Wednesday, October 21, 2009

We don't need fascists

So if you have a moment, can I ask all British citizens to please contact the BBC and tell them that.

This Thursday, the BBC plan to invite members of the British National Party, the openly white supremacist party of Britain, to appear on Question Time. Which is to say, they're planning to treat them like a legitimate political party rather than the bunch of anti-democratic racist thugs that they are.

As I've been saying quite a lot lately, the BBC is a terrific institution with a deserved reputation for political credibility. Even this latest decision, with which I completely disagree, proves that James Murdoch was talking out of what I shall charitably refer to as his wallet when he suggested that the BBC's publicly-funded status meant that it was an organ of the ruling party: inviting the BNP, who everybody hates including the people they lionise, is a pretty serious nod to free speech.

But you don't need to go on the BBC to have free speech. Nobody is trying to shut the BNP up, and saying that they shouldn't get a respectable slot on the BBC is not taking away their right to talk whatever fascist shit they want under their own initiative.

The BNP are best treated as a joke. They are a tiny and wicked gang of extremists who simply don't belong on political prime time, and putting them on the BBC is giving a stamp of legitimacy and a whole lot of attention to people who don't merit it any more than any other nasty crank. Please take a moment to contact the BBC and tell them that.

And, as it's very possible the BBC will do it anyway, let's also agree not to watch. If we reward them with ratings, we're supporting them. We don't need to see this. Until they say the phrase 'We've all changed our minds and we're very, very sorry,' there's nothing any BNP rep can possibly say that's worth hearing.


  1. Absolutely - don't watch. But don't under-estimate the BNP either. I remember the rise of the National Front in the 1970s, and they soon showed that they were far from a joke - when you have them on your doorstep in South London, warning you that you will meet the fate of all race-traitors, you realise how dangerous these people can be. - Larry

  2. I absolutely agree with you, but I want to raise a point that was recently mentioned by a Swedish blogger I read (relevance: the Swedish equivarent of the BNP being on the rise and looking as if they might get a seat in the 2010 elections).

    Unless we steal their topics from them and treat them seriously with better solutions than they offer, they will continue to attract support simply because everyone else are treating not just them as jokes but ignoring the taboo subjects they tend to be raising. We need to find good solutions to those problems (because lets be realistic, there are issues to be solved) so that noone (says the hopeful voice, the realistic nagging one in the back of my head saying "fewer") will gravitate towards those kinds of groups.

    We certainly don't want them to grow so big we have to take them seriously, then we have a much bigger problem on our hands.

    Right now the ball is a bit in their court because it isn't quite politically correct to even admit publicly there are issues to be faced. We need to steal that ball from them and never give it back.

  3. Donalbain8:28 pm

    Kit, you could not be more wrong. The BNP *are* a serious political party, and as vile as they are, they have a number of supporters. And unless their lies are exposed as lies, they can get more supporters. For instance, they claim that council houses go to immigrants first and that gets them votes in areas with low housing availability. The way to counter that is not to ignore them, but to point out that it is a lie. Remember, the target audience of the BNP is not the racists, they have already got THEIR vote, they are after the little old lady who will read a leaflet about how her grandkids are being disadvantaged by these "immigrants", or the young man who can't get a job and will be told that it is because of the "immigrants". What those people deserve is to be shown how full of lies the BNP are.

    And of course that is all without my opinion that it is NOT the role of the BBC to decide which elected representatives deserve airtime. The BNP have as much right to airtime as the Green Party, much as I detest them.

  4. I must also beg to differ. The BNP is a vile fungus on the politics of the nation, but fungus grows best in dark, dank corners.

    The best way of exposing the "anti-democratic racist thugs" for what they are is to treat them like the legitimate democratic party they pretend to be. As long as they can scream "Help, Help, I'm being repressed!", some otherwise-sensible voters will be tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    That's not to say they should be pandered to; that's been the flaw of the US in dealing with its religious right-wing. But appearing on Question Time gives the legitimate parties perfect opportunity to frame the debate.

    Indeed, if the mainstream parties are sensible, they will represent themselves that night with MPs who are of a religious or ethnic minority. Watching the BNP rant about "dirty furriners" and "traditional values" to a panel of first and second generation immigrants would make the night.

  5. Donalbain6:21 am

    Indeed, the correct response would have been to stack the panel with black folk, gay people, and a Jew.

  6. Kit, you could not be more wrong.

    Debate is good, but let's also have respect and courtesy, yes?

    The BNP is a vile fungus on the politics of the nation, but fungus grows best in dark, dank corners.

    If we need to drag them out into the light, there are other ways to do it. People vote for people they've heard of, and the more the mainstream media treat them like serious candidates, the more they look like an option.

