Just as I started writing about Nick Griffin’s controversial appearance on Question Time, I checked Twitter and saw this quote from Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News…
Which says it all really.
The whole “No Platform” debate is all very familiar to me, as it was a major hot topic when I was a student. Student Union meetings were an endless stalemate amid protocol discussions… should that homophobe be allowed to speak, given that the previous speaker voiced pro-IRA sympathies? Should this student be refused platform on the basis of racism, when all he did was criticise Scottish people?
With the caveat that I’m white, middle class and pretty laid back about my self-image (and therefore not susceptible to many hate crimes) I’ve always thought that freedom of speech has to take precedence, within the boundaries of the law. And of course it’s not always comfortable, and there are some grey areas… where is the line between voicing unpleasant opinions and Incitement To Do Really Bad Things? But as a basic starting point for making the world a better place, it’s the best we’ve got.
And that’s why, despite some misgivings, I’m in favour of Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time. Returning to Krishnan G-M’s tweet above, the whole thing has rather been blown out of proportion. It’s not the first time Griffin or the BNP will have been seen on TV… he was on Channel 4 News earlier this week, and there were BNP Party Political Broadcasts prior to the recent Euro elections. We’re not going to be overrun by neo-Nazi hordes just because of a sedate BBC discussion programme.
It’s easy to overestimate the importance of the BNP in general. There’s a good blog post here by Chris Dillow…
As he says, the BNP’s electoral success was skewed by the pitifully low turnout, and their actual numerical power is very small. That’s not to underestimate the considerably larger number of ignorant racist dickheads out there, but they’d mostly exist anyway. This is not about incidences of thuggish violence; it’s about electability. My partial sympathy for the No Platform camp is based on the risk that Griffin’s appearance on the BBC’s beacon show for establishment political discussion could serve to legitimise the BNP as something more than knuckle-dragging idiots.
The counter-argument usually involves letting them dig their own graves, but don’t forget we’re not dealing with the rank and file of thugs, thickies and other hopeless cases. Griffin might be an objectionable person, but he’s not stupid. He’s bright enough to earn a degree from Cambridge, and there’s no questioning his PR awareness; the party is a lot more electable than they were in the days of Derek Beackon.
But then it still comes back to freedom of speech. If Griffin pulls off an absolute blinder on Question Time tonight, tough luck. It’s up to the other parties to do the same. One of the reasons our mainstream politicians seem so permanently complacent is that they rarely have to fight hard to defend the Big Questions of democracy and ethics.
Thinking about it, my main criticism about tonight’s programme is how the BBC have come up with such an oddly-contrived set of fellow guests to face Griffin. The inclusion of both Bonnie Greer and Syeeda Warsi is a bit heavy-handed, but fine, let’s go with the idea of successful, intelligent black and Asian women? So where’s Sharmi Chakrabarti? And why the blustering, ineffectual Jack Straw rather than, say, Jon Cruddas? Will Self for some withering sarcasm from the token civvy spot? It’s as if they started out trying to devise the ultimate non-BNP panel, but then wimped out.
I’m not even sure I particularly want to watch. It probably going to be a dreary damp squib. But there’s always the chance it’ll be a horrible piece of car-crash TV, and hate to admit that’s what intrigues me…