Free(ish) speech

Three stories in the news this week seem to be sort of about the same thing: the questions over having the BNP on Question Time, over allowing some Dutch nutjob MP into the country, and the stupid comments made by a hack from the Mail about the ‘unnatural’ death of Steven Gately.

My mum got into a tiff with someone outside a tube station who wanted her to sign a petition calling for the BNP to be banned from Question Time: she refused on Voltairean grounds. Extending freedom of speech only to those whose opinions you agree with seems an odd definition of the concept.

The problem isn’t that people give voice to their ignorant, ill-informed, reactionary opinions, it’s that they have them in the first place. Given that a small minority of people do spout dangerous bollocks on different subjects, it is much better that they do so in the light of day, where they can be answered, scrutinised, and mocked – especially mocked – than if they were to be hounded underground by a pack of illiberal lefties who seem mainly interested in displaying to the world the righteousness of their own anger than in combating the underlying problems that parties like the BNP exploit. A hidden organisation is a hundred times more dangerous than an idiot being tolerated on Question Time can ever be.

Free speech should not be entirely limitless, of course; it should not incite violence. But I can’t find a better example of the self-correcting nature of this freedom than the case of the Gately furore also in the news this week. No sooner had the hack in question aired her deeply suspect, not-so-thinly veiled homophobia than the complaints started flooding in – her stupidity has been broadcast all over the internet. What is best? If people don’t openly express their bigoted opinions, or if these opinions are challenged and confronted in public whenever they arise?

The only reason that the ridiculous Dutch MP has had any press coverage is because he was temporarily prevented from coming into the country. Now he has a national platform to broadcast his racist views. Trying to stop him from entering is a child’s answer to the problem – it’s sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling ‘la la la – I can’t hear you.’ Better for him to come, say what he thinks he must, get heckled, mocked and booed, and piss off again without many people knowing he was ever here.

I think that the best thing people could do to combat the BNP is to join it. I mean everyone in the whole country. Then at the next party conference, have an open and honest debate, vote Katie Price or someone in as leader, overturn their entire manifesto and then in six months’ time call for the party to be disbanded. Then every time another similar party pops up, do it again. Democracy in action, or something like it.

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