Thursday, 11 June 2009

Don't ban the BNP - debate them

Been a wee bit quiet on here despite there being lots to write about over the last few days. Unfortunately, I've been a wee bit busy with an important engagement and things have been a wee bit busy to blog...

I'm actually on holiday at the moment anyway, but I wanted to take a minute to discuss the result of the Euro election.

A friend of mine (a natural Tory voter I think...) pointed out to me that he thought it rather ridiculous that there was such a difference in votes between the 2004 & 2009 elections in Scotland and yet the end result (with the exception of the reduction in total seat numbers from 7 to 6) was the same. He wanted to know why the SNP could win nearly 100,000 votes (or 8% of the vote) more than Labour and still only get the same reward - 2 MEPs.

The answer, of course, is the D'Hondt electoral system. It's all about PR. At the end of the day, Labour hung onto their second seat by around 8,000 votes.

My Gran asked me about the BNP. She wanted to know how they'd won two seats when (she thought) less people voted for them in 2009 than in 2004. In fact, in 2004 they won 800,000 votes while this year they got 940,000. Nick Griffin won his seat in the North-West by only 5,000 votes while Andrew Brons got his by the same margin in Yorkshire and the Humber.

That's statistically how they did it. But how did they secure these votes? My Gran asked me if it was Labour's fault. And I thought about it for a minute. I ended up saying no, but qualified it somewhat. Extremist parties like the BNP feed on the anxiety, the fear and the anger that comes from recession conditions. They play on this fear for jobs, concern about "foreigners coming here, taking our jobs" etc etc. And they play down the dark side of their politics in order to appeal to a wider audience. So in that respect, Labour have to take some of the blame - though you can argue whether it is them or the global financial situation that is responsible for the recession.

But equally I think the other parties have to take some responsibility for the rise of the BNP too, for two reasons. Firstly, as many commentators have argued, the state of mainstream politics at the moment - particularly with the expenses scandal - and that has made voters less likely to cast their vote for the mainstream parties. That, for me, is a short-term theory.

In the long-term, parties have invited support for the BNP by ignoring the threat that they pose to democracy. Let me explain that. Rather than taking on the BNP's radical, discriminatory and racist views in public they run away, saying that they won't share a platform with them. Why the hell not? It it that downright lack of belief in the ability to defeat these racist views in a public forum that has meant the BNP have not had to defend these views.

For goodness sake, treat them like any other political party - which, in case you haven't noticed, with 2 MEPs and a handful of councillors across England, they have become. Take them on in the democratic game they want to play. Get Nick Griffin on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman and let him rip him to shreds. Debate with them. Let them have their say and then shout it down - politely and democratically. Above all, let their views out in public so that voters can see them for what they are - and, ultimately, won't vote for them again.

Rant over.


Bill 11 June 2009 at 10:28  

I thought I should record that I share your views as expressed in this article in their entirety. Shouting people down and pelting them with eggs is not the correct approach in dealing with these odious people.

Malc 11 June 2009 at 10:37  

Thanks Bill. It has always been my view that discussion trumps ignorance - publicise their views. The vast majority of people will see them for what they are.

PJ 11 June 2009 at 10:46  

I'm appalled that the BNP won two seats, but whether I like them or loathe them they won those two seats democratically and now have to be given the same rights to represent their party and constituents as the other parties have.

We are fortunate to live in a democracy, thank goodness, and just because a large proportion of the electorate don't like the BNP that doesn't (or shouldn't) influence their democratic rights. Egg pelting is a petulant childish non-solution. I agree with you Malc, give them the air time to show their true colours. Hand them the shovel to dig their own hole!

Let them be heard, let them show just who and what they are. Maybe then the people who didn't use their vote, but are aghast at the result, will think twice about not making the trip to the polling station when the next opportunity arises.

subrosa 11 June 2009 at 10:53  

Well said Malc. The more the main parties bad-mouth them then it's more publicity for the BNP. Get them on radio and TV, good interviewers and let the public see them for what they are.

Anonymous,  11 June 2009 at 14:46  

TV or radio is one thing because that is a controlled environment but share a platform with them in a church or a community hall somewhere? No way. If you guys had ever been at a count with the BNP you would understand why.

Take the Glasgow European count for example on Sunday night. After the counting was over we all started to drift to the seating area to wait for the announcement. Shabnum Mustapha, who is one of the Lib Dems’ Glasgow candidates sat down at the front with Elspeth Atwooll and some other Lib Dem activists. Shabnum is Asian. The BNP went and sat in the same row as her very deliberately and started giving her the evil eye.

Suddenly everyone was nervous, SNP activists also went and sat down nearby just in case. The Tories were hovering. You just don’t know what these people are liable to do. The BNP may wear suits but they still have the skinheads, the barbed wire tattoos around the neck etc. It’s not simply a question of not wanting to debate them politically, you don’t want to be in the same room as them.

