Those in the United Kingdom know that there is a particularly unpleasant political party called the British National Party. Now virtually all political parties have a degree of ugliness and lack of charm, but to my mind the BNP are not just ugly and charmless, but are wrong, very wrong. It is claimed the BNP is made up of people that are thugs, totalitarians and racists; however, the BNP is a political party who has managed to get a few councillors elected and who won two seats in the European Parliament.
How is it, you may ask, that a tolerant nation like the United Kingdom has people who will vote for thugs, totalitarians and racists?
For some years the established parties have threatened or blackmailed the people of the United Kingdom with the bogeyman of the BNP. “If you don’t vote for us you’ll let the BNP in” is what they say. I suspect that many voters do not like the blackmail implicit in this and that may well be why the BNP managed to get many of the votes they received in recent elections.
Because of minor electoral success the leader of the BNP, Mr Griffin, was invited to appear on “Question Time” with other politicians and cerebral celebrities. I watched the programme expecting to see Mr Griffin explain his policies and the other people on the question time panel debate the policies and argue against them. Testing politicians by dissecting their policies in public debate is the best was to expose vice, weaknesses, inconsistencies and folly.
Mr Griffin explained his party’s policies thoroughly. I did not agree with them. I thought it would be easy to expose the policies as wrong, illogical and vicious. I was shocked to see the other politicians on the panel not really bother to debate with Mr Griffin or argue against his policies but spend most of their air time making what appeared to be pre rehearsed speeches and statements about what Mr Griffin may have done or said some years ago.
A great deal of time was wasted with statements about Mr Griffin’s past defalcations, most of which Mr Griffin denied. It was as though the politicians on the panel were trying to establish their own credentials by blackening Mr Griffin as much as they could. While Mr Griffin explained his policies the other parties’ representatives failed to explain why Mr Griffin was wrong, and failed to admit that in some respects they might have been pursuing the wrong policies. They preferred to concentrate on attacking Mr Griffin personally.
To her credit, the cerebral celebrity – Bonnie Greer actually concentrated on the argument, not on attacking Mr Griffin.
It is easy, but not legitimate, to demonise your opponent rather than to argue against his ideas. It is easy but not legitimate to argue against ideas that your opponent does not espouse, while claiming that he does espouse them. These sophistries do not win the war of ideas.
After Question Time YouGov carried out a poll and reported that 22% of those polled would “seriously consider” voting for Mr Griffin’s party. Peter Hain claims that Question Time, viewed by eight million people, simply gave Mr Griffin and the BNP “the gift on the century”. It seems to follow from that that Mr Hain has a very low opinion of the electorate, in that it seems he thinks that if we are exposed to extreme ideas we poor souls are too stupid to reject them.
I think that the poll is the result of that fact that on Question Time none of the politicians actually bothered to dissect or argue against Mr Griffin’s ideas, but simply attacked Mr Griffin personally. The electorate might think that the other parties were simply avoiding a debate that they might lose. In doing so in the minds of some people Mr Griffin won the ideas argument on Question Time.
It is important to win the war of ideas, whether you are fighting for a better economic future or fighting for the environment or fighting against racial prejudice or totalitarianism. You win the war of ideas by logical argument, not by personal attacks. It was perfectly within the abilities of the politicians on Question Time to win the ideas argument against Mr Griffin. They chose not to attempt so to do.