‘We don’t want EDL with our Cornflakes’

Those calling for the EDL leader to be ‘no platformed’ from BBC radio hold the listening public in contempt.

Patrick Hayes

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Should you need to be an elected representative to appear on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme?

That appears to be the bizarre conclusion of some disgruntled commentators, who were left choking on their croissants while listening to the working-class vowels of English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson on the Today programme last Tuesday. Robinson had been invited into the studio to discuss the sentencing of six Muslim would-be terrorists who had plotted to detonate explosives at an EDL demo in 2012. They might have succeeded had it not been for their own incompetence.

The sound of Robinson’s voice on Today, however, was simply too much for many commentators. They quickly took to Twitter to express their disbelief before rapidly penning angry pieces for newspaper blogs. After all, as one writer for the Huffington Post pointed out, the BBC is meant to be the voice of ‘the establishment’. What excuse did the BBC have?, others asked. After all, the BBC didn’t even have the excuse it had when inviting the far-right British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin on to Question Time in 2009 – Griffin was at least a democratically elected member of the European parliament.

The Guardian chose to draw attention to the concerns that Robinson, ‘who is not an elected representative, was invited [on the programme]’. This is not an isolated concern; earlier in the month, a New Statesman writer complained that the EDL leader was being hyped up despite having little popularity in opinion polls. According to this pundit’s logic, should the massively unpopular Lib Dems be getting a platform on the BBC? Should no one be allowed to comment on air unless they have a democratic mandate to do so?

Others on Twitter were simply incredulous. ‘Why on earth is Tommy Robinson being given a platform on @BBCRadio4?’, tweeted one listener. Others claimed that offering the EDL a platform was ‘disgraceful’, ‘shocking’ and ‘so inappropriate’. One tweeted: ‘I wonder if Today programme editors even considered what their Muslim listeners would think about hearing the EDL over their cornflakes?’ The EDL should be no platformed, reasoned one twitterer, because ‘EDL are fascist. If fascists got into power, the first thing they would do would be to deny free speech!’ Quite right! Why wait for fascists to get into power, when censor-happy anti-fascists can crush foundational democratic freedoms today?

And what shocking, inflammatory, hate-filled ‘filth’ did the ‘moron’ Robinson spew out over these most respectable of British airwaves? Erm, actually, very little. He said that he ‘utterly condemned’ violence against Muslims, that the EDL was a peaceful organisation and that its tactics are ‘completely questionable’. The only grounds for violence, Robinson implied, was if his own supporters attempted a Hitler salute at an EDL rally (in 2011, he was convicted of assault for head-butting such a ‘troublemaking’ member). The most extreme thing Robinson called for was the outlawing of Sharia law and the internment of Muslims calling to ‘overthrow our Queen and our democracy’. (This is admittedly an extreme statement, but it’s a far cry from the incitements to Mosque-burning that some hysterical commentators seem to think they heard.)

In fact, the largely anodyne nature of Robinson’s remarks seemed only to rile his critics further. How dare the BBC conduct a normal interview with Robinson, without taking the opportunity to grill him about every aspect of his organisation? The interview was, as another article frothed, far too ‘easy’ on the EDL. A Greenpeace campaigner complained it was ‘irresponsible soft-soap’ while others whined that it was too ‘polite’, and gave the EDL ‘legitimacy’. Some commentators chose not to call for the outright censorship of Robinson, which they claimed would turn him into a ‘free-speech martyr’. Instead they seemed angered that Robinson was taken seriously, rather than – like Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time – endlessly mocked.

The political director of the Huffington Post, Medhi Hasan, typed out a list of questions Today programme interviewer Sarah Montagu should have asked, regardless of their relevance to the interview topic. These included Robinson’s views on Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, where the EDL gets its funding from and even what Tommy Robinson’s real name was. Another writer suggested questions should have been asked about the size of the EDL’s membership and whether his supporters were fuelling ‘anti-Islamic hate crime’. Perhaps if Robinson had received the full grilling, he could have been revealed as the Muslim-bashing, neo-Nazi thug that all sensible left-wing types just know him to be.

In failing to ask a whole heap of irrelevant questions, Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges argued that ‘Mr Robinson made a pretty good fist of pulling the wool over the eyes of his interviewer Sarah Montagu, and the nation as a whole’. For Hodges, it seems, the woolly-eyed public can’t possibly be trusted to listen to Today and make their own minds up about Robinson.

And this is what the criticism of Robinson’s appearance on Today amounts to: a fear that people are unable to make up own minds about the content of what the EDL is saying, at least without sufficient guidance and counter-balance from right-thinking people.

Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.

Picture by: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire/Press Association Images

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