Saturday, 13 March 2010

Total Politics and No Platform

There's been a storm brewing in leftyblogland this week, a storm the comrades at Though Cowards Flinch are responsible for seeding. In a series of posts Dave and Paul take Iain Dale to task over his intention to run an interview with BNP fuhrer Nick Griffin in Total Politics magazine. They argue this will contribute toward "mainstreaming" and normalising the BNP as part of Britain's political life, and announce that if the interview appears TCF will boycott this year's Top 100 political blogs contest. They have been soliciting report from other bloggers, and HarpyMarx, Bad Conscience, Stephen Newton and The Provisional BBC have pledged to back the boycott. I imagine quite a few others will be signing up too.

However, I won't be one of them.

The only context I support a blanket no platform is inside the labour movement. Trade unions and student organisations are absolutely right to deny fascists openings for their politics within their structures, up to and including the outright expulsion of far right activists. The BNP is the modern day antithesis to everything our movement values and, in the unlikely event of a fascist government here in Britain, it will be us who gets carted off to the camps first.

But outside of the labour movement, no platform is a tactical question. The need to oppose and confront the BNP must be weighed against giving them the oxygen of publicity, while avoiding the twin pitfalls of portraying the left as running scared of the BNP's arguments and making the fascists look like free speech martyrs.

Unfortunately the BNP do have a platform afforded them by voters in 56 local council elections, the London Assembly elections and last year's European elections. Anti-fascism needs to be informed by containing this level of representation and throwing it into reverse, and that requires we tackle the BNP at the level of ideas, exposing the crap they spout and holding up to the cold light of day their less than stellar records as elected representatives.

Returning to
Total Politics, I doubt Iain Dale will put Griffin through the wringer - but who knows? I imagine he won't want to be seen giving fat Hitler an easy ride either. Whatever the case, I don't see an interview in the seldom-read TP adding much to the BNP's mainstream profile - constant appearances on BBC and C4 News have done little to make the BNP any more acceptable as far as the overwhelming majority of people are concerned.

One more minor point about the boycott. By advocating action against
TP, the TCF comrades have ensured Iain's interview will receive wider circulation than would otherwise be the case. Inadvertently, calling for no platform in this case means Griffin gets a broader platform.

NB On a slightly related note, Hanley YMCA organised a 200-strong youth hustings in Stoke Central on Thursday night. The panel included all three mainstream parties (MP for Stoke South Rob Flello stood in for Mark Fisher), Matt Wright of TUSC and Stoke SP, and Staffs Uni politics prof Mick Temple. Simon Darby of the BNP was also invited and had apparently confirmed but never turned up! Turning his nose up at a platform like this is far more damaging to the standing of the BNP in Stoke than being prevented from taking the stage. They had a chance to debate their opponents and they bottled it. Interested folk will find a report


Paul said...


Thanks for this engagement on this issue.

In fact I don't think we're far apart, though clearly we take a different view on this specific issue.

I think your absolutely right that the major no platform action should be through worker solidarity, and I've written elsewhere, for example that the best/ideal course of action in relation to the BBC/Griffin appearing is for cameramen/soundmen etc acting on union mandate to simply refuse to implement interviews/appearances. Legal/state recourse to banning is counterproductive.

What the intention with the proposed TP boycott was to create some sense of left blogger solidarity along the lines of a nascent union. It waits to be seen how effective that might be, though it does look as though there are some bloggers on the left who - how shall I say kindly? - value the TP blog competition more than they value the debate about whether this type of 'no platform' call is valid in itself.

I don't count you in the group, as you've taken a valid tactical view.

I'm not sure that I agree that we're smiply inadvertantly fuelling the BNP publicity machine by calling for the boycott, not least as you could say that about any no platform action, some of which you agree with.

I think it's perfectly valid to challenge what IS a growing 'normalisation' of Griffin as an ok-person to interview (cf John Harris this am) and thereby to keep on talking tactics in the light of real experience of those tactics.

I'm not blind. I can see that our call is unlikely to be as well responded to as I'd hoped, but that is because the arguments about what freedom of speech/action really is, and how that differs from the currently dominant conception of the right, have not yet been sufficiently had - which of course is why I'm happy you've engaged here.

Incidentally, on the gorwing normalisation of Griffin, I noted that the BBC interviewer on radio 5 yesterday called him 'Nick' two or three times, as though he was some kind of slighyly zany political figure to be mildly patronised but still given plenty of friendly airtime of the type that Gordon Brown et al. would love to have.

Luna17 said...

I think the comrades at TCF are correct. There's no justification for Iain Dale, or anyone else, publishing an interview with Griffin. It is a highly irresponsible example of sensationalist attention-grabbing, a cynical attempt to attract people.

More generally, I support No Platform across the board. Yes it's a tactic not an absolute principle, but it is one we should be applying to the media and the blogosphere. This is for roughly the reasons already outlined by TCF.