    The whole problem with the current BNP is that they're trying to put a gloss of respectability over their thuggishness. There are ways to address them without giving them that gloss. A lot of public discussion about their criminal connections and violence would be a start.

    We need to tackle what they are rather than what they pretend to be, and giving them respectable air time is addressing their pretences. Nick Griffin is quoted as saying 'When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.' There's no point trying to have a rational debate with someone like that; you need to take away his power.

    A person who doesn't respect rational debate is only going to treat a TV airing as an opportunity to lie and manipulate, and I wouldn't underestimate him enough to assume that even with a stacked panel he couldn't score a few hits. Personally I think the lesson of America is that if you treat someone as a legitimate opponent, you shouldn't bank on your own ability to control the debate. If you 'teach all sides of the controversy', the average winds up calculated between reasonable and batshit, and that's not a reasonable place to be.

    Once you've invited the vampire it, it's hard to get him out.

  7. Donalbain12:44 pm

    I was courteous. You were very very wrong and I said so. There was nothing personal about it.

    What you are saying is censorship is OK. And that the BBC should not allow minority views to be heard because Kit Whitfield does not like them. Now, the fact is that I do not like the views either. But some people do. Not only is it unproductive to "persecute" via the BBC them, but it is immoral.

  8. Donalbain, on a blog I pay for and work hard to maintain I am entitled to ask that you respect my standards when it comes to courtesy. There's a difference between 'I disagree with you' and 'You are very very wrong'. The former is about the opinion, the latter is about the person. It is personal, and it's also aggressive in tone, and I'm not having it around here. Neither am I having 'because Kit Whitfield does not like them.' That is sarcastic and patronising, and again personal. I do not speak to you like that, I will not support anybody else speaking to you like that, and I expect you to return the favour. I do not mind at all that you disagree with me, because there's a lot to be said on both sides of this discussion, but I reserve the right to set the ground rules for what does and doesn't cross the line on my own blog.

    As to the issue of censorship, as I said plainly in the original post, there is a difference between censorship, which is preventing something from being heard at all, and not inviting someone, which is declaring that they can say what they like, just not on your channel. The latter is what I'm advocating with regard to the BBC. It's no more censorship than deciding to exclude a Creationist article from a scientific journal: there is finite space and a selection process must therefore always be used, and falling beneath the minimum standards of political debate or scientific rigour is a perfectly legitimate criterion for exclusion.

    If someone wants to suppress the BNP from speaking on their own dime, I'm entirely opposed to that. But if not inviting someone onto Question Time is censorship, the BBC censors people every week. So does every publisher that turns down books, every news show that invites some guests and not others, every radio station that chooses which callers to broadcast. There's a difference between demanding that someone be homeless and saying they can't come into your own house.

  9. Donalbain2:19 pm

    Actually, it is MASSIVELY different to a creationist not being published in a scientific journal. It is wrong for a number of reasons.

    Reason 1) A scientific paper is based on evidence. And there is a process of peer review that weeds out false statements. Not unpopular, or evil statements, but FALSE ones. So, if a creationist was to say "The half life of uranium is three weeks, and that is why uranium dating doesn't work", the referees would be able to point to the evidence that goes against the claim and the paper would be rejected, pending the correction of the false claim. Politics does not work like that. It never has. When Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society, she did not have to to run that past a series of fact-checkers. When Tony Blair said that there was evidence of WMDs in Iraq, there was no way in which he had to run that past experts before the BBC reported that he said it. Now, they CAN then investigate afterwards what he said and find it to be false, but they don't get to decide what they report based on wether they think it is factually accurate.

    2) The BBC is not like a science journal, in that it is not privately owned. It is funded by me, you, AND Nick Griffin and his followers. And, like it or not, The BNP are now the elected representatives of a number of the British people. And those people have the right to see their elected representatives express their opinions as much as I do, or you do. Especially since they pay as much for the BBC as does any Green Party voter. I assume you think that the Green Party should be given a shot at being on Question Time, and if you do, then the only difference between them and the BNP is that you do not like the message of the BNP as much as you like the message of the Green Party. Both are legitimately elected parties that represent the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  10. Donalbain, I'm sorry, because this could be an interesting discussion, but right now I'm bothered you aren't acknowledging that you talked to me in a way I found insulting and aren't prepared to apologise, or even address the issue before returning to the fray. Because of that, I'm really not in the mood to debate with you. The issue is a controversial one with good points to be made on both sides, but unless there's a foundation of mutual consideration I just don't feel like it would be constructive; it's only going to give me a headache and we all have enough stress as it is.

