On June 6th 2009, Britain celebrated the 65th anniversary of D-Day – a date which marked the start of the Allied invasion of Normandy during the Second World War. Only a day later, on June 7th, we witnessed a very sad day in British Politics. The European Election results were announced and in the North West Region and in Yorkshire and Humber, we shamefully elected two members of the British National Party to serve as Members of the European Parliament. This was desperately depressing.
However, now that Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons represent their constituents in the European Parliament, and will be doing so for the next few years, it is my view that the BBC should not block Mr Griffin’s expected appearance on Question Time this week.
Last summer, we saw protesters shouting down and hurling eggs at a BNP press conference outside Parliament. It is unacceptable for citizens of a mature democracy to treat its elected representatives like this, however unpalatable their views. We should approach the BNP just like we would any other political party, not by chucking eggs, but by throwing ideas and strong arguments. Ideas and arguments are our most powerful weapons, not missiles and loudspeakers. This protest was an immature and lazy (not to mention unlawful) way of approaching the debate.
John Stuart Mill, British political theorist and Member of Parliament in the nineteenth century, said:
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person was of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind… If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity to exchange error for truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit - the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.
In the seventeenth century, John Milton said: "Let all with something to say be free to express themselves. The true and sound will survive. The false and unsound will be vanquished."
I believe wholeheartedly in the free market of ideas. We should all have unlimited access to the thoughts of others and we should trust the British People’s ability to distinguish between right and wrong, between good and evil and between clever and stupid. Protesters shouldn’t shout down the BNP but should instead invite them to have a public debate so that we can expose the BNP for what it really is: racist, bigoted and divisive. Anything less is an affront to the voters who chose them on June 4th.
For this reason, it is my view that Nick Griffin should be allowed to sit on the BBC Question Time Panel this week and I am looking forward to seeing my Party’s Sayeeda Warsi question this man in front of the nation.
If we continue to throw eggs or to stifle TV appearances, we will bring the BNP even more publicity. Worse still, this publicity will be on its own terms. The worst thing we could do is to reinforce amongst voters and prospective voters the sense that the BNP is a victim
Last summer’s news story could have been: ‘Nick Griffin announces racist, barbaric and isolationist policies he will be pursuing for us in Europe’, whereas the headline was ‘Egg attack on BNP leader’. Thursday’s story could be: ‘Nick Griffin outlines plans for an all-white Britain’ but instead the story will focus on the dilemmas of the mainstream political parties on whether or not they should field a candidate for the debate.
Instead of hearing the BNP’s views through an impartial media outlet, accompanied by statements from right-thinking politicians and tough questions from the commentators, prospective voters will instead seek out the policies and be faced with them for the first time alongside BNP spin. We should give the BNP a platform and then bombard them with our ideas and beliefs. Publicly blockading the Party in this way creates the appearance that we are all troubled and stumped by the BNP’s arguments.
We simply must report thoroughly and maturely over the next few years on the work of all our MEPs. The worst thing we can do now is to ignore what the BNP does and says. If we do this, after five years in Office, the lack of discourse about their views may lead voters to believe that voting for the BNP was not such a serious mistake. Their existence on the political landscape will become normalised if we hide from the realities of having voted for them.
I am not concerned in the slightest about letting the BNP message pour into the ears of every man, woman and child in Britain. I trust the British People to be able to decide between good and evil so, let’s give the BNP the publicity they want and then watch them squirm in the heat of the public spotlight. I’m looking forward to seeing public opinion mobilise against Mr Griffin when he talks of ‘Indigenous Caucasians’
We now have an exciting opportunity over the next few years. We must work hard to expose the truths about this Party, and about its members and supporters, so that we destroy its hopes of winning a seat in Britain again. We have five years in which to eradicate the BNP's chances forever. They must not be wasted.
Patrick Mercer OBE MP is Member of Parliament for Newark and Retford and Chairman of the House of Commons Counter-Terrorism Sub-Committee