I read with interest Ellie Levenson’s article on LabourList regarding the BNP. I have been a long supporter of the policy of No Platform and in the past I have even chaired candidate questions as opposed to hustings to get around inviting the BNP. However I now believe that with MEP electoral success, the no-platform policy has failed.
I have written about my concerns in a blog post for Progress Online in March, which was followed up by the Guardian. Since then I have written about the threat of the BNP in the Independent and Daily Mail (of all places).
I am a democrat. A realisation of being a democrat is accepting that other people will not always agree with you and to combat them at the ballot box. Another realisation is that some within a democracy will have abhorrent views which need to be argued against and combated. I am no supporter of dangerous, radicalised political Islam, just as I am not a supporter of the isolationist and largely bigoted BNP – but they exist and they are competing factors in the UK’s political economy.
We have some fundamental problems with our democracy in the UK and the wider western world. These are questions we find difficult to answer without trawling through the writings of John Stuart Mill or other libertarians. One such problem is what happens when a party that appears to be opposed to democracy uses democratic channels to gather support? How do we work with competing political agents when everyone does not play by the accepted rules of the game? With radicalised clerics, such as Omar Bakri Muhammad, the warping of impressionable minds and incitement of violence is the means to acquire political support and power. With Nick Griffin, the BNP and the fascist elements of our democracy, it is now increasingly by the ballot box.
It is undeniable that Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories play by similar rules and we accept each others’ legitimacy. The BNP would say that the ‘old guard’ parties, the ‘LibLabCons’, have created a political class that is detached from ordinary people and has a whiff of arrogance about it. I tend to agree. You only have to look at the media to see the bad apples in each of our parties. This – coupled with recent scandals of the political class, a global recession and the no-platform policy – gives the BNP room and oxygen to grow.
The BNP put a leaflet out in my ward with a picture of Sara Payne on it and the words “your local Labour councillors support paedophiles”. Without stating the obvious that this is not true, the problem I encountered was how to deal with this situation. If you rebut these allegations you are giving the BNP credibility as a real democratic entity. If you ignore them you allow falsehoods to be propagated at your own expense. I sought advice from the national party and I was sensitively told to ignore them, which I did. I now believe this advice was wrong. I also believe there was no ‘line’ on this issue.
Political economy agents like the BNP are real and they are winning elections. I am not scaremongering or claiming they are on the verge of taking the country at the next general election as some of their deluded supporters believe; they only hold 6 seats out of 1,247 sitting Yorkshire and Humber councillors.
However, I am saying that since they won seats in the European Parliament they cannot be ignored. One of the reasons why they won was because we have ignored them for far too long; allowing them to propagate untruths.
We have to decide if the BNP are a legitimate force in our democratic system or not. If they are not, make them illegal. As a democrat I would have difficulty with this. If you don’t make them illegal then we have to accept their democratic legitimacy and combat them as we do any other political party.