Posted tagged ‘Question Time’

Debating with the extreme right

October 16, 2009

An issue which has been the subject of some heated discussion in the United Kingdom over recent weeks is how to, or whether to, engage in public debate with the far right British National Party (BNP). For those who may not be familiar with it, the BNP is a party that bases its political outlook on what it says is the need to ‘secure a future’ for the ‘indigenous peoples’ of these islands. In other words, its raison d’ĂȘtre is a racial one: to advance the case for what we call ‘white’ people, and therefore by definition to oppose non-white immigration and policy measures to protect the rights and liberties of all those who don’t come from the racial groups it supports. This is reinforced by the fact that, until now at least, membership of the party has been restricted under its rules to those whose ethnic origin is ‘indigenous Caucasian’.

The BNP also promotes a number of other policies, some of which are also race-related, and some of which are presumably intended to resonate with those who favour traditional or semi-mystical views of the British people. It seeks a withdrawal from the European Union, deportation of immigrants who commit crimes, the restoration of traditional weights and measures, and so forth.

The BNP has been able to gain some electoral ground in Britain, albeit only in certain settings and locations. It entered the European Parliament for the first time at the elections earlier this year, and it has been able to gain seats on some local councils. The approach of all the established parties in the United Kingdom has been to denounce it and to oppose its policies as racist and unacceptable.

The current controversy has arisen because the BBC’s Question Time has invited BNP leader, Nick Griffin, to join the panel on next Thursday’s programme. After some uncertainty as to what the Labour Party would do (it has had a policy of never sharing a platform with the BNP), all the established parties have agreed to be represented on the programme; the government will be represented by Justice Secretary Jack Straw. This in turn has been condemned by other Labour Party politicians, and more generally there has been a very lively debate about what the right approach to the BNP should be.

One thing we all know, or at least should know if we have read and understood European history, is that the extreme right in politics makes use of economic uncertainty and in such a setting sows the seeds of racism, intolerance and bigotry, and that this can translate into major social unrest. It is I believe the duty of our societies to protect the values and principles that we have taken from the 20th century experience with fascism. However, when we encounter those who don’t share those values, what do we do? Do we ignore them? And if we take them on, do we allow them a pubhlic platform so that we can debate them?

I confess I am not sure what the correct answer is. I am uneasy about parties such as the BNP being given the respectability that an appearance on a prominent political television programme may suggest. On the other hand, I also hope that those who appear with them may be articulate enough to demolish them and their views. I think I shall be watching the programme, but will probably do so with a deep sense of uneasiness.