Dave Semple said...

I'm also of the view that NP is a tactical measure outside the labour movement - but in this case, I doubt very much if the storm (in a teacup) will get Griffin any attention outside the hardened politicos who write blogs.

What I do notice, Phil, is that you repeat the same thing others have said about how to defeat the BNP, we have to engage with their views. I agree - but you haven't explained why this means I have to support an interview with Nick Griffin.

We know clearly and beyond doubt the results of the BNP winning elections. We know the records of their councillors. We know their policies and attitudes which are put about all over the place. We can combat these things without needing to have a BNP member to stand on the platform beside us.

Certainly the rather staid format of an interview, rather than a public meeting, hardly leaves room for the presentation of these clear facts beside whatever tripe Griffin has managed to come up with.

Matt Wardman said...

Generally, I agree, though I think that there needs to be a good deal of reflection on what "Labour movement" means now.

Is it realistic to "no platform" someone when his own party members may be involved in the movement where he is being prevented from speaking.

The even more pointed one is what does it mean for democracy when - for example - a minority of members of Unite support the single political party to which their union is affiliated
(September 2008, iirc, and Charlie Whelan will confirm). Yet they maintain that they represent all their members.

That applies even more sharply to the NUS, where membership is - unless things have changed - compulsory.

P said...

There are good arguments on both sides of this question, and the comments on this post are particularly telling.

I'd suggest that on this question, whatever the majority of Left bloggers decide should be abided by by all.

I'm happy to boycott TP100, but I suspect that this will not bother Iain very much.

Jim Jepps said...

I think you're right Phil.

I don't believe Iain was right to conduct and publish this interview but I've never before heard that it is a principle to no platform or boycott people who don't believe in no platform - I think the idea has always been to try to persuade them, something this boycott is not going to do.

Almost every news outlet I use has interviewed Griffin and other BNP members but this is the first time I've been asked to boycott any of them.

I don't boycott Question Time, Channel Four News, the BBC or the Guardian and have no intention of doing so, despite the fact that I've always thought their interviews with fascists have been the wrong decision. Nor will I boycott Total Politics just because it is run by a Tory and smaller than the BBC so might be 'hurt' by the boycott.

I think blog wars of this kind, which spring up now and then, have nothing to do with real politics. I love Liberal Conspiracy, for example, but its personalised attacks on Iain Dale come across as puerile and tribal, something that I have no interest in.

Darrell said...


I cant; for the life of me, see the distinction between inside and outside the labour movement. How., does it make sense to allow a Conservative who programmatically is looking to smash union power full platform and the BNP none?

I am sorry but as you probably know I dont support no platform in any context and havent done for a long time.

JuliaM said...

How do you square: "...constant appearances on BBC and C4 News have done little to make the BNP any more acceptable as far as the overwhelming majority of people are concerned."

with:"Unfortunately the BNP do have a platform afforded them by voters in 56 local council elections, the London Assembly elections and last year's European elections."..?

Phil said...

Dave - what Jim said. Disagreeing with Iain's decision to interview Griffin isn't the same as saying we must support it. I don't care what appears in his magazine - I don't read TP.

I do support greater cohesiveness among left bloggers, but I don't think a boycott of TP is the right issue. Things where there is substantial agreement (for instance, around strikes and protest activities) is better for getting online lefties to act as one rather than questions where there are substantial differences of opinion.

Phil said...

Darrell, you'll be hard pushed to find a Tory with that kind of opinion in any sort of labour movement position (that itsn't to say there aren't Tory trade unionists - there is, but I'd imagine they'd have a slightly more favourable opinion of trade unions than the Colonel Blimps and Dan Hannans of this world).

Phil said...

Julia, the BNP consistently poll 2% or less in opinion polls. Their 56 councillors are from a pool of 20,000 plus. Yes, that's 56 too many put hardly evidence of large scale support. The BNP have a media profile an order of magnitude above their actual support.

Anonymous said...

From today's "Observer"
"An officer from a secretive unit of the Metropolitan police has given a chilling account of how he spent years working undercover among anti-racist groups in Britain, during which he routinely engaged in violence against members of the public and uniformed police officers to maintain his cover.
During his tour of duty, the man – known only as Officer A – also had sexual relations with at least two of his female targets as a way of obtaining intelligence. So convincing was he in his covert role that he quickly rose to become branch secretary of a leading anti-racist organisation that was believed to be a front for Labour's Militant tendency."
"My role was to provide intelligence about protests and demonstrations, particularly those that had the potential to become violent," he said. "In doing so, the campaigns I was associated with lost much of their effectiveness, a factor that ultimately hastened their demise."
"His deployment, which lasted from 1993 to 1997, ended amid fears that his presence and role within groups protesting about black deaths in police custody and bungled investigations into racist murders would be revealed during the public inquiry by Sir William Macpherson into the death of south London teenager Stephen Lawrence.
His decision to tell his story to the Observer provides the most detailed account of the shadowy and controversial police unit that has provided intelligence from within political and protest movements for more than four decades. He believes the public should be able to make an informed decision about whether such covert activities are necessary, given their potential to curtail legitimate protest movements."

