The British National Party (BNP), for those who don’t know it, stands on the fringes of British political life. Many of its members and much of its hierarchy, including Nick Griffin, the party chairman, have a Nazi and racist past, something that they rather wish that voters would forget, at least the Nazi part.
Under Griffin the party has been attempting to go ‘mainstream’, persuading enough people to vote for them in the 2009 Euro election to get Griffin and Andrew Brons elected as members of the European Parliament. The movement is said to be right-wing, though a good part of its programme could easily have been lifted from old Labour Party manifestos, which I feel sure explains their appeal among working-class voters, that and the racism.
No matter what colour this movement gives itself of one thing I am certain: it is largely made up of eccentrics and oddballs, people with a grudge, people who would be naturally attracted to one kind of extreme or another as a reflection of some deep-rooted disaffection or personal alienation.
There is a well-established argument in left wing circles that the only way to stop the advance of the BNP is to deny them a ‘platform’, to stop the members speaking in public, speaking at all, by violence if necessary. It’s a view represented by one Weyman Bennett, joint secretary of an organisation called Unite Against Fascism.
Although the people in this organisation, and those who take their lead, like to claim that they understand the ‘lessons of history', the chief one being that only deeds and not words would have stopped the rise of the Nazis. It’s actually quite an ignorant view, far from understanding the true lessons of history, far from understanding that the Nazis thrived on the violence directed against them.
In the summer of 2009, in response to this kind of thinking, I wrote an article called Stopping Hitler, which concluded as follows;
Violence will not stop the BNP, oh no it will not; only words will. And the words I have in mind are their own. Yes, I would allow a platform for Fascists for the simple reason that once people at large know just how simplistic their words are it will collapse from under them. That is the intelligent deduction, not the ‘lesson of history.’
I’m delighted to say that not long after my argument found a practical and perfect illustration. The BBC runs a flagship show called Question Time, in which a panel of politicians and other public figures answer topical questions from an invited studio audience. Following the BNP’s success in the European election Griffin was invited to appear on the show. It caused a huge fuss, with people like Peter Hain, then a government minister, threatening to take legal action against the Corporation. Against all the pressure it resisted, and Griffin duly appeared.
What did we see, what happened? What we saw was a desperately silly little man. There he was, grinning inanely, nervous, evasive, sweating, trembling, ingratiating, hopeless in every way. I can only describe it as death by television. What a favour Hain and his kind would have done the BNP if Griffin had been prevented from appearing. Then he could have depicted himself as a martyr instead of the fool that the world was allowed to see and hear.
The party has never recovered. The breakthrough they expected in the British Parliamentary elections did not come. Instead it was humiliated. Since then it has been beset with all sorts of internal squabbles, including an alleged plot to murder Griffin.
Publicity, the public airing of Griffin on television, was not oxygen; it was cyanide. By giving a platform to racists the BBC has effectively killed them; for by their words, and their shifty appearance, shall ye know them. That is the true lesson of history.