Banning the BNP solves nothing

The far-right British National Party (BNP), now a largely benign political party, is to present a new party-electoral broadcast ahead of next month’s European elections. According to the Huffington Post, its planned broadcast, featuring an animated cartoon, depicts ‘Muslims swilling alcopops and chasing pre-pubescent girls, as well as graphic depictions of Lee Rigby’s murderer’. The disgusting cartoon is likely to attract a huge amount of attention and, no doubt, many will insist it must be censored.

The Huffington Post has reported that it received a leaked 10-second clip of the animation from an anonymous source, aimed at unearthing the truth of ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ and building on the populist rhetoric surrounding the murder of Lee Rigby. The broadcast follows a call for an inquiry into the Electoral Commission after it permitted another nationalist party, Britain First, to use the slogan ‘Remember Lee Rigby’ in their literature for the EU elections.

But the call to censor such material will do nothing to tackle the BNP’s ideas and will do no favours to British democracy. As the major political parties scramble to understand what’s really happening in British politics with the rise of the anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP), and as other right-wing groups gather support across Europe, the political and media class need to take people seriously and engage in free and open debate on issues such as immigration and racism. The conformity that exists in the political elites, the ‘battles’ over insignificant details and the playground politics of ‘he’s this; he’s that’, are simply not helping. It’s no wonder that people across Europe are becoming bored of an increasingly debased and bureaucratic political system.

The anxiety and outrage surrounding the BNP’s planned broadcast echoes concerns that were voiced in 2010, when the party’s leader, Nick Griffin, was invited to take part in the BBC’s weekly political discussion show, Question Time. While some commentators believed that appearing on Question Time would legitimise Griffin’s abhorrent views in the eyes of the electorate, the BNP’s electoral campaign did not gather speed following Griffin’s appearance and democracy did not crumble at the feet of an angry mob. The BNP finished the election with a dismal 1.9 per cent of the vote and lost its 12-seat stronghold on Barking and Dagenham Council. Angry white working-class men did not take to the streets with pitchforks, torches and lynching ropes. When Griffin was allowed to air his views freely, the electorate showed itself to be a reasonable, rational body of people in response to his dubious arguments.

The likelihood is that this cartoon will be censored under existing hate-crime laws, further marginalising a dwindling and embittered far-right who will have a further claim to victim status, a tactic that hasn’t been a hindrance to far-right groups in the past. In the comments section of the Huffington Post report, some have even claimed that the BNP itself is an embattled minority.

Freedom of speech cannot be reserved for those we believe to be fighting the ‘good fight’. If we are willing to take part in picking and choosing who has freedom of expression, and hand over this responsibility to the state, we’ll soon find ourselves in an increasingly draconian and conformist political system. While we may be offended by groups like the BNP and find their views despicable, we should engage them in debate and discussion, and challenge the views they hold. It is only through an open and pluralistic democracy, where individuals are taken seriously as the holders of their own conscience, that progress can be made. 

Christopher Beckett is studying for a masters in sociology at the University of Liverpool and is an organiser for the Liverpool Salon. The Liverpool Salon’s next debate, ‘Open Borders – who profits?’, is taking place at the Liverpool Athenaeum on Thursday 8 May.

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