It may have passed you by – or like most sane individuals you’ve decided to spend more constructive time contemplating how paint dries on different surfaces – but this May the good burghers of London are choosing their next Mayor.
One aspect of the contest which has turned the event into a Grade A Disaster is the attraction of all the candidates towards farce. There’s an argument in a lift or a Lord mouthing off on Twitter or the like, and all in the glare of camera lenses and very few actual voters.
That British National Party nominee, Carlos Cortiglia, represents a party that has been in long-term decline. In the aftermath of Nick Griffin’s disastrous appearance on BBC Question Time, the party has seen a collapse in its membership numbers and willing candidates to stand in elections. At the 2010 General Election, Griffin himself finished third in the Barking constituency, with no other candidate coming even close to matching that result. As a consequence of the perceived lack of direction within the BNP, this year’s festival of democracy across the UK, incorporating local elections in Scotland, Wales, hundreds of councils in England and inaugural mayoral elections in Liverpool and Salford, the total number of candidates standing under that party’s label is reportedly down by 80%.
That doesn’t mean the fight against the far-right has been defeated. A clump of micro-parties and grouplets have sprung up across England and Scotland as a result of the BNP’s terminal decline. From Britannia in Glasgow to the British Freedom Party in Liverpool, there are still fights to be had against the ignorance and idiocy of racial prejudice. The BNP are bust, their message is not. Such groups as the English Defence League and their touring circus of tracksuited clowns through the provincial high streets of the country, continues to attract support amongst the on-line hoards of anti-everything types.
Granting these micro-parties credibility is a stretch of anybody’s character. The BNP has not been defeated solely by protesters and campaigners: they’ve done it to themselves, too, infighting over scraps and breadcrumbs amongst themselves like so many children left alone to their own devices. Griffin was not brought down solely by Unite Against Fascism or Hope Not Hate; the slow puncture of his career has been that way out for years.
This week we got the latest twist in the London Mayoral election – an orchestrated no-platform exercise led by the struggling Ken Livingstone. As the tweets below indicate, there has been almost universal support of the no-platform decision:
I am not so full of congratulation and praise. There is something about “no-platform” which irks and annoys. Not that I’d agree with the BNP about anything usually – I’d argue against Griffin that grass is green and water is wet if I had to – it’s just the first word that comes to mind is the same one they’ve used; ‘childish’. Are we really still convinced that the BNP is such a credible threat that we have to empty chair them at every possibility? Does this not allow the remaining rump of that party to claim ‘victimhood’ and campaign on that basis?
The words “democracy” and “freedom of speech” are not merely scrawled terms on flashcards, they are precious concepts we need to fight for and cherish. Nothing good comes from making the case for a ‘better’ or ‘more valuable’ democracy on either side of the political spectrum. Jeremy Corbyn congratulates Ken Livingstone for refusing to share a platform with the BNP as though it is a triumph for democracy: if we discount the fact that this suggests the BNP have much credibility left in the first place, it still comes across as though Corbyn and Livingstone are proud of treating their idea of democracy as being purer than any other.
“We are more democratic than you,” is not a debating point, it’s masturbation.
There’s something about the way in which the BNP is treated that suggests people have not realised that the party has little selling power left. There are other threats on the far-right which are in danger of being allowed to flourish: the EDL marches and rise of the numerous grouplets show that there’s still battles to be fought across the country. All the BNP’s remaining living members can do now is point at the other candidates and ask “Who are those who threaten democracy if we are the only ones willing to have a debate?”
As the current Coalition is proving, having any kind of relationship with political rivals is difficult. There will always be awkward compromises and falling out. The “no platform” attitude amongst the Mayoral candidates shows that there remains an attitude against this political reality, one which takes the debate to rivals rather than hiding away through a misunderstood form of ‘pride’. The democratic thing to do – indeed, the mature thing to have done – is to have allowed Carlos Cortiglia to hang himself by his own words. We all know that the BNP and the micro-parties which its destruction has created have about as much credibility as Mark Lawrenson’s Premier League predictions every week, so why risk handing them publicity by having a strop in the name of ‘democracy’?
Londoners have a choice of seven candidates, all of whom can appear on television, radio or through leaflets at any given hour of the day. There is no greater or lesser chance of Cortiglia making his message heard by ‘no platforming’ a single debate. If the other candidates believe in their own policies for the next four years, they should be willing to take that debate to the airwaves regardless of who they might be close to in a studio or near to in a lift (even if that threatens to get Boris and Ken in a tizz again).
Let’s not celebrate an unwillingness to debate with political enemies as a success for democracy. In the wider context, it makes those who stay on the stage appear more credible than those running for the door.