More here:-

Anonymous said...

Whether TP's judgements are awry or not - they seem to be so - the call for a boycott is going to be completely without serious echo.

As Phil says, many would never heard of this without the boycott. Me for one.

I am also cocnerned at the whole tenor of banning the BNP.

Andrew Coates

Phil said...

Erm, at the start of his deployment (1993) the overwhelming bulk of Militant had decamped from Labour. A tiny detail I know, but if you can't get the small, *publicly available* facts straight how are we supposed to believe this guy's revelations?

Anonymous said...

They could be confusing "Militant Labour/YRE" with "Militant" in its LP days.
It sounds like he may have been a regional YRE branch secretary.
Or it could be an attempt to spread mistrust using the Observer.
If the story is true, it sounds like there's a case for legal action against this unit on the basis of GBH and sexual assault.

JuliaM said...

The BNP's consistent 2% aren't the ones you need to worry about.

It's the others who see a vote for the BNP as an ideal protest vote. And that percentage increases every time the left comes up with some wizard scheme like a 'No Platform' or a motion to ban BNP members from teaching...

JuliaM said...

I can see how you'd have a case against the unit for GBH but sexual assault?

'Yes your honour, I agreed to have sex with him, but that was when I thought he was a proud warrior of the enlightened proletariat! Now I know he was really an undercover cop, I feel defiled!'

Good luck with that!

Organized Rage. said...

Unless I am mistaken Camerons money man 'lord' Ashcroft finances this TP magazine and for that reason alone I would not wish to become one of his playthings by entering mockney competitions run by a tory right wing shit.

Like most of us my ego may have got the better of me when I first started blogging, but surely we have moved on from there.

I for one, at this stage would not support banning the BNP, I think for the left to go down this road would be plain daft and playing into our enemies hands.

andy newman said...

What does Paul mean y this?

"It waits to be seen how effective that might be, though it does look as though there are some bloggers on the left who - how shall I say kindly? - value the TP blog competition more than they value the debate about whether this type of 'no platform' call is valid in itself"

I am not aware of any left blog that takes Iain dales competition particularly seriously.

Who do you mean?

Phil said...

I think Paul was referring to Next Left and LabourList - see the comments on the cross post to Liberal Conspiracy.

Organized Rage. said...

Any thoughts on whether or not Ashdown owns a large chunk of TP, I could be mistaken but you guys know? and if he does whether we should be encouraging him.

Its true we have little choice but to engage with the MSM, but I thought the whole point about left blogging was it gave us the chance to build our own space, not hang on to the rights coat tails. In any case, is it really surprising an extreme right winger like Ashdown would give house room to a mini hitler who may one day be useful to him, and those he represents.

Phil said...

Yes, Ashcroft has put money into TP. But regards your point about mainstream media, Mick, I see no problem bloggers using openings in the MSM to build a wider audience. For instance, Dave and Paul of TCF have had stuff published by the Graun - I don't think doing so has tempered their socialism.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'v said it elsewhere on this matter and I'll say it here:

League tables of blogs are a joke, esp. when run by that vile man Dale, add to the fact they’re a fix and about as transparent as a cast iron gin beaker; there are your reasons for not taking part, not the fact the daft lad is going to interview an even dafter lad.

But if it keeps the traffic coming in…

Organized Rage. said...


Neat footwork, but I never said there was anything wrong with using the mainstream media, the exact opposite in fact, unless you consider TP as part of the MSM, which I do not. Ashdown is not just any tom, dick or harry, but a tax dodger of the most destructive kind. A man who bankrolls the Tory party and travels the world networking with the worlds right wing scum.

That alone should be enough to give any leftist pause for thought, for when these Neo-cons meet up, it is not to have a few beers, a laugh and a joke, but to make decisions about how best to shaft the masses.

Should we really be giving any credibility to such an individual or to the businesses he owns?

Are we so desperate we need him to anoint our blogs as being in the top hundred/whatever? In return for which we post a logo which advertises this scumbags gofers putrid anti labour prose.

I think not.

My point was the www gives us an opportunity to create our own space on line and I really do not believe it is healthy for us to give a leg up to right wing opportunists like Mr Dale.

His lists if not an outright fix come pretty close and they are certainly the most lazy type of journalism.

James Bloodworth said...

'One more minor point about the boycott. By advocating action against TP, the TCF comrades have ensured Iain's interview will receive wider circulation than would otherwise be the case. Inadvertently, calling for no platform in this case means Griffin gets a broader platform.'

Exactly what happened with his appearance on Question Time.

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