Just like the Pirate Party winning a seat in the Swedish elections, the pelting with eggs which Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, suffered today must have caused a secret guilty smile for many of us. Of course we don’t agree with restricting the right of anyone to free speech, any more than we agree with copyright piracy. Of course we don’t agree with violent attacks on people, whether with eggs or something harder. And, of course we don’t agree with restricting the right of access of an MEP to the press.
But a lot of people were secretly very pleased.
Should we be? Should they have egged the BNP?
Although it feels terribly emotionally satisfying to have the leader of Britain’s most odious party subjected to public humiliation, what we have actually done is play into their hands. Griffin will go back to his supporters and tell them how we (the public in general) denied him his rights. What happened will exactly confirm everything he is telling people. The BNP want martyrs, and they will do whatever they can to be seen to be unjustly persecuted.
Hitler used similar techniques. The criminal actions of his followers were not done in secret in order to shift blame elsewhere. Rather, he used opposition to his advantage.
We must give Griffin no such advantages.
Would any newspaper have given sympathetic coverage to Griffin’s press conference? Not remotely. Was it then necessary to prevent it from going ahead? No.
For better or for worse, we, the nation, have elected two extreme-right wing racist MEPs. I say we, because everyone who did not vote is complicit in their success, and everyone who has contributed to the disrepute under which mainstream politics now stands — be they journalist, politician, or pub pundit — has contributed to the voter apathy which allowed the BNP in.
We have given the BNP a platform, and we cannot legitimately take it away from them.
But we do not need to. The easiest way of destroying the BNP’s credibility among those it is trying to woo is to let its leaders speak out. Their racist diatribe is not just offensive, it is also nonsense. Put Griffin on the spot a few times, and he will discover that the sharp tools of journalism are far too penetrating for his limited defences.
There is a poetic justice in allowing the BNP to discredit itself. And it will, it we do not play into its hands. If we prevent them from speaking, it will give the impression they have something to say that is so potent we do not dare allow it. By permitting them to speak — which we must, if we are not to abandon the very democratic principles on which we stand — we give them exactly the rope they need to hang themselves.
And we should.