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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The cost of democracy

Today's Times reports that Hammersmith and Fulham Council have written to Mark Thompson, the BBC Director-General asking him to move Question Time from Television Centre, in White City, West London, over fears that thousands of protesters will picket the building because of the appearance of BNP Leader, Nick Griffin.

The programme takes place on Thursday 22 October and will feature Baroness Warsi, the Tory spokeswoman for community cohesion and social action, Bonnie Greer, the black writer and broadcaster, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, and Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman.

The paper says that Unite Against Fascism, which regularly demonstrates against the BNP, has said that it will try to blockade Television Centre to prevent Mr Griffin gaining access next Thursday.

Demonstrators also plan to hand out leaflets to BBC workers as they arrive at the building in the morning, urging them to stop work for the day in protest.

The Metropolitan Police expects up to 1,000 protesters to descend on the area and is considering using the controversial “containment” tactic that was deployed against G20 activists earlier this year to hem in the crowds. The cost of policing the event could run to tens of thousands of pounds. Lyn Carpenter, director of residents’ services at Hammersmith and Fulham Council, wrote: “A major demonstration, prompted by your programme, represents a significant threat to public safety and, inevitably, it will be our residents whose lives are most adversely affected. The council does not feel that the TV Centre on Wood Lane is an appropriate venue, given the circumstances.

Frankly, the facilitation of peaceful protest is what our democracy is all about. But also, in no way should those protests be allowed to stop this programme going ahead. This is a test of the maturity of our democracy. There are some very strong views on both sides but in no way should a legitimate debate be prevented from taking place. Equally, we should not shy away from alllowing opponents to express their views in a non-violent way.

It is a test for the Police too. They need to show that they can police demonstrations like this without infringing the rights of the protestors. I just hope that all parties can deliver on the night and in particular that the debate itself shows up the BNP for the nasty racists that they are.
Thats democracy.
The BBC has to deliver, on behalf of democracy, a debate; and it is democracy that will be on trial not the BNP. Who will the activists try to prevent next, obnoxious is not a democratic criteria.

As Mahatma Gandhi said ...

"to believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest". We have to live our democracy each and every day or it will be lost.
I am caught between priciple and pragmatism on this one. I appaud the folk who want to protest the BNP and their's sia pragmatic approch of direct confrontation with the BNP and then there is high principled democracy - which says that the views of the BNP should not be suppressed. However, it does bring to mind a comment from a cynical friend of mine, many years ago - he said: 'The bad guys always win in the end because they use every weapon in your armoury and then they deploy those you would not use - this gives them a total long term advantage.' Whether you agree with this or not, it is a point of view we must be aware of.
Agreed, there are two rights being put to the test here:

1) That Nick Griffin has the right to free speech*

Abhorrent racist that he is, Nick Griffin is now (regrettably) an – elected – racist.
For the sake of upholding a fundamental principle of democracy, he must be given an opportunity to make his argument since denying him this would serve only to undermine the right to free speech for all.

The right to free speech, like all rights, has limits. If he incites racial hatred he ought to feel the full force of the law in the form of a criminal prosecution – the law that giveth, taketh away.

I hope for the BBC's sake they've learnt lessons from recent scandals enough to ensure that editorial guidelines are sufficiently clear so as to avoid yet another embarrassment – they're walking on thin ice and they'd better be on their best behaviour too.

2) The right to protest.
In this case, its right to protest and protesting is a right. I desperately hope that the police are more sensible on this occasion than in the last. I imagine the scene will be covered by enough cameras (media and personal) to ensure that any police attending to the crowds will for once be on their best behaviour too.

Bottom line – lots of common sense called for here, often lacking in the recent past, but the show must go on.

On a positive note: I hope and suspect that the smug Nick Griffin will outrage enough 'sensible' people in Britain to ensure that his election is relegated to the history books as a one-off mistake not to be repeated. Either that or he'll water down (I doubt it) what he's got to say such that the wider-racist-population who prop him up will be disappointed.

*NB: thankfully, we don't have to listen or agree…
yeah, that's right they are nasty pieces of work the BNP with hardly any worhwhile policies but the media must give them a hearing so voters who only show any interest in politics every 4 years can get the general idea, rather than being persuaded by spindoctored literature
Racism is basically, Xenophobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia or any other phobia invoving a miniorty grouping.

Where is this leant in the first place, in the home, the silly box in the corner, or in Society?
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