Trade unionists, broadcasters and campaigners discuss the BBC decision to invite the BNP leader on to its flagship debating programme
Michael Rosen, broadcaster
People have been arguing for many years about the slogan, “No platform for Nazis.” In 1936 Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists said that they intended to march through a largely Jewish area of east London.
There were leaders who advised the people of that area to stay indoors and let them pass. There were others – socialists and communists, like my parents – who said, no, we should stop them coming through.
Recent events have highlighted this once more. The English Defence League (EDL) has decided to demonstrate outside mosques. It is trying to intimidate Muslim worshippers in that locality.
Following from that they hope that the news will spread and all Muslims in Britain will feel intimidated.
In other words, the EDL is claiming, “If you are a Muslim, be afraid. Be particularly afraid when you go to mosque because we might be there threatening you.
“We own this street, this locality, this country – you don’t. You have no right to be worshipping here. You have no right to be in this country. This place belongs to ‘us’.”
This is the politics of racist persecution. It also breaks the hard won principle of religious toleration. That’s why we have to confront them then and there, deny them the platform from which they are acting out these claims. That’s “no platform” in action.
Another example is the matter of the BBC suggesting that it will invite British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin on to Question Time.
Like the street, the BBC is a public place and is indirectly publicly-owned. The BBC has a responsibility to represent everyone. It has no responsibility to represent those who attack sections of the population and demand that they leave the country.
Griffin will be given the right – by us as indirect owners of the BBC – to say that a percentage of us shouldn’t be living here.
The only way in which a fascist party can bring that about is through terror, internment, deportation, and murder.
We are entitled to say that no party with this programme, either open or hidden, should have the right to come on to a public service to help it come about.
The BBC doesn’t have to broadcast what anti-social people say and do. It doesn’t have to give a platform to people who advocate burglary as a way of life. It may well choose to show such people.
But when it does it will always be surrounded by commentary and context that make clear that this is anti-social and that it is a “problem” that this person is saying such a thing.
This is because of what the BBC calls “compliance”, which it has extended into the “trust agenda”, which I, as a broadcaster, have to abide by.
On the BBC’s own terms, it’s clear to me that Griffin on Question Time would break both these principles.
It may seem to trivial to make the comparison, but the point about the recent Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand scandal, was that it broke “compliance” and “trust”.
The BBC’s contract with the public was deemed to be broken because it “offended” “us”, and “we” couldn’t “trust” it any more.
For those who’ve forgotten about it, this was about a broadcaster claiming that he had had sex with the granddaughter of the person he was ringing up, on air.
If that is “universally” deemed to be offensive, then how much more offensive is it to broadcast the views of someone who is planning to ruin the lives of millions of people?
The BBC also has a requirement to represent different “communities” and to be itself diverse. It cannot do this if it represents the BNP for the
simple reason that the party wants to eliminate different “communities” and diversity.
Griffin has made it clear that he wants to whiten the BBC – with his booklet on Jews in the corporation. In other words, there comes a point where total diversity breaks down.
And that’s when there is a political party that wants to use the BBC in order to smash the very political system that is putting that party on air.
It would be as if, I, believing in principle that I should eat a variety of foods, also on that principle knowingly drank poison. “Ah well,” I say to myself. “I must represent poison in my diet. It is just another food, after all.”
We must demand that the BBC represents the population as a whole – and that means not letting Griffin use the BBC to threaten and intimidate millions of us.
If the invite to have him on goes ahead, we must do all we can to stop people agreeing to appear on TV with him.
Pete Murray, NUJ vice-president
The best journalism seeks to do something simple – to write the truth. So the NUJ journalists’ union believes our job is to write the truth about the BNP and other fascist groups.
This means writing the truth about the violent, criminal past of many of its leaders, and its links to neo-Nazi groups and Holocaust deniers.
Because of the nature of journalists’ work, we do not share the “no platform” stance of some groups.
But the NUJ does believe journalists have a duty to confront racism. That is why we believe newspapers, TV and radio programmes, and news websites should challenge BNP leaders and their policies when they appear on programmes.
That means that reporters and presenters need to have good information about Griffin and the rest of his thugs. They must be ready to ask them the hard questions on air and in print.
I am a union rep at the BBC. Thousands of BBC workers are deeply uneasy and angry that our bosses are allowing Griffin on to Question Time.
Not only that, under its own guidelines, the BBC is wrong to invoke rules that are only designed for the weeks immediately before a general election as the reason for putting him on the air.
Question Time is not a programme where Griffin will be forensically questioned about his party’s racist, Islamophobic and antisemitic policies, or its anti-union background or plans to dismantle the NHS.
He will use it as another opportunity to present himself as a mainstream politician. It will be a soapbox opportunity for him.
No one can pretend that is good journalism. It is not acceptable. Many inside the BBC believe it is a shameful moment for public service broadcasting.
At the NUJ, we take this personally. Our investigative reporters have written about the sharp increases in racist violence in towns where the BNP has elected councillors.
Our photojournalists have tried to photograph fascist thugs as they attack and abuse people on their way to the mosque.
In response, BNP thugs and their allies have directly threatened and targeted these journalists for doing exactly what our rules say they should – exposing the racist lies of fascist parties.
We will defend our people with all we have. We will continue to demand that the government closes down the Redwatch Nazi-hate website that has targeted our members.
We will continue to campaign to allow unions to exclude fascists from membership.
And we will continue to call on all journalists to do what they do best – expose these racists for what they are.
Sally Kincaid, divisional secretary Wakefield and District NUT
The TUC last week passed a motion calling for talks with the government about extending the current ban on BNP members working in the police and prison service.
It is absolutely right that BNP members should be banned from public sector jobs.