  11. Unless we steal their topics from them and treat them seriously with better solutions than they offer, they will continue to attract support simply because everyone else are treating not just them as jokes but ignoring the taboo subjects they tend to be raising.

    I think that's an interesting point, but I wonder if there's a complication in Britain that Sweden doesn't have, to wit, national pride.

    The BNP make a lot of noise about how we should be Proud To Be British. They do something horrible in declaring that British necessarily means white, but for a long time pride in being British has been problematic because, well, we were kind of bastards for a long time. We had an empire. We pretty much wiped out the Tasmanian Aborigines. We massacred men, women and children at Amritsar. We created such a mess in Ireland centuries ago that we're still feeling the repercussions today. Pride in the British Way is historically associated with invading other countries.

    To talk about British pride, we either have to lie to ourselves and pretend that certain things never happened, or we have to find some new way of talking about things. Pride in being Scottish or Welsh is more acceptable than pride in being English, though the Scots were pretty active in the British Empire (though having said that I've got no problem with devolution if that's what the majority of people in their respective countries want), but particularly pride in being English is tricky.

    Add to this that we have a long history of expressing our pride by not liking other nations, and we have the Eurosceptic movement as well. Which is pretty stupid; Blair pretty much sold out any claim to independence we might ever have made when he truckled to Bush, and personally I'd much rather go with Europe than the States - but we have a long history of expressing national pride as a form of opposition to or dominion over others.

    When we realised, or at least some of us did, that this made us sound like horrible people, we dialled it back, and the BNP are trying to exploit the gap in the market. But what to fill it with?

    Personally I think the American Right is giving us an opportunity at the moment: all the lies about the NHS, for instance, would be a good opportunity for non-xenophobes to start banging the drum about what's good in Britain. I just wish we had better politicians; New Labour cheesiness doesn't convince anyone, and the Tories still seem to think that What Makes Britain Great is thumbing their noses at Europe, neither of which is madly inspiring.

  12. Donalbain7:07 pm

    I don't think I talked in any way that was out of order. I am not going to make one of those false apologies wherein I say I am sorry you took something the wrong way. I have too much respect for you and I detest those; the function of an apology is where the person apologising acknowledges they have behaved badly. I do not believe I did behave badly. I pointed out that you were wrong. I did not mean, and do not see, that as any personal attack. It's a shame you will not continue the discussion with me, but thats the way it is. See you on the next thread!

  13. If giving the BNP credible exposure will only strengthen their voting bloc, what of the 6.2% that voted for them in the last European Parliament elections?

    The reason that Question Time's even considering an invite, after all, is that they hold two seats in the EP. Are those 6.2% truly the skinhead element, or is a large fraction of that just a misguided attempt at a protest vote?

    If it's the latter, then bringing the party to light can only help things. The BNP's evil rhetoric needs to be dismantled, crushed, and scattered to the four corners of the Earth. Clearly, nobody's done that yet.

    Who's job is it, then?

    1) The BBC? They're not an advocacy group, so they can only call the BNP liars and thugs in a bona-fide report on the party. If they're not a legitimate party (and thus should be banned from Question Time), then the BBC will have no interest in a proactive debunking.
    2) The other parties? They've fallen down on the job so far. If they're sitting with the BNP on Question Time, then they have to do their duty. And they better do a damn good job, or else British Democracy is unworthy of the name.

    In my view, the lesson of America is "underestimate fanatics at your peril." The Religious Right got organized first, and with that large base of time and money they can compete in national elections on issues unrelated to their goals.

    The typical American moderate probably doesn't even have a strong opinion on gay marriage or abortion, but s/he might be swayed by an "ACORN voter fraud oh noes!" argument (to quote the last election).

    The best thing for Britain is to stop the BNP now. Their next leader might not be so tone-deaf. If they're a few years removed from their current idiocy, then it will be all the harder to make the right label stick.

  14. One way to handle the situation is by direct response on the facts. We don't do that nearly enough here in the land of "just find two opposing views and call it a day", but via Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, here's MSNBC's Rachel Maddow fact-checking Pat Buchanan's claims about how it was white people who built the U.S. (I have no idea why Buchanan is still taken seriously on television. Something to do with conflict generating ratings, presumably.)

    Verification word, curiously enough, is "scombarg." I can't tell if blogger is commenting on the BNP or Mr. Buchanan.

  15. Oops! I posted without acknowledging that I was merely providing an example of what I thought to be a textbook example of someone implementing the strategy recommended by Christopher Subich.

    The fact that everyone is oohing and aahing over Dr. Maddow's fact-checking report may serve as an indication of how rarely it occurs in practice.