Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Stop pretending it's about 'debate'

Just to be clear: there is no prospect, whatsoever, of a 'debate' of any meaningful kind taking place if Nick Griffin is allowed to be a guest on Question Time. That show is not about debate. It consists of soundbite answers to soundbite questions. Serious matters are discussed, but not in a serious way. In such a context, all that is likely to happen is that the fascist leader will take the opportunity to issue his usual string of coded racist provocations and lies, and hope for enough of them to stick. His opponents may be able to refute some of his claims, but a more likely prospect is that they will begin by pandering: they will say that there are 'legitimate grievances' behind the BNP's support, in an attempt to occupy their racist territory. This is just what New Labour and Tory politicians have done, to disastrous effect, for years. That will have the result that it always does - the BNP will say "even the mainstream parties say we are right, but we are the only ones doing anything about it". Repeat and underline, this will not be a debate but a public relations exercise.

There is also no prospect of such a programme resulting in the BNP's being 'exposed'. It is said that since most BNP members can't put together a coherent argument, they will easily be shown up and ridiculed. But they do not need coherent arguments. Most guests on Question Time do not have coherent arguments. It is a programme, like Have I Got News For You, or Mock the Week, in which the key is to have a good line at the right time. It is carefully choreographed and practised. What the BNP need, therefore, is carefully phrased incitements, presented in a plausible manner. The fascists have demonstrated on the streets and in previous media appearances that they are capable of this much. Even if they were as dumb as an American Idol contestant, there would still be no chance of their being 'exposed'. The important things that would require exposure - the matter of the BNP's record, its ideological lineage, the violence and criminality of its members, etc. - are points that require time, patience and evidence to explain. None of those assets are available on a panel quiz show. The only context in which a debate could really 'expose' anything about the BNP would be in court. There, they could have all the time they wanted to explain their views, but they'd also have to justify their claims, and all the evidence would have to be examined. So, if you are one of those people who thinks the BNP must have lavish 'free speech', and yet must also be meaingfully 'exposed', your objective position is clear: what you should really be demanding is show trials.