Inviting a BNP representative to take part in Question Time will ultimately only demean the BBC's reputation
The BBC is said to be considering inviting someone from the British National party (BNP) on to Question Time – predictably a media storm has ensued. Can "No Platform with Fascists" still work? Should it still be in place? The debate has also raised some myths that typically get dragged out during these occasions. Here are some:
Myth 1: The BNP's arguments can be defeated through rational argument
This argument ignores the reason why most people vote BNP: because they're angry. The idea that they've spent time poring over policy positions of each of the parties and come to a considered decision is nonsensical.
And so the idea the BNP can be defeated via rational arguments and "exposing them" is equally deluded. As various studies on cognitive behaviour have shown, people are emotionally predisposed to the information they receive. So if they already hate the BNP, then they're likely to receive information exposing the BNP with glee. Its supporters will simply see such information as propaganda or falsehoods promoted by people with an agenda.
In fact, Nick Griffin could say whatever he wanted on Question Time, and attempts by Tory, Labour or Lib Dem MPs to expose his lies would be useless. Most BNP supporters are very unlikely to take words by any of the three parties seriously anyway. After all, when they appeal to vote anyone but the BNP it makes hardly any difference.
No one on either side will respond rationally – affiliation with extremist movements is always an emotional attachment. No amount of rational arguments will change that. The only way to affect that would be through emotional arguments.
Myth 2: Persecution will only feed the BNP's victim mentality
Yes, it will. But then, anything less than letting the BNP take over Britain and turn it into a fascist state will feed their victim mentality. The party thrives on positioning itself as the anti-establishment party which is under persecution even from the likes of the Sun (no, really!).
The BNP's core support is derived from people who think the entire nation is under the control of a vast conspiracy against the honest people of Britain. Just because it thrives off a victim mentality doesn't mean we should do anything to avoid that. After all, Islamists thrive off a victim mentality. As do terrorists. That doesn't mean we give in to their every wish, right?
Myth 3: "No Platform" doesn't work
The "No Platform" policy isn't a demand to ban the BNP. It is a democratic decision by right-thinking people not to share a platform with fascists. In fact, "No Platform" worked quite well in sidelining the BNP in mainstream conversation. It wasn't that long ago that the National Front and its affiliates were fearlessly marching through various streets in Britain and expressing support for the National Front was something to be proud of. "No Platform" changed that by actively trying to paint the BNP et al as extremist movements that right-thinking people should shun. It had huge impact.
The existence of the internet doesn't negate the need to shun the BNP – the moral point that "No Platform" agitated for still exists. The party has grown thanks to a mixture of: the Labour party abandoning grassroots politics in key areas, fears over multiculturalism, immigration, and economic collapse in many towns across England. None of them make the case for the BNP being accepted as a "normal" party. As Dr Cammaerts points out on Polis, "The liberal answer ultimately often results in granting the extreme right an open platform, thereby normalising and partly legitimising racism and racist discourses in society in the process."
Myth 4: The BNP has unprecedented popularity
We've had the biggest recession in living memory, a huge upsurge in EU immigration (driving down wages) and a decline in manufacturing over the past decade. The three main parties are held in low regard, partly thanks to the expenses scandal, and still the BNP barely increased their percentage share of the vote. The Green party did better. In fact, they had much more support in the 70s and 80s. And so I refuse to buy the view that the BNP is suddenly a huge force to be reckoned with that needs to be represented across all levels of society.
A question for the BBC
There is a deeper question here for the BBC. Is it merely an independent platform that should offer space to any sufficiently popular viewpoint or should it exercise more editorial judgment?
For example, there is a significant movement of people online who believe they aren't being told "the truth" about who was behind 9/11 and 7/7.
There are a huge amount of "birthers" in America who believe Obama was not born in the US despite the overwhelming evidence. There are the climate-change denialists, the creationists and even the Holocaust deniers. A straightforward reporting position would require that the BBC give roughly equal time to two opposing points of view in the name of impartiality, even if the evidence overwhelmingly contradicts one side.
A similar problem applies to the BBC's formats. Question Time is basically a populist shouting match where facts and figures don't have time to get checked. Someone such as Dan Hannan MEP can claim 84% of our laws are made in Europe and no one calls him out on his rubbish. Nick Griffin could similarly claim he's not racist and repeat lies that go unchallenged live on air. BNP pamphlets have repeatedly featured lies in the past. Who will have the research on hand to challenge that? His fellow QT panellists won't. And so the BBC will be used to spread lies by a party in thrall to antisemitism, racism, sexism and general conspiracy theory madness.
All this will only demean the BBC's reputation.
Many of the BNP's supporters say they're only trying to protect Britain from those who intend to destroy it. But the BBC is giving space to an organisation that itself is anti-democratic, authoritarian and averse to our liberal democratic traditions. It seeks to destroy the very basis of the nation it claims it's trying to protect. Why shouldn't it be treated with less support and respect than the other political parties?
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