The limits of No Platform


I haven’t run this past the other comrades of the Paintbrush Collective yet, and I’m not entirely sure whether they would agree. So, to be clear, this is very much a personal view, so if you’re going to send us any excrement in the post, please make sure it’s clearly addressed to me.

First things first: I am a No Platformer. In my student days I vigorously defended our Student Union’s No Platform policy (and fought to strengthen it); was in favour of the NUS having a No Platform policy; and I helped organize large-scale opposition to Nick Griffin and David Irving’s visit to the Oxford Union Society in November 2007 (in fact, I resigned my Union membership in protest – which is £150 that I’ll never see again). I don’t repudiate any of that.

No Platform is not an aberration of free speech: the right to freedom of speech is one guaranteed by the State, and protects against state persecution on the basis of what you say. Free speech doesn’t mean that a private body – like a debating society, or a student union, or a trade union – has an obligation to allow its resources and prominence to be used by anyone.

In fact, they have a perfect right to deny these things to people whom they believe to lie outside of the best interests of their organization. To say otherwise is to hold a position that would oblige an organization to have a member of the Flat Earth Society present for any discussion of geography, so that they could point out the dangers of falling off the edge of the Earth.

Also, I believe that No Platform works. It’s not a cure-all for the Fascism problem, but it’s an important weapon in the fight. It contributes to the public perception of Fascists and Racists and being indecent, uncivillized, and at odds with the broadly liberal democratic values on which society and the political system rest – in short, very starkly outside of the political mainstream.

No Platform has also, I believe, protected a large number of people from danger and harassment. In addition to political reasons, I believed that the Oxford Student Union needed a No Platform policy so that its ethnic minority, gay, and disabled members could enjoy their student experience without the very definite risk to their personal wellbeing and security posed by BNP and other Fascist activism.

But on the issue of Nick Griffin’s likely invitation to appear on Question Time, I am a little more equivocal.

Obviously, I would prefer that he was never on the airwaves; but I would also prefer that he were not an MEP, and infortunately, he is.

I have to grudingly accept that the BBC’s policy – in line with OFCOM’s rules about political impartiality – are fair; there’s no other way for any British broadcaster to balance political parties other than according to their level of electoral success, especially if it’s a public service broadcaster like the BBC.

I would still fight for the right – and moral imperative – of a private organization to No Platform the BNP; I would encourage, for example, voluntary organizations who hold election hustings meetings to No Platform BNP election candidates, and if I were a Labour candidate I would refuse to share such a platform with a BNP member if we were both invited.

The point is, though, that broadcasting is different. It has to be.

So if we’re going to have a genuinely impartial broadcast media, we have to grit our teeth when that means the BNP leader gets to go on Question Time. That’s not the BBC’s fault – the uncomfortable truth is that it’s down to the number of people who voted for him, and the ultimate failure of the anti-Fascist movement to persuade them not to.

And if Griffin does go on Question Time, he’ll be able to spout his prejudice, but also his lies and innuendo with which he dresses his raw, naked racial hatred. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse that Nick Griffin going on Question Time is him being able to do this unchallenged.

I don’t generally buy the “defeat them in debate” argument, since hatred is not an argument, and therefore cannot be defeated by reasoned inquiry and opposition.

But this is an argument for not holding a debate. But once one is going to happen anyway, damage limitation is required – this means that someone is at least needed to point out the untruths and the window dressing and expose the fact that underpinning it all is pure, unadorned racism.

To this end, as a good No Platformer, I think that Labour should find someone who will be able to hold their nose and share a studio with Griffin – or at least reach some arrangement with the BBC whereby we are able to rebut his points directly (perhaps by having back-to-back programmes).

Labour Party members should support this view – if only because, from where we are now, the alternative is even worse.


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5 Responses to “The limits of No Platform”

  1. Dave Semple Says:

    Did you read this?

  2. voteredgogreen Says:

    I didn’t, but I have now.

  3. Dave Semple Says:

    What do you make of the arguments contained therein?

  4. Michael Says:

    An update which is relevant to this story:

    Hmm, in my opinion Straw is a tad quiet and polite to be the man to demolish Griffin, perhaps should have a Tony Benn-like intellectual-attack-dog character to thump him instead!

  5. captainjako Says:

    I can think of worse Labour figures than Straw to take on Griffin.

    But, yes, there is a big risk that if Straw shares a platform with Griffin and doesn’t perform well then the BNP will seem more politically legitimised.

    I hope Straw’s doing some serious homework.

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