As Janice Godrich, the president of the PCS union, said at the TUC conference, the “BNP’s message of hate and fear” stands in stark contrast to the values of equality and access for all on which public services were based.
“It is not acceptable that you can be a fascist at weekends, yet work between Monday and Friday accessing confidential information of members of the public,” she said.
This is a vital question for teachers. Schools are supposed to give equal opportunities to all students.
But the BNP does not believe in equal opportunities. If someone cannot treat others equally, then they should not be in a job that requires you to do that.
What would a fascist teacher’s response be if there was a racist attack in their school? What if there was a homophobic attack?
Why should black, Asian or Jewish students have to sit in a classroom and endure lessons from someone who believes they shouldn’t be living in this country?
Schools are supposed to be a safe zone for all students – not places where some are seen as superior to others. And how can a fascist possibly teach the Second World War or the Holocaust?
We cannot rely on the government to stop the BNP. This is the same government that will allow a minister to appear on Question Time with Nick Griffin.
It is up to us to campaign throughout our trade unions to demand that BNP members are sacked.
To those who say we should debate with the Nazis, not confront them, I reply, how can you argue with those who deny that the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust happened?
If we allow the Nazis to organise it leads to violence against trade unionists, and black and Asian people. I was subjected to this when my car was burnt out after its registration appeared on Redwatch, a Nazi website.
The response from my union and ordinary people to this was fantastic.
If you find that there is a BNP member in your workplace then organise staffroom, canteen and trade union meetings.
Invite a speaker from Unite Against Fascism (UAF) who can explain the BNP’s Nazi history and its record of racial violence.
Organising people can isolate BNP members and put pressure on management to remove fascists from our workplaces.
A starting point is taking around a petition demanding the BBC withdraws its invitation to Griffin. This will start the discussion about why we need to actively oppose the BNP.
The BNP last week unveiled its amended constitution, which lays bare the racism at the party’s core.
Paragraph (b) of its “statement of principles” reads, “The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples.
“It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make up of the British population that existed prior to 1948.”
The British population is over 90 percent white.
Dominic Williams, former Oxford university student
There were huge debates over no platform at Oxford university when the Oxford Union debating society invited Nick Griffin to speak in 2007.
Supporters of the event argued that it is an inviolable right of everyone to be free to speak, that people opposed to the invitation were anti-democratic and that Griffin would be crushed in the debate.
Thankfully, many students, local people and other groups, including the student union, opposed the event.
We argued that whatever happened inside the debating chamber, what the public would see would be pictures of Griffin shaking hands with the president of the society.
This would confer legitimacy on his ideas, showing that organisers of the event thought that he had something worthwhile to say.
Supporters of the event said that Oxford students are far too clever to be converted to fascism after listening to Griffin.
However, as a Cambridge graduate himself, Griffin demonstrates that no one is “too clever” to be a fascist.
On the night of the “free speech forum”, over 1,000 people crowded into the narrow street outside the Oxford Union in a lively protest against Griffin.
A determined group of protesters even managed to briefly occupy the main chamber helping to wreck the event.
Jim Wolfreys, author of The Politics of Racism in France
Many people are asking, “If the BNP has been democratically elected, then why shouldn’t it have the right to appear on programmes like Question Time?”
The answer is that the BNP is not like other parties. It is a fascist organisation which wants to make use of democratic freedoms in order to attack ethnic minorities, women and the left and, ultimately, to eliminate those freedoms. Winning uncontested access to the mainstream media is a key part of this strategy.
The BNP is following the example of far-right organisations across Europe. Since the early 1980s Jean-Marie Le Pen’s fascist Front National has been a fixture in the French media.
He and his followers have used this position to challenge what can be said in public life. Le Pen has called the Nazi Holocaust a “detail” of the Second World War, made jokes about the concentration camps and expressed his belief in racial inequalities.
Once he was granted a platform, he used it to shift debate to the right, giving confidence to racists and antisemites in every corner of France.
Fascists do not seek respectability as an end in itself. Their strategy combines the search for legitimacy with the building of a hardcore group that can take its arguments onto the streets.
The BNP wants to radicalise its electorate and strengthen this hardcore. This is why Nick Griffin’s response to his election to the European parliament was to call on the European Union to sink boats carrying refugees.
This is why his supporters’ response has been to engage in attacks on Muslims under the guise of the English Defence League (EDL).
Some argue that exposure to the public eye will be the BNP’s downfall – that people will see through them and that their arguments will be destroyed by journalists or other politicians.
Sadly, the problem is not so straightforward. There is a powerful irrational and symbolic element to BNP support. The thugs in the EDL are not going to stay at home because Jeremy Paxman has trounced Griffin in a public debate.
What matters to them is that their leader’s profile is boosted by being granted the status of an important national figure.
Most people could defeat a BNP member in a televised argument over whether sinking refugee boats is wrong. But the real victor would still be the BNP, because its ideas would have become acceptable topics for public discussion, giving confidence to its supporters.
It shows the need for the policy of “no platform for fascists”. Anti-fascists do not seek to exclude the BNP from public space simply because we find its ideas obnoxious or offensive.
We want to exclude the BNP because the more it is viewed as a legitimate organisation, the easier it becomes for it to build a fascist current in Britain. The BNP threat is not confined to words – it wants to physically impose its ideas on others.
This is not a new debate. In January 1933, with Adolf Hitler about to be made chancellor of Germany, the socialist leader Rudolf Hilferding claimed that “legality will be his undoing”.
Within a decade Hilferding had been tortured and killed in a Gestapo prison and his wife murdered at Auschwitz.
It has taken British fascism half a century to re-emerge from the horror of Nazism.
But today all those who look to Nick Griffin to reassert Hitler’s legacy must feel that political legitimacy is finally within their grasp again. We have to ensure that it is not.