No Platform is based on the principle that some views are so extreme, so abhorrent, so divisive, so much based on hate and bigotry, that no platform should be provided for the espousal of them.
No Platform worked.
It ensured that odious organisations such as the BNP could never claim legitimacy or parity for their bigoted beliefs and were never provided with an audience in which to disseminate them. Their failure to obtain television air time or to have their policies reported uncritically in the wider media has caused them an inestimable degree of harm and is a major (perhaps the major) factor in ensuring that organisationally their progress and growth has been at best snail’s pace, and that electorally they are largely moribund.
The No Platform stance of the media unions means that we do not wake up to find a Griffin or a Darby on the breakfast TV sofas, smarming and spinning at full bore for having been invited to comment upon the latest breaking immigration story and matters arising. It keeps them off the Question Time panel and out of the news studios.
No Platform also ensured that the bacillus of fascism and its related -isms were never allowed to infect our places of learning, namely the universities - prime targets for organisations suffering from a cruel intellectual deficit, and thus necessarily overburdened at all levels by charmless low-calibre human material which thinks in simple slogans and believes the bigoted tirade to have a moral and political equivalence with the policies of the mainstream parties.
We anti-fascists daily come upon the illiterate scratchings with which BNP members disfigure various parts of the Internet. To see them in action is to take away any surprise at all that modern-day snake-oil salesmen like Griffin, Barnes, Darby, et al, have risen to the top of the BNP. It could never really be otherwise.
And that’s how we would like to keep it - the decidedly dodgy leading the irredeemably inept, dancing them around and around the houses in continuous procession that always returns to its starting point - thus sustaining a moral-boosting illusion of movement and progress when there is none at all.
Readers of these pages are well aware of the surfeit of problems besetting the British National Party - internal dissent, purges and expulsions, stolen “trade unions”, missing accounts, electoral stagnation … which taken together all adds up to a highly satisfying six months for anti-fascists, particularly as we feared (and the racists expected) that at this point in time we would be dealing with an organisationally larger, slicker and electorally better represented BNP.
Given this, we are entitled at ask: who in their right minds would choose this very time to provide the British National Party with invaluable national publicity, to allow them to spuriously present themselves simultaneously as champions of free speech and “victims” of “left-wing” censorship, and to provide them with a platform on which to do it?
As we are all aware, this week the Oxford Union Debating Society drove a coach and horses through No Platform by inviting the BNP’s Nick Griffin and jailbird “revisionist” author David Irving to address them on the subject of “free speech”.
The president of OUDS is Luke Tryl, a prominent member of Conservative Future, the Tory Party’s youth organisation. He justified the invitations on the grounds that “these people are not being given a platform to extol their views, but are coming to talk about the limits of free speech”.
From the beginning Tryl must have been alive to the fact that not only would the appearance of Griffin and Irving provoke widespread condemnation and protest, but that he was handing the BNP a priceless propaganda coup which it was certain to exploit and abuse - as it has - to its own benefit.
In fact Tryl had ample warnings, not least from OUDS members, that the only winners in this self-inflicted debacle were going to be the BNP and David Irving.
Yet he persisted, doggedly, to the point where serious questions concerning Tryl’s own motives are being asked.
Did he sacrifice No Platform purely to raise his own profile, with a calculating eye fixed on his own future political career? Or is he really so naive as to believe that “free speech” is an absolute, and that some of the most poisonous characters on the extreme fringe of British politics should be given platforms from which to espouse their creed of hate because Luke Tryl and his idealistic young friends have the arrogance of mind to believe that they are capable of “exposing” and “refuting” their arguments?
Young Mr Tryl might care to recall that both Griffin and Irving are veterans of the legal system, and have crossed swords with some of the best legal minds available. In Griffin’s case a lengthy trial failed to “refute” him, while in Irving’s the sharpest barristers took weeks to nail the man down.
What hope do Mr Tryl and those of like mind believe they have in “exposing” and “refuting” their arguments - assuming, of course, that people of Mr Tryl’s apparent high calibre are on hand to do the refuting?
No Platform having been breached for no particularly convincing reason by OUDS, students at the University of East Anglia have leapt in to widen the crack, claiming that free debate is the only way to tackle extremism.
We might be forgiven for asking the simple question - on what basis is this dogmatic pronouncement made, when every scrap of available evidence and our own long experience tells us that No Platform has achieved that end admirably?
The UEA’s student union displays the same breathtaking arrogance spiced with naiveté (we assume it to be naiveté) as that falling from the lips of Mr Tryl. According to them:
If fascist groups were to come to campus to debate, our representatives should be inside the room arguing with them and proving them wrong, not just protesting pointlessly outside
thus missing the point that any invitation extended to fascist groups to debate is in itself an admission that political hate organisations are qualitatively no different to other political organisations; and again making the arrogant assumption that, when faced with some of the wiliest veteran speakers of the extreme right, it is a given that the fresh-faced students will prove them wrong.
The UEA students further say:
If we ban these groups, we give them the moral high ground - they can claim they are unfairly treated and accuse those who do believe in democracy of being hypocrites
Hasn’t that been exactly the position for the last three decades? Has it harmed anybody other than the fascists themselves, as was the whole intention?
Then we have:
[Perceived objection to new policy] ‘Fascist/racist groups will attack people [on campus], especially ethnic minorities, LGBT students and other discriminated against groups.’
This may be true. However, if it is, this is a matter for the police as it would be a criminal offence. You cannot assume people are guilty, however unpleasant they are, before they act.
So that’s all fine and dandy then. What this seems to be saying is that those lovers of free speech who feel themselves impelled to invite hate groups onto campus will take no responsibility for the actions of their esteemed guests, which must be dealt with by the police - presumably after people have been hurt, since “you cannot assume people are guilty … before they act”.
It’s a risk the “ethnic minorities, LGBT students and other discriminated against groups” will just have to take, apparently for the sake of somebody else’s “free speech”.
No Platform has hurt organisations like the BNP as nothing else could. They know it and we know it.
They know that the needless (and perhaps self-serving) actions of Luke Tryl and the OUDS represent an important first strike against No Platform, and could be a major step along the road that eventually will lead the BNP into the sun-lighted uplands of craved-for respectability.
Already the BNP are crowing that No Platform is broken, and that the remaining dominos will fall. In their fevered collective imagination the likes of Griffin and Darby are about to park their ample backsides on the breakfast TV sofas and to take their places as equals amongst the great and good on Question Time.
We must break the spell.
The breach is not yet so wide as to be beyond repair, and we understand that moves are afoot within the relevant organisations to restore the status quo.
No Platform must then be applied with renewed vigour.
It is a point of honour amongst liberals to claim that though they may disagree with another person’s point of view, they will fight to the death for the other’s right to say it. While the danger of death is remote, this well-known slogan is empty cant.
Allow me to rephrase it:
Though I may disagree with another person’s point of view, I will do all in my power to preserve the other’s right to say it - unless that other’s point of view is founded upon hate and bigotry, in which case I will do all in my power to suppress it.