Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Continuing to "No Platform" the BNP would be a big mistake

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.


Soho Politico said...

Well... To be honest, I don't know what is the best strategy, if the goal is to minimise support for the BNP. And the truth is that you don't either. This is something new that you and others are proposing. We know we aren't happy with the current levels of BNP support. But how confident are you that it won't increase further when people start seeing Griffin on QTime? Where is the experience of this strategy in practice?

As I mentioned in a post on this topic over on my blog, we know that the BNP lies in order to present a moderate face to people who are not already sympathisers. They will do so if invited onto our screens. Can we really be sure that debating the BNP will expose them for what they really are when we already know that they are prepared to lie when challenged over their views?

Having mainstream politicians on stage with Griffin and chums will give the latter legitimacy, there's no two ways about it. The message sent is that here is a person whose views are at least worthy of consideration, as one among the set of prominent and influential political alternatives on offer.

When it comes to QTime specifically, the format is not suited to challenging the BNP over its racism. Griffin would be asked for his views on many non race-related subjects. There will not be much room for other panelists to call Griffin out on racism if, for instance, the question is about post office closures. The more room he is given to give his non-race related views, the greater the danger that he will come off as reasonable to some.

Once the decision has been made to bring the BNP in from the cold, we won't be able to recork the genie, if it turns out that we have played into Griffin's hands. The TV invites will have to keep being issued. I'd like to be sure that people will only be more turned off by the BNP the more they hear from them. But I'm not. And I think the pro-platformers are being a little blase about what is at stake, tbh.

Mark Thompson said...

Well as a liberal (small l) and a democrat (small d) I find the corrolary of what you are saying rather disturbing. You seem to be suggesting that an elected politician should be banned from the platform of debate because he might not come across badly?

It is the job of all who oppose the BNP to expose their lies.

I repeat my earlier point. They already have legitimacy. They have two elected MEPs. "No Plaforming" them has not worked yet you seem to be suggesting more of the same.

As for your comment about the genie not being put back in the bottle I disagree. The only reason the BNP are being given a slot on Question Time is because of their representation at national level in the European Parliament. If in 5 years time they lose those seats (as I hope they will especially after they have been exposed for what they really are in debate) then the invites will cease.

Soho Politico said...

What I was responding to was the claim, which you made, that we ought to give up on no-platforming because it has not worked. Your comment repeats the claim that no-platforming hasn't worked. But, as I said, you have nothing to compare it with, and so no basis for saying that it's been less successful than the alternative. There are grounds for thinking that the BNP would get *more* support if given a platform. Your guess is as good as mine about what the future for BNP support holds. Precisely for that reason, you can't say that no-platforming doesn't work.

You might think that the BNP ought to be given a platform regardless of what the outcome will be, as a matter of liberal democratic principle. I don't really buy that. There is a difference between banning someone from speaking (illiberal, anti-democratic) and refusing to offer them an invitation to publicise their views. You are misrepresenting the issue by using the language of banning. Liberal democratic ideals do not require that the BNP be invited on TV, and that the major politicians of the day agree to debate with them. (The BBC's impartiality rules might require that the BNP gets an invite, but that's another issue).

As for putting the genie back in the bottle, you miss the point, I think. If BNP support goes down, and they lose their MEPs, we will not regret the decision to allow them on TV. We will regret it if their support goes up. But we will then be able to do nothing about that regret - the invitation cannot be undone, if it turns out that it has caused the party to grow.

neil craig said...

I don't think anybody can honestly suggest that all 12,000 BNP members put together have been as supportive of Nazism as each LibDem, Labour & Conservative MP who voted for a criminal war, hospital bombing, murder, racial genocide, ethnioc cleansing, the sexual enslavement of children & the dissection of living people to steal their body organs.

Nonetheless, while such people should be brought to trial I do not think the BNP or other non-Nazi politicians should refuse to debate with such obscene racist filth & their followers because censorship does not only impinge on the rights of speakers but also of the audience.

dazmando said...

I would go for a) Engage them in debate. I Totally hate the BNP to put it bluntly, I have one day have one of those Mixed Race babies that I find many of he BNP hate so much. But people have voted for them much as I dont like it so a platform for them should reflect there vote share. The BNP should also have respresentation on BNP subjects I guess. I do understand the point of view about not having them in such debates it would be hard to sit with some of the BNP members and to hear there view which just make me so so angry, but it is important that they are heard.

Oranjepan said...

Ah, Mark, I think this is where it can be interesting to introduce some caveats, to get round the issue of a ban without actually giving abhorent ideas the 'oxygen of publicity' - it is a matter of getting the forum and format right.

I'd raise legitimacy and relevance as important factors which need to be considered.

Ideological discussion is much better left to academia, where standards of accuracy and coherence can be checked. Reputations in academia are built on peer-review and the ability to reference properly, whereas QT cannot be anything but populist.

QT is devoted to discussion of current affairs so it should stick to offering a platform to those public figures who are constitutionally capable of sticking to an issue.

As I understand it the BBC has a policy of not disclosing who they asked to take part in QT, so we can take it from the fact Griffin and chums haven't singled the programme out that they have been asked.

