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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Funding the election

The other article in the Wales on Sunday that caught my eye this morning was one about the BNP picking up hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money to contest this year's Welsh Assembly elections.

The paper makes the assumption that the BNP will be able to find a full slate of 60 candidates for these elections, thus entitling it to a party political broadcast worth £75,000 in equivalent advertising costs and freepost leaflets to all 1.2 million households in Wales. The cost of second class postage on these would be £335,000. Against this would be balanced £22,500 in lost deposits as the party discovers the depth of its unpopularity across Wales.

All of this makes for good headlines but the chance of it happening are pretty slim. At the last Assembly elections the BNP managed to find one candidate. It did not do much better in the 2005 General Election. As a party they are very adept at talking themselves up and in this they are assisted by other politicians, who are keen to stamp their anti-racist credentials on the minds of the electorate, however, when it comes to the BNP delivering the candidates that they have promised, they always fall well short.

In the article Plaid Cymru's Dai Lloyd states that he is 'sickened' that 'so much public money is going to help [the BNP] peddle their racist, prejudiced claptrap. They are an absolutely abhorrent organisation and I don't want any part of my taxes going to fund them." He continues: "But we are where we are - they're not illegal, unfortunately, and they're allowed to stand in elections."

In the judgement of the BNP as an organisation I stand side-by-side with Dai in condemning them, however we live in a democracy and that means that we have to tolerate the fact that views can be expressed that we find objectionable and that people should be allowed to stand for election, even though their policies are contrary to the basic tenets of our democratic state.

In these circumstances we cannot apply rules differently to some parties, nor should we be seeking to outlaw views that we find to be illiberal and offensive. We have to win the argument, not employ the BNP's own tactics of exclusion and oppression against them. Once you do that then you set a precedent for them to do it to us.

The paper also quotes the regional organiser for Unison who says that his organisation will support postal and broadcasting workers who refuse to distribute or be involved in the production of the BNP's "electoral poison". Again, I have every sympathy with this view, but those who take it need to think through the consequences. If it is acceptable for workers to block the legal dissemination of propaganda for one political party, is it then right that they should do the same to other more mainstream parties? Would Unison support a member of a far left organisation who refused on grounds of conscience to do his or her job of delivering leaflets for the Tories for example? I think not. But once the precedent has been set then it is a very slippery slope.

My view is that if the BNP are able to find candidates then we must oppose them with every ounce of strength that we have. We must expose their racist nature, their distortions of the truth and their hateful, vile and prejudiced policies. But we must do that by winning the argument and by demonstrating their irrelevance. We must not do their job for them by allowing them to portray themselves as political martyrs.
I'm with you on this. The last thing we should do is give the BNP the opportunity to play the 'victim card'
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