Wednesday, 21 October 2009

To debate or not to debate

In the final season of the West Wing, VP candidate Leo McGarry prepares for his televised debate. Rumours abound that Leo is going to be awful. The Republicans gleefully await their man wiping the floor with him. But as the debate begins, it's clear that Leo is about to remind everyone that he is the smartest character in the show and turn in a very impressive performance. One bemused Republican turns to another and shrugs, "well, I never said he was going to stumble onto the stage and full over the podium." (or something like that.)

Tomorrow night Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, will appear on BBC1's Question Time. Despite the protests, the arguments for allowing this are as follows.

Firstly, that the BNP must be confronted by reasonable, rational politicians in open debate, and shown up to be the white supremacists that they really are. The trouble with this, is it assumes the other panelists will win the debate. My Rabbi describes Richard Dawkins as a brilliant fool. He's not being disrespectful. What he means is, as a religious minister, he is obviously not going to agree with a militant atheist, but there is still acknowledgment for the power of Dawkins' mind and thinking. Just because you stand for the exact opposite of someone, does not make the other person an idiot.

Secondly, that banning the BNP will drive it underground and make it more attractive to the lunatic fringe. For one thing, no one is talking about banning the BNP. Banning a political party is a democratic nightmare. But there is a difference between not banning something and actively giving it a platform. And more to the point, it is not the lunatic fringe you have to worry about. They already lap this stuff up! But what you are doing is legitimising a party in the eyes of the undecided working class, middle class and upper classes. Because don't think it just appeals to the uneducated working class (whatever that means.) Sir Oswald Mosley was aristocracy - and so were many of his supporters.

Thirdly, A YouGov survey for the Sunday Times found that 63% of the public support the BBC’s invitation, compared to 23% who do not. Well that settles it then. Because the general public, who would vote for the return of the death penalty if you'd let them, are often the source of the moral compass a society should aspire too - just like in thirties Germany or Ancient Rome.

I've always tried to keep politics off this blog, but as this concerns the BBC, it seemed fair game. And I have to say the corporation continues to puzzle me. The same body that is often accused of playing safe with drama, will still seemingly take controversial decisions like this very lightly. A society suffering economic crisis, massive unemployment and a general distrust of mainstream politics, are all ripe conditions for the far right. We've been here before and we'll be here again. It often starts with blaming the Jews, and will stretch to anyone who can be labeled an immigrant - be they Asian, Muslim or Black - apparently even if, like Ashley Cole, you were born in Stepney.

I haven't decided if I'm going to watch Question Time. The controversy will probably mean the viewing figures get a bump. (Maybe this was the BBC's intention all along - although I've never quite understood BBC obsession with viewing figures - my license fee doesn't seem to go up or down accordingly.) But I just hope, that like the Republicans in the West Wing, the BBC are not scratching their heads looking at each other Thursday evening, one turning to the other and saying "well, I never said he was going to whip his shirt off and reveal an American History X style swastika tattoo."

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