24 April, 2010

Nothing easy about being right

You might be surprised to hear that I consider the BNP a fairly trivial part of the larger general election hype, but here goes again with another brief-ish note.

Churches Together in Salisbury hosts a debate in the city every general election. This Sunday at 2.30pm it's occuring at St Francis' church hall, and the local fascist candidate has been invited. The Lib Dems, Conservatives, UKIP and Greens will all be represented as well as independent candidate Arthur Pendragon.

Tom Gann, the labour candidate, will be boycotting the debate. I think this is absolutely the correct decision, as well as being principled and brave. I'm pleased that a major party candidate (and a fellow BWS alum!) has had the guts to do this, although I fear that it will be misconstrued - a tweet at TomGannLabour reads.
"A lot of publicity for the no platform position. Unfortunately, almost everyone thinks it's an act of cowardice or an affront to democracy"
Here, also, what he has to say in a statement on the Salisbury labour website:
"I will not be attending Sunday’s Churches Together debate because I believe it would be morally wrong for me to debate with the BNP’s candidate. This is a position I have long held and made clear to Churches Together before invitations were sent out.

The basis of democracy is that all citizens are equal and therefore equally entitled to participate in the democratic process. In a hustings debate this means that all potential voters are addressed equally by all parties regardless of race. This is the basis of a rational debate. So, although I disagree with John, Frances, Arthur, Nick and Nick about what policies are best for all the people of Salisbury and Britain as a whole, because they believe that their policies should be addressed to everyone as citizens, it is possible to have a rational debate with them. The BNP cannot do this because they do not view every British citizen as equal. There will be people in the room on Sunday who the BNP do not believe have a right to be there.”
Clearly, I hope the people of Salisbury will actually read his rationale. Unfortunately, in such a strongly Tory seat this will probably get spun. Mr Gann will also lead an anti-BNP protest outside the event explaining in person his view. He'll be alongside activists from Hope Not Hate, and also members of Churches Together - this was not a unanimous decision! Please, if you live in/near Salisbury and support Tom's views, attend!

It is right to deny the BNP legitimacy because they would happily exclude valid citizens from such debates and public life using racial dividing lines. It is unreasonable to enter into debate with those people. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech - which is a right to expression, not publicity.

I'm upset at even one vote going to the BNP in my hometown. How awful to think that the Very Rev June Osbourne will be inviting these monstrous mouthbreathers to comment on our schools and hospitals while a key participant stands outside. How naive to think there are no repercussions at the ballot box when you give publicity to fascists, however inept they may seem.

Quoting the event's organiser, Rev Scrace, it absolutely "would be a better meeting with him in it." But then, that's not Mr Gann's fault.

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