There has been a lot of debate over the last few weeks about the BBC’s decision to allow the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, to appear on the Question Time programme. I wanted to set-out some of my thoughts on this.
To be clear: I hate and dispise the BNP. It is vile, racist, anti-semitic, hateful, and I do not want to share a country (or planet) with it or its moronic supporters.
So, what to do?
The BBC’s position appears to be that the BNP is a legal political party with a significant body of support, and, as such, they should be represented in BBC current affairs programming in the interests of ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’. The BNP seems to agree, while presumably also believing that the BBC are leftist commie race-traitors who will be first up against the wall…
The opposing view is that the BNP is an extremist organisation and should not be legitimised by an appearance on a high-profile, respected television programme. The phrase “oxygen or publicity” gets used a lot here.
Reading blog comments on the BBC News site, the Guardian, and others (such as the Guido Fawkes’ blog), a lot of people seem to be saying “freedom of speech… let Griffin onto the programme and everyone will see that he’s a nazi.” This is the “give him enough rope” approach. Maybe he will expose his and the BNP’s true nature, live on national TV. That would be a great result.
But what if he doesn’t?
Nick griffin isn’t stupid. Yes, he holds truly vile opinions, but he’s not stupid either. He’s also a relatively seasoned public performer and is articulating a world-view that is, unfortunately, highly plausible to a significant number of of my fellow citizens. Almost one million people voted for the BNP in the lst European election. When he apperas on TV tomorrow evening he will know that he’s not in the back-room of some pub where he can say what he really thinks to people who think the same way. He’ll be bland and moderate, with maybe just a bit of “straight-talking victim of the liberal political establishment” thrown in, because his sole aim will be to be accepted as just another politician. Someone that ordinary people can vote for. He want to be legitimised.
What if that is the outcome? Well, France discovered how this plays-out back in 1984. Voting BNP will become acceptable. We’ll see our first fascist MPs not long after that, and the history of 20th-century Europe tells us where this can lead.
If the BBC is correct that they have an obligation to provide a platform to all legal political parties, and I suspect that they are, then the BNP must cease to be a legal political party. I am aware that this can be interpreted as elitist: “some people are just not smart enough to see what the BNP really is, and so ‘we’ must protect them for their own good.” Maybe it is, but sometimes a state (society?) must recognise the inevitability of human failbility and protect its people from the consequences of their own actions.
How to do this? I don’t want politicians deciding that other politicians should be banned. Thats just a short-cut to the sort of society that the BNP want to create. Instead I’d like some kind of socially-agreed ‘filter’. If an organisation can pass through the filter then they have the right to be treated as legitimate, and can enjoy the priviliges that that brings (like arguing on Question Time). If they can’t then they stay illegitimate (which is not necessarily the same as illegal) and the police/MI5 keep an eye on them.
The criteria for the filter should be decided by society as a whole. I suggest that prerequisites are a commitment to democracy, equality, and freedom under the law. Any party that wants to remove rights from their fellow citizens, as the BNP does, would fail. Formulating this filter would be difficult, especially an a diverse and fractured society, but if nations can agree on constitutions and human-rights treaties and acts, then we could do this.
I really hope that tomorrow night the country sees Nick Griffin and the BNP for what they really are: hate-filled fascists. But I am afraid that a process has been started, and I fear for the future.