Or is freedom of speech for everyone?
Like a lot of people I was shocked and angry, and more pertinently fearful, at the election of two British National Party candidates as MEPs during last week's European Parliament elections. I loathe and abhor everytthing about the BNP, but it is a legal political party. I've written here before (here in May 2007 and here in July 2004) denouncing the misguided prohibition on BNP members being employed in various types of employment such as the police.
Similarly, I think the actions of some opponents of the BNP in making it physically impossible for newly-elected BNP MEPs to hold a 'press conference' (aka 'publicity stunt') in London yesterday was completely misguided and quite possibly counter-productive; people receptive to the filth that the BNP promulgates are likely only to see such actions as 'proof' that they are as disriminated against as they claim. The same anti-democratic antics were apparently on display again today in Manchester from people opposed to allowing BNP MEPs to speak. Personally I believe in confronting odious views with debate and discussion - I have sufficient confidence in the strength and validity of my beliefs to be willing to argue against views I dislike, but some people obviouusly don't share this view. They think it satisfactory simply to prevent people speaking with whom they disagree. Whatever this is it is most certainly not 'democracy'.
If the government or anyone else in authority wants to make it impossible for members of odious organisations like the BNP to have a political platform then they should declare it an illegal organisation and have done with it! I do NOT advocate this as a 'solution', because it would not solve anything, merely drive 'underground' people who support BNP ideas. I don't like having to defend the right of odious people such as Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons to speak in public, but defend it I must. Democracy and freedom of speech is not just for 'nice' people, it's for everyone or it has no value - and the police should have been on hand yesterday to defend the right of legally-elected politicians to speak. But the police were curiously-absent in this video report or an event taking place in Parliament Square, which must be in one of the most heavily-policed parts of London. Why? I would hate to think it is because the Metropolitan Police and/or the Labour Government had asked the police not to intervene because it was politically expedient (as Labour had suffered most at the European Parliament elections), but I'm afraid I am forced to consider it as a possibility. Would a violent demonstration like that yesterday have been permitted for a cause with which the Labour Government had no sympathy? That's a hard question, but I'm afraid it HAS to be asked! Specially when one recalls scenes of an elderly Labour Party member who heckled in a pretty restrained manner Jack Straw (then Home Secretary) at a Labour Party conference being forcibly removed from the hall, or the lady who wished merely to recite the names of British military personnel killed in Iraq since 2003 whilst standing near the Cenotaph in London being bundled away by the police and having her DNA samples taken as well as being found guilty of breaching Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act(!), or this sad incident during another Labour Conference.
What this seems to illustrate, no let me be less mealy-mouthed about it, what it DOES illustrate is that under this present Labour Government, policing and justice depends upon whether views held are 'approved' by Labour. Those who hold views that Labour disagrees with can expect harrassment, whether direct or indirect (by permitting hooligans to shout down views the Government happens not to like).
To summarise, I may loathe and despise everything that the BNP stands for, but whilst it remains a legal organisation their right to express their views within the law must be defended.