There has been much debate recently in the UK about whether the British National Party should be allowed to speak on national TV politics shows. Motions have been discussed within political parties and trade unions, and some have even suggested that the current ban on police officers belonging to this party should be extended to all public servants, national and local. There is talk of banning them from TV altogether, disallowing them from using any public facilities and putting other obstacles in their path.
This is a question that goes right to the heart of our definition of a free and democratic society.
The BNP are certainly a fascistic party with some pretty objectionable policies. They are, however, a legal political party, with elected local councillors and, now, two MEPs sitting in Strasbourg. They have existed as a legal entity for many years, but are enjoying renewed vigour, probably as a result of the recent immigration from the new EU accession states, and of the economic downturn. There may well be good arguments for banning such a party, and they are certainly acting illegally, under UK and EU law, in not allowing non-white people to join; they face a possible prosecution on this very issue. However, at present, they are a legal party, with legitimately elected representatives.
Can we, as a society espousing the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association, and as signatories to the Charter of Human Rights, stop people joining the legal political party of their choice, however repulsive it seems to many, or harass that party in the conduct of legitimate business? Under the rules of equal access and political bias, can our broadcasters deny them airtime or participation in political debate?
Is not the odiousness of their xenophobia and racism best exposed by publicly confronting it, holding it up to ridicule, and revealing the flawed logic and lack of intelligence behind it? Or do we fear that we are not able to do so? Do we defeat extremism by resorting to extremism, or by extolling the virtue of the opposing view and values, and by practising them? Should we not be trying to educate those communities and individuals who have chosen to support the BNP, rather than dismissing and abusing them?
If the electorate, rightly or wrongly, have chosen these people, then should they not be allowed to perform the duty of representing their electorate unimpeded? This is a representative democracy, and that means representing all, not just those we agree with. There seems a real danger of making martyrs and anti-heroes out of the BNP, if we persecute them.
Inciting violence and hatred are criminal offences in the UK, particularly against racial and religious minorities and the BNP will likely slip up at some point. As stated, already the Equality Commission are looking at prosecution over the party's rules on membership. If they break the law then action should be taken, but on the same basis as any other crime. This is the proper course to follow, in my opinion.
It seems to me that until this party are proscribed by some means, or a court case forces them out of existence, then they, and their members, have to be treated equally to other parties. That is the very essence of our freedoms, and to do otherwise undermines them. In a free democracy, we must have the right to speak as we choose, as long as we do not incite harm against others, and we must be free to join whatever parties and associations we choose, unless they are implicated in illegality. We can not pick and choose who we give rights to.
16 hours ago