Nothing untoward happened on Sunday night because everyone was keeping a very close eye on them and there were plenty of police around. But asking the BNP onto the platform at local hustings would just be asking for trouble - unless you are going to have a significant police presence there, which is not what we want is it? The police should be policing the streets, not political meetings.

In any case political parties and candidates have a right to say who they will and won’t appear with. Do you really expect someone like Shabnum to have to appear on the same platform as someone who wants to deport her from the country because of her colour? Even if she was willing, I don’t think anyone should be asked to do that and I know that every other party feels the same way.

If the BNP want to be treated like other parties, let them behave like other parties. It's that simple.

Caron 11 June 2009 at 16:51  

I've also done a couple of posts on this recently and pretty much agree with you, Malc. However, I maybe think that Paxman isn't the right person - someobody really calm and relaxed is probably more likely to get the really bad stuff out of them - they will be on their guard against a Paxman like figure.

Anon, it's heartening to hear that activists across the political spectrum were aware of what was happening at the count and watching over Shabnum. Nobody should have to endure that sort of thing.

Theses stories need to come out - I have a friend in the Green Party who told me how the BNP were at the centre of a fracas in Yorkshire where the wife of the lead Green candidate ended up on the ground. The comment was made that they keep their suits for counts and court appearances.

I still say debate them - I've never really been comfortable with no platform because if you do debate them it shows up their true colours - they are basically in favour of ethnic cleansing and people need to see that.

Anonymous,  11 June 2009 at 16:58  

Someone needs a strategy for dealing with extreme socialist parties.

Laura,  11 June 2009 at 22:47  

I appreciate where you're coming from, but I strongly disagree on this. I don't believe we should be screaming and throwing eggs at them, but I don't believe they should get a shared platform either.

If you treat them like just another party, then in any debate all parties will be forced to always discuss race issues, or else you will run the risk of not exposing their extreme views. This distorts each and every debate and makes sure they are leading the agenda. We have equality laws, we should not have to constantly argue this crap.

Those that agree with their views should remain ashamed to admit it in public. We make them mainstream and they will become more socially acceptable.

I don't believe a party which has a white-only policy and wants to deport citizens of this country deserves any form of legitimacy.

As someone married to an Arabic person I feel particularly strongly that the state should not be paying for their literature to go through my door.

Malc 12 June 2009 at 09:58  


To make a rather crude comparison that I'm not sure the SNP would appreciate me making, not every debate they are in focuses on independence.

Sure parties have to defend their position against it - but that is what politics and debating is about. You state your case and defend your position.

I strongly believe that if the BNP were forced to defend their views their support would collapse faster than a deck of cards.

Laura,  12 June 2009 at 10:37  

That's exactly my point. If, as you say, every debate is not about racism, then they are not going to be forced to defend their views - so are not exposed.

They can then cosy up with the public and appear reasonable about education or whatever the topic may be.

A more suitable comparison than yours would be like giving the Taliban an equal platform and not raising the subject of extremist terrorism.

They will grow in strength if such an approach is adopted.

If, on the other hand, you do want to expose them, then politicians are forced to always raise the issue of race.

If only politics was a simple as the rational argument winning, the world would be a far better place. But it's a lot more about social norms, and the BNP should not become one of them. There is no logic to their position of racial hatred, so politicians winning points in a debate won't change many minds. Positive community action - getting to know and appreciate folk from other backgrounds - is far more helpful in weakening their support.

Malc 12 June 2009 at 10:50  

I appreciate that point, I do. But I still think that we need to treat them as any other political party as the ostracise them, to treat them differently is exactly what they want.

Look at Northern Ireland at the height of "The Troubles." When "terrorists" were treated solely as criminals their impact was less; when they were classified as "political prisoners" or "terrorists" they were a special category, like what they were doing was worthy of distinction. I know that is a simple analysis, but it is worth thinking about.

The BNP and their members are unlikely to get involved in "Positive community action" though as you suggest their support will be weakened if their voters do get involved. That is where we can help at grassroots level yes, but what about on a larger scale? I'm afraid recognition and debate is the only option as I see it.

Lallands Peat Worrier 12 June 2009 at 11:03  

Congratulations on the engagement!

Indy 12 June 2009 at 16:59  

Malc I think what Laura is saying - and what every other party in Scotland would agree with - is that there is no point in debating with the BNP because all issues for them come down to racism.

What would that debate consist of? The BNP making racist statements, everyone else disagreeing. It would be pointless.

There is no point either in saying it would expose their racism. Everyone knows the BNP is racist, the people who voted for them did so because they are racists too.

So what's to debate? Is racism OK? No. That's pretty much the end of the debate isn't it? It's a black and white argument if you will forgive the pun.

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