Are you really sure that democracy is for you ?

Well, it’s finally time for me to follow the herd and delve into the events of Thursday 22 October 2009. The day when Question Time’s guests included Nick Griffin, MEP for the Northwest of England.

People will remember the first BNP/QT intersection for various reasons : Hysterical players of ethnic top trumps like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, keen to join in with the manufactured outrage, will remember it as the day that National Socialism stormed to power in Britain

I can’t believe or hope the forces of good in the UK can overcome the march of the jackboots. Things can only get worse. Sleepless in Pittsburgh, I struggle with the woeful possibility that my unborn grandchildren may still have to fight to be accepted in Britain.

A man was on telly, Yasmin.

Sadly, that’s only a runner up in the hyperbole stakes, Jerry Dammers, interviewed on BBC News 24 said it was

One of the saddest days since the end of World War II

No, really, he did, here he is

A man was on telly, Jerry.

Largest Natural Disasters Since WW II (Reuters)







East Pakistan (Bangladesh)




China, Tangshan




Indian Ocean














Can we think of some other things that might be a bit sadder than a man being on the telly, Jerry ?

Second airliner ploughs into the World Trade Center, September 11 2001

11 September, 2001

Result of suicide bomb, London, 7 July 2005

7 July, 2005

The UAF and associated lefty types ought to remember it it as a day that that their ‘peaceful‘ attempt to enforce their ‘no platform’ policy (by the use of violence, trespass and criminal damage) failed so epically that it will be entered in the annals of fail as the very definition of an Epic Fail.

Their purpose for the day was to prevent Griffin from getting any media attention.

Below is some video of them ensuring that instead of it’s usual 2.6 million viewers, that particular episode of Question Time achieved an audience almost as large as Eastenders.

You will note that this footage is from BBC News 24 three hours before the program was even due to start filming. So in fact they managed to ensure a constant stream of media exposure pretty much throughout the day.

Epic. Epic. Fail.

I doubt that they will remember it that way however, because of comments like this from Dianne Abbot, a woman for whom I find my respect diminishing at breakneck speed.

“Everyone is talking about Nick Griffin. The programme has given him unnecessary exposure, unnecessary credibility and giving more credibility to a fascist party in the middle of a recession is a very dangerous thing.”

Well Dianne, maybe you shouldn’t have been on News 24 and Sky every five minutes from 9 AM banging on about it ? Maybe then no one would have bothered ? The fact that this comment was made with hindsight, after watching the whole sorry episode unfold with a kind of hysterical, sweaty inevitability makes me think that rather a lot of people really didn’t learn anything at all.

Particularly as the lumpen thugs of the UAF have promised to do the same thing for every media appearance that Griffin will make, thus ensuring that it will be at the top of the news agenda every time it happens. Duh! You can’t buy publicity that good.

I, on the other hand, will remember it for different reasons. Firstly because I have never, ever, seen so many people make utter twats of themselves on TV. Secondly, I will remember the sick enjoyment lighting the eyes of the mob as they burned Griffin in effigy. The joy that these people were experiencing having found a minority that they could dehumanise and persecute without the opprobriumof their peers was a disgusting sight which will haunt me for years to come.

But, getting to the point, I will mostly remember it as the day that I realised that many British people hate and distrust both democracy and the concept of freedom of speech. And they are going to get to a point before long where they are going to have to face up to this particular problem.

To illustrate, I will cherry pick a mere two quotes. The first from Twitter about freedom of speech. While this particular quote wasn’t particularly typical of Twitter – most tweets seemed to be in favour – it is typical of the type of opinion it represents.

@Zhastein : Free speech does not give anyone the right to spread pure hatred filth although protester behavior isn’t helping #thebnparetwats #bbcqt

The major disconnect here is that, in fact, it does. Freedom of speech confers on a person the right to say whatever they damn well please, however abhorrent, insulting, offensive or hateful it may seem to those who hear it. Once you start to hedge it about with limits of what is ‘acceptable’ it is no longer free speech.

What we have here is an example of a person who honestly thinks they believe in free speech, but who deep down really believes in speech which is free up to some arbitrarily defined boundary. Personally, I don’t agree with this viewpoint at all, but if the whole BNP/QT shitstorm has demonstrated anything, it is that there are at least a very vocal minority of people who do.

On a similar theme, but throwing the wider issue of democracy into the mix, spEak You’re bRanes blogger ‘Nelson’ demonstrates a profound distrust of the democratic process while also throwing in racism, misogyny and child protection edge cases, with confuded rhetpric like this, he should probably stand as a Labour MP

Would you allow a platform to a party that wanted to bring back slavery? A party that wanted to take away the right of women to vote? A party that wanted to lower the age of consent to 14? What about 10? 5? 2? I’m hoping we’d all draw the line somewhere. My point is simply that we can’t pretend there’s some kind of universal accepted threshold, written on a stone tablet by an omniscient moral arbiter. We have to decide, as a society, what is and isn’t acceptable and draw the line at that point.

In case you’re wondering, my answers for the questions posed are as follows : Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. I would indeed allow people to have such beliefs, and if they chose to lobby for changes to the law via the democratic process, that is also fine.

Because that is what democracy is. Nelson, in common with rather a lot of the people who were so vociferous about the whole issue, clearly doesn’t trust democracy to laugh in these peoples faces and not let them have their way. I do, and I think that democracy is the way we “decide, as a society, what is and isn’t acceptable”.

The commonality of these types arguments is basically this : There are certain types of things that people should not be allowed to say and certain types of beliefs that people ought not to be able to lobby for. The state must enforce this.

I’m not going to lay into the proponents of such ideologies just now, more of that on this blog later, let us assume for the moment that they are basically decent and well meaning. The point is that by making such arguments, “freedom of speech, but not …”, “democracy, but not … ” they are implicitly arguing against democracy and freedom of speech.

What is being argued for here, is, in fact, a totalitarian state which will enforce a set of values which precisely match theirs.

This post is already far to long, so I am not going to spend time arguing about the desirability or otherwise of such an entity, or whether that is, in fact, exactly what we already have.

I will simply make the point that at some point soon, people are going to have to be honest about what they really want. If what a person wants really is a totalitarian state which will enforce a set of values which precisely match theirs, then they need to start saying so.

Binding up freedom and democracy with arbitrary limits turns them into something else entirely, and it’s time to start calling a spade a spade. I honestly believe that we can have a proper functioning democracy which can handle the full spectrum of opinions which would be allowed to surface given total freedom of speech, although there is quite a way to go before we get there. And I am very much in favour of it.

Are you sure you are ?


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