Sunday, October 18, 2009

We have ways of letting them talk

As I'm sure most of you know by now the Nazi British National Party (BNP) has been invited to take part in this week's BBC Question Time which has provoked an outpouring of angsting among the political classes.

Firstly, you have those who are for what's called 'No Platform' for Nazis who disapprove that the BNP will be appearing at all. This is a perfectly respectable position and you may wish to attend on the 22nd October when Unite Against Fascism will be protesting against the BBC's decision to play host to these far right goons.

The argument goes that by granting the fascists airtime on the most prestigious BBC political programme we allow them to adopt the veneer of a respectable political party, which they are not.

This is not a question of simply disliking the BNP. I dislike the Tories or UKIP but I've never argued that they should be denied a political platform - the fascists historically have used these opportunities to deny democratic rights to others - sometimes through using legal means and sometimes through plain and simple violence and thuggery. This is not something I want to see introduced into British politics. I explored what this means for free speech more thoroughly last year, here.

The problem with this position is that it tends to require everyone to agree that the BNP should be persona non-gratas. Once there is slippage (and the BBC is a very big bit of slippage) it tends to collapse everyone else's refusal to debate them - which means the most militant anti-fascists either leave it to Tories and liberals to make their arguments for them or they drop no platform - it's not an easy one to answer.

The second set of people who have been actively fretting are those who have, understandably, left aside the question of whether the BNP should appear, which we can do little about, and moved on to new questions. Liberal Conspiracy are concerned that the panel is just too middle class or there is this Telegraph blogger who is concerned about whether he should watch the thing at all.

The panel is now confirmed and aside from BNP fuhrer Nick Griffin we have Sayeeda Warsi, Jack Straw, Chris Huhne and Bonnie Greer. I can't say I'm inspired, but then these are by no means novices either and sadly they may well do a better job of countering the BNP than BBC journalists are at the moment.

Bonnie Greer, the black American playwright, seems to have met with the most internet disdain and I've seen both left and right commentators use the fact that she's not from the UK against her being chosen for the panel. I'm not sure these people have a sense of irony when they want to exclude foreigners from debating against bigotry but I doubt it's useful to pretend that we do not live in a multi-cultural society but rather use it as a strength.

Certainly BNP doesn't like the idea singling Greer out they said "What does the BNP have to do to be invited on to the BBC's Question Time?... Win one million votes and two seats in the European Parliament. What does Bonnie Greer have to do to get on to Question Time? Fabricate black history and be paid for it." Simon Darby, the BNP's deputy chairman, added: "If Bonnie Greer wants to enter the political arena, she's got to realise if you want to play with the big boys then sometimes you're going to get hurt."

Is that a thinly veiled physical threat? It looks more and more like Greer was a good choice and all credit to her for having the courage to appear. she has my support in what will be a nerve wracking experience.

The other thing about the 'fantasy panel' game that some are playing is that there seems to be a consensus that it's muscular politics that are in order, delivered by big men. I'm a fan of Darcus Howe, for instance, but to suggest that he's the perfect person to debate Griffin is odd. For me it summons up a vision of distressed yaks bellowing at each other across the plains - who's going to win that kind of debate? Not us.

If we're going to play this game, and it is interesting if not useful, then why try to counter the BNP at their strongest points when we should be looking to attack their weaknesses? A quiet, softly spoken woman who makes rational and informed points is precisely the sort of person the BNP will have the most difficulty dealing with.

I'd far rather see an excessively camp and witty opponent rip Griffin to pieces than some old warhorse whose culpability in devaluing the current political establishment is matched only by their inability to think beyond the myths of the 'white working class'.

In judo people learn to use their opponent's strengths against them - let the BNP's belligerence and unthinking populism (otherwise known as bullshit) work against them by exposing it in a personable and lighter fashion not mirroring it.

We need to step back and assess what's at stake over the Question Time debacle. The answer to any sane person has to be... almost nothing. The sky is not going to fall in, the brown shirts wont suddenly have a street army to drag away the gays, Jews and trade unionists just yet. Griffin is not a master hypnotist and we should not jump at his shadow, but I do want to see him humiliated if possible.

If you think about how much time politicians of the main parties spend in convincing the electorate they can win in any particular election it's an irony that the BNP's opposition spend a great deal of time trying to convince everyone that every vote for the BNP could make a fundamental difference... exactly what any political party wants the electorate to believe in other words.

They are not the master race they are very stupid little boys. Let's stop helping them by telling everyone what a credible threat they are when, in the vast majority of areas in the country, they just aren't even on the radar.

I'd rather we started being a little bit more subtle when it comes to this side of anti-fascist propaganda. Politics has never been at its most effective when conducted on the level of a shouting match. Demonstrations and the like will always have their place in the essential armoury of those who oppose fascism, but it does not mean we need to regard the BNP as anything more than the sad and pathetic arseholes.


The Leveller said...

While I am most certainly of the No Platform persuasion, I agree with you that it has become, in part, something of a diversion from actually doing some critical thinking and organising. I think that (as usual) the much of Left, including the Green Party, is missing the point. Instead of just going on about 'Non Paseran' and looking back to Cable Street as Our Finest Hour, while chanting what are essentially liberal slogans, we need to develop a workable strategy for the actual situation we currently face.

It seems to me that such a strategy needs to have two key components. First, a united left needs to be working with and within black and asian communities in order to build popular resistance to both the fascists in their various manifestations and the reactionary and oppressive opportunism of NuLab and its manipulation of the state. Second, a united left needs to be working with and within white working class communities to assist in the self organisation needed to address the real issues that confront them - which the BNP are quite good at exploiting and manipulating. In other words, patient grass roots politics aimed at building a mass popular movement.

Only then can giving fascists a good clogging on the streets mean anything.


ModernityBlog said...

Good post, I would disagree slightly with the excessive use of "Nazi". I think the BNP are positioning themselves to be Le Pen type neo-fascists and we have to adjust our understanding of them accordingly.

You ask "We need to step back and assess what's at stake over the Question Time debacle. "

The answer is the normalization of the BNP, the acceptance that neo-fascism is a legitimate political belief. The BNP will use the QT appearance as a way of opening up other TV opportunities. That's why we must oppose it.

You are right when you say "a little bit more subtle when it comes to this side of anti-fascist propaganda. "

Aaron said...

The No Platform policy is just half of the issue - building a credible left movement is absolutely essential too and I'd like to think that the Greens have their part in that diverse and radical movement.

I'll be there on Thursday so hopefully see you and some comrades around Jim!