I daresay the BNP deliberately avoid the open format precisely because they are tripped up by reality when they'd prefer their ideological standpoint to prevail.

So really this is a matter of how perceptions are manipulated - the BNP like to play the victim of an 'official' policy of 'no platform', but how can it be shown this is inaccurate when they benefit from perpetuating the myth?

Let's instead ask what is the appropriate level of platform we should give the BNP?

The BNP have an electoral platform and a few elected representatives, so they do get to speak in public. The media reflects this state of affairs in a manner proportionate to the size of their platform, and by and large I'd say the level and type of of exposure does reflect the standing in society of the BNP.

If we're talking about MEPs - how many of our MEP are recognised by the general public, let alone their own constituents? 3 or 4 maybe?

In other words I think we already have overturned the 'no platform' policy, and it's only the limitations of time and space which upset those of us who are absolute political obsessives.

Consequently, re:a televised leadership debate, I see it as completely unrealistic to ask a leader of any party which polls less than 10% to participate, as it is completely unlikely they will become PM - and I haven't got the time or patience to entertain 300 party leaders at sufficient length, however entertaining or illuminating it may be!

Mark Thompson said...

SP - I don't have any scientific evidence that "No Platforming" has not worked. There is no body of evidence with control groups as you imply. What I do have though is my memory of seeing over and over again BNP members and spokespeople claiming that mainstream politicians and the media try to slience or marginalise them (and by implication that their arguments must be true, or why are they so afraid to debate us etc. etc.). I feel sure this has contributed to their vote as disaffected people have been swayed by this argument.

As for "banning", OK maybe I was using the wrong word. I meant it though in the context of preventing them from appearing on the same platform as debaters from the main parties. I still think as a liberal and a democrat that we should take the fight to them. We are not doing our job properly if we don't in my view.

I think I now understand your final point more clearly. You are saying that assuming they retain their EP seats then the invitation to appear on platforms with the major parties could not be retracted. That is probably true but as I said I would hope that as the debate causes the spotlight to be focused more sharply on what they say, and what they do, that their true nature would be exposed.

I do not know for certain that any of this will happen in the way I hope but we are in a democracy and we have to trust the people to make up their own minds.

Mark Thompson said...

OP - I am not totally clear on what the BBC's criteria is but if by their reckoning, the BNP should be granted a place on an edition of Question Time then I think all major parties should be willing to go and take them on.

Stu said...

You may not be able to say no-platform 'doesn't work', but you can say it's illiberal (free speech is a right), that it's illogical (they're not saying anything you wouldn't hear in a pub) and anti-democratic.

But hey, if you only care about democracy when it means getting what you want, and you'd rather imagine that people whose views you disagree with simply don't exist, then yeah, 'no platform' is great.

neil craig said...

"get round the issue of a ban without actually giving .. ideas the 'oxygen of publicity' "

Typically Orwellian language from a "liberal" opposed to everything the movement was founded on, who is opposed to racism, except when it means murdering Untermensch & in favour of free speech except when it involves people saying things you don't like.

Oranjepan said...

Mark, that's not quite what I mean.

I'm sure the Beeb HAVE offered the BNP a platform on a number of occasions and I think all sensible political figures (ie including yourself) ARE more than willing to take them on.

'No platform' or not is a false debate for this reason and people who promote either side are missing the real issues.

The substantial matter is a question of degree: what kind of platform is appropriate to the issues on which they stand and proportionate to the size of their support?

People who vote BNP are justified to be concerned about crime and housing and jobs, but I think they are wholly misguided in concluding 'race' is the cause of their discontent, and therefore mistaken in thinking that the BNP's policies will resolve the problems - ALL social and societal failings can be traced back to mundane administrative incompetence stemming from a lack of imaginative leadership, ALL of which traces itself back to dogmatic ideology (such as race) and the unforeseen consequences of actions.

keep up the comedy!

asquith said...

There are various students' union fuckers who, if the BNP didn't exist, would go & invent it tomorrow as a handy excuse for giving themselves power no electorate would hand over to them, to be fair.

BNP "policies" are just appallingly badly thought through. Case in point, their plan to slash funding to Stoke CAB because it serves immigrants.

Well, if they decided only to serve whites then they'd lose their right to call themselves a Citizens' Advice Bureau, but let's overlook that. I used to volunteer there & I know half the volunteers are immigrants, doing something very few people would actually want to do.

So they'd either have no one there to help their voters, or they'd have to recruit more people- would they pay a salary, & if so where's the council tax money going to come from?

Let us have Griffin out in public & point out the ways in which his schemes wouldn't work & are based on resentment of others rather than coherent, evidence-based policies. For them to have freedom of speech is a godsend.

Besides which, didn't the Green Party get MORE votes than the BNP? Yet no one goes round sucking on their voters' cocks, asking what we can do to win them back over, how we can address their concerns. Why exactly?

ajbpearce said...

The thing is that a no platform policy only works if you only really offer no platform, but the BBC with its retarded " political impartiality over objective reality" and the daily fail/torygraph's retarded policy of glorifying BNP means that a "no platform policy was really a "no opposition" policy