Wednesday, 28 September 2011

BNP to demonstrate against Question Time

Tomorrow, the BNP are planning a demonstration outside the Contemporary Urban Centre (CUC) when Question Time is filmed there. This is a national demo, so there will likely be a lot of fascists there from across the country. Both Liverpool Antifascists and Liverpool Unite Against Fascism have called a counter-protest.

The BNP are demonstrating, they claim, "to raise awareness of the deep-rooted corruption and prejudice inside one of Britain’s public-funded and supposedly impartial rip-off merchants, the Blatantly Biased Corporation." Beyond the hyperbole and excessive adjective use, the central grievance is that the BBC "have been hounding [the BNP] for years with various so-called exposé programmes" and are "barring us from taking part in their beloved programme [Question Time] by using constant goal-moving tactics and blatant discrimination."

Now, it's certainly true that the party has been the subject of a lot of exposés, from the Cook Report to BNP: Under the Skin. One of the more recent ones with which they have a gripe is The Secret Agent, which saw BNP leader Nick Griffin and others being charged with inciting racial hatred. It all fits into the party's narrative of victimisation and discrimination for steadfastly defending the British people from invasion.

It's hard to argue that the BNP is not the subject of a disproportionate amount of exposés and negative media coverage compared to other parties. However, in all fairness, this is because of the disproportionate number of criminals and violent thugs they've had standing as candidates and their links to terrorism. Not to mention their far-right politics and the overt fascism, racism and street violence of the party's past. Even now, in the era when they have supposedly forgone the combat boots in favour of suits, we still see thugs like Peter Tierney and his brother Andrew viciously attacking political opponents.

This line of thinking leads others to call for Griffin and his ilk to be barred from media appearences. I'm told that there is a plan tomorrow by some anti-fascists to deliver a letter congratulating the BBC for their decision not to invite him on the programme. However, here I find myself disagreeing quite strongly, just as on the subject of asking the state to ban fascists from marching.

My own thought is that “if we are to try and censure that which is hateful or offensive, then an obvious question arises: who is left to decide what is hateful and offensive?” History tells us that the state is more likely to censure genuine radicalism before it does the reaction of movements such as fascism, and the primary victim would be the ability to question established power.

What, then, is the militant version of “no platform?” Is it not covered by the criticisms made above? It is not, because in fact groups such as Antifa agree with the sentiments I have expressed. “None of us have the power to stop fascists saying what they think, we cannot legislate against their words no matter how vile we consider them to be and neither would we want to be in a position to do so,” as they say on their own website.

However, there is a distinction to be made between speech and organisation.

As the Workers’ Solidarity Movement declare in a policy statement, “we do not oppose the right of racists to free speech,” although “racists should be actively challenged and opposed on all occasions. The task is not to prevent racists from speaking but to defeat their arguments by putting forward a strong alternative, and by challenging the assumptions and myths on which racist arguments are based.” However, “attempts by fascist groups to recruit members to fascism cannot be tolerated” and “racist organisations/individuals who physically attack people … do not have the right to organise, to recruit for such activities.” Thus, “in such instances, force should be met with force.”

Antifa agree. “If all Nick Griffin and his disciples were doing was talking amongst themselves about repatriating migrant workers, clamping down on those they saw as deviants and splitting communities along lines of race then there wouldn’t be a serious problem.” But this is not the case. “The reality is the BNP are organising to gain seats of power and to implement their white nationalist policies,” and “this attempt to gain power and influence must be challenged by all effective means.”
Moreover, in the specific instance of programmes like Question Time, the issue isn't whether or not the BNP are getting a free platform. It's the propaganda role they play when they get it.

Once the programme had been aired, I argued that "Nick Griffin was not invited onto the show in order to uphold the BBC's "responsibility of due impartiality." It had nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of speech across the political spectrum, lest we are about to see members of the Anarchist Federation on the panel, and it certainly wasn't about the BBC pandering to racism." Rather, "he was invited on specifically to flail and flop. In doing so, he and the BNP serve well their role, both as convenient foils for mainstream parties, and as part of the flak machine driving the political agenda rightward."

Of course, the BNP get something out of this deal as well, and are able to play the poor beleaguered white nationalists in order to aid their recruitment. But the fact remains that anti-fascists are in no position to get the far-right censored from political debate, and even if we were all it would do is add an extra layer of credibility to the "mainstream" who aren't barred from the television and make it even less likely that radical voices from the left would ever get similar exposure.

So, tomorrow, I'm not going to be outside the CUC because I want the BNP banned from the airwaves, nor to hand in a letter of congratulations to the BBC. I'm going to be there for the same reason I always turn out to oppose fascists. Because fascism needs to be opposed by the working class - both ideologically and on the streets.

Demonstrate against the BNP
5pm, Thursday 29 September
Contemporary Urban Centre (CUC),
Greenland Street (off Jamaica Street, near Cains Brewery)
Liverpool L1 OBS (Map)
View the Facebook event set up by Liverpool UAF here.