will be condemning me as a closet racist.
But to the subject in hand. Should Nick Griffin be allowed to speak on Question Time?
I’m a liberal and I believe that free speech is fundamental to a free society and therefore I believe that anyone should be allowed to speak on Question Time. Over the past few days I have watched and listen as Mr. Griffin has appeared on many news programs alongside “regular” politicians to try to make his point. From memory, without exception, the regular politicians and interviewers have shouted him down and shouted abuse at him. These are the people who are supposed to represent the main stream of our free society.
It is easy to believe in freedom of speech when everyone is saying things that your either agree with or do not see as threatening but then we need no laws to allow this. The point of freedom of speech in a democracy is that you allow people to speak who hold opinions with which you strongly disagree and so Mr. Griffin is the test of our tradition of free speech. If we shut him down merely because we hate what he says then we are no better than the racists dictatorial regimes from the past.
Ken Livingstone was on BBC Radio 4 this morning arguing that Mr. Griffin should not be allowed on Question Time firstly because there is a court case which may find against the BNP and secondly because Mr. Livingstone claims that each time Mr. Griffin appears on TV there is a rise in racist violence.
Firstly nobody, including Mr. Griffin, is guilty until they are found guilty and secondly if we prevented all speech (other than incitement to violence) which might lead random individuals to commit violence then we would do better starting with football matches and New Labour Prime Ministers.
The interviewer asked Mr. Livingstone to explain how his view accorded with his views on Jerry Adams being allowed to speak when the last Conservative government had a ban on him appearing on TV. Without a qualm, Mr. Livingstone then amended his rule about banning anyone who may cause an increase in violence and instated a clause allowing them to speak if this would assist in helping the Northern Ireland peace process.
This off the cuff invention of rules was most instructive as it revealed the unprincipled and fascistic tendency of many Labour politicians. They like to draw up rules which people must adhere to even though the rules have not been passed into law but when they want to contravene their own rules they will change them in a moment.
Having said that freedom of speech should be available top everyone this is not the same as saying that every lunatic should be given space on Question Time. The BBC claim that they give space to all UK political parties who have elected representatives and site the Greens and Plaid Cymru. This seems like a reasonable policy.
The British National Party have two European MPs and therefore the support of a small percentage of the UK population. In a democracy their voice should be heard and I think the question time audience are educated enough to see through Mr. Griffin’s fallacious views on race and dismiss them as they deserve.
Did you see what I did there?
I used the standard attack the messenger tactic beloved of the Tories. I refrained from speaking against the idea while denigrating the messenger. I encouraged everyone to feel very pompously that we are all much more intelligent than Mr. Griffin and need not stop him from talking because of that. I was TALKING BOLLOCKS. I have seen no evidence that Mr. Griffin is any stupider than the bunch of incompetents who currently control number 10. His intelligence is not the point, his policies are.
To be fair there is an argument for why we should deny certain individuals from promulgating their views even when they have broken no laws and are not inciting violence. BBC Radio 4 carried a report this morning with a university boffin who had tracked the rise of the French right wing. He claimed that this gained considerable support after it’s leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, appeared on television.
And here we come to the nub of the matter. How strongly do we believe in freedom of speech and democracy? It could be argued that M. Le Pen appearing on television and the consequent rise in support was a natural part of the democratic process. However unedifying the conclusion is that a proportion of the electorate are racists – and they are, we know this.
So the question is: do we argue against racism; do we allow freedom of speech and democracy to work, or do we shut down the BNP and betray our principles?
I tend to feel that the majority of supporters of parties like the BNP are not all out fascists or even racists. They are people who have the shitty end of the stick and whose concerns have not been addressed by the main parties. I believe that the mistake of most supposed anti-racists is to release their own pent up venom on these people rather than trying to understand their perspective. By ignoring their issues and condemning them all as fascists we merely alienate them from conventional politics. You don’t have to be a fascist to be a racist. The soviets were institutionally ant-Semitic yet are rarely condemned as fascists.
There is a subtext in banning Mr. Griffin which is the idea that other people are not quite as sharp as us and might actually believe him and this subtext is condescending to the general population.
We should show courage and trust our ideals and people. We should trust freedom and trust democracy. Let Nick Griffin speak. The case against racism is obvious and his arguments are not difficult to refute.
If Mr. Griffin has any legitimate concerns then let him air them and keep the regular politicians on their toes.
Sadly, though I have faith in people I have very little faith in politicians of all hues and I doubt that many “regular” politicians will contain their hypocritical self riotousness long enough to espouse many coherent arguments. But that’s nothing new.
Tonight I fully expect all the regular politicians to talk absolute bollocks in a desperate effort to distance themselves from the BNP and I expect that a lone member of the audience will get out of hand and need to be removed by officials.
I shall be watching because I expect a bloody good bun fight that, if we’re lucky, will be more fun than the fox hunting debate.
Read Review of the program in The Independent