Quick multiple choice question. What is the best way to deal with an opponent whose views you very, very strongly disagree with?
a) Engage them in debate and win the argument against them.
b) Refuse to have anything to do with them and hope they will go away.
There are still people (apparently including Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary) who think that option b) is the way to go when it comes to the BNP. I find it odd that anybody could still think that.
I have always in principle been against the "No Platform" policy whereby some opponents of the BNP have refused to share the same debating platform as them. The argument is that even being seen on the same platform as mainstream parties lends the BNP a legitimacy that they do not deserve. My view is that you win debates and arguments by taking on your opponents, not by banning them from the debating arena.
To the people who agree with "No Platform" and have been practising it all these years I just ask whether in all honesty they can say that following this policy has worked. Because from where I am sitting it has manifestly failed. It has allowed them to claim that they are being shunned by the mainstream parties and to play the political martyrs. It allows them to claim that they are representing something that the mainstream parties are not and they they speak to the "real concerns" of the electorate. I think this has contributed to their recent electoral successes at council and European Parliament level.
Of course I think that the BNP's ideas are abhorrent but I would share a debating platform with them and I would try to expose their incoherent, half-baked, racist policies for what they are.
Sweet and Tender Hooligan, Peter Black AM, Sara Bedford and Alistair Campbell are amongst a number of bloggers who seem to agree with me about this.