By the time you read this, you’ll probably know whether the protesters outside (and now inside) the BBC succeeded in their aim of preventing BNP leader Nick Griffin from appearing on Question Time. As I write I’m watching what looks like a full-scale riot happening outside Television Centre, although it’s hard to see whether it’s at all violent or whether there’s just a lot of people in a smallish space.
Now, I’m theoretically all for throwing eggs at neo-nazis, but the more I’ve thought about this, the less I’m convinced that the protesters have a good point to make. I wish heartily that we hadn’t elected two BNP MEPs at the last European elections, but given that we did, I don’t think there’s any case to be made for denying them the same platform that we accord to other political parties.
I may personally despise the BNP and everything they stand for. I may hope that you and many millions of other people feel the same way. But I don’t get to decide who gets to have their voice heard based on whether or not I like what they have to say. The only reasonable, equitable way of dealing with opinions we don’t agree with is to have the debate out in the open and to win the argument. If we try to silence the voices of those whom we think are in the wrong, we add to their appeal by making them into martyrs, as well as taking a dangerous step towards the kind of segregation that we profess to despise in them.
If Nick Griffin speaks on Question Time tonight, I have no doubt that he’ll sound foolish and ignorant, because that’s what he is*. I’d like us as a society to be brave enough to trust the viewers (who are also us as a society) to make a choice based on what they hear and see, not on what we decide should be kept hidden from them.
That said, if I saw him and I had an egg, I might still throw it.
* Cheeringly, he knows this too. An email sent out to supporters earlier today apologises in advance for his poor performance.