Friday, June 12, 2009

Anti-democratic forces then and now

Anti-democratic forces then and now

Should we condemn the egging of Nick Griffin, and the disturbances attending the count in Lancashire?  The BNP are, after all, odious little quasi-fascists.  They can have little genuinely to add to the national political debate.  The people opposing them have strongly-held political beliefs, and believe that the BNP must be publicly de-legitimised at every opportunity.  They’re wrong, of course.

The tactic of seeking violently to break up the meetings, press conferences etc of the BNP should be condemned utterly.  This is for two reasons.  The first, as I believe the DK said, is that we should protect the rights of odious fascist thugs, because we are not odious fascist thugs.  That might be considered the argument from principle and is, in itself, sufficient.  There is, however, a further argument from pragmatism.  It is beautifully articulated here, by Lord Elton, an excellent historian and Labour peer, in a letter to the Times in 1936 – the last time Britain was so exercised about the rise of fascists.

Since 1931 I have been present at many meetings held by Conservative, Liberal and Labour National candidates. Nine times out of 10 there has been Labour rowdyism, usually spontaneous, but once or twice deliberately organized ...

The connexion between this Labour hooliganism and the methods of the Fascist stewards is obvious. At most Fascist meetings no six consecutive audible sentences would have been uttered but for the presence of stewards. And once you make Fascist stewards necessary, the provocative language, free fights, and black eyes will follow as a matter of course.

At present the Fascist is, unfortunately, able to boast that he never disturbs an opponent's meeting, and that he is the only person who can make himself heard in many Labour areas.

There seem to be two possible courses. Either there must be police protection for about 60 per cent of non-Labour meetings - which would make democracy ridiculous - or Labour leaders must publicly explain, as none of them has yet had the courage to do, that their over-enthusiastic followers are playing straight into the hands of the bitterest enemies of democracy.

Failing this, we may yet see in England the sort of excesses which disgraced politics, and eventually destroyed democracy, in so many foreign countries.

If you seek to prevent by violent means free expression of noxious ideas, you both grant the ideas, and their articulators, unwarranted legitimacy.  Provide the BNP with as much legitimacy and airtime as their status as a very minor party warrants.  Let any violence at their meetings be driven by themselves alone, and not by a rag-tag of similarly anti-democratic protestors.  If it becomes policy that the police refuse to offer protection to people of whose politics they disapprove, we are taking a large and unwelcome step away from democracy.

Sunlight remains the best disinfectant.  Although the new faces of the BNP have been described as more articulate and better able to express their views than the shaven-headed thugs of the public image, they remain wedded to indefensible views and unsavoury histories.  Get this into the open, make them defend their views in their own words, and stop this mythologizing nonsense that seeks to turn them into an electoral bogeyman and instead risks turning them into some sort of grotesque champion for the disillusioned and voiceless.  Ideally, I’d like to stop talking about the BNP now – they are after all about as electorally relevant as the English Democrats.  But holding up our skirts like a lady in a Victorian farce is not the best way of addressing this problem.

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