Southall, West London, 23rd April 1979:
It was St George’s day, and the far-right National Front had decided to celebrate the feast day of the patron saint of England by holding a provocative meeting in the heart of Southall, an area of west London which was then (and still is) home to several large and vibrant Asian communities.
Unsurprisingly, the situation was tense, made even more so by the presence of the Special Patrol Group (SPG) of the Metropolitan Police. This specialist riot squad had already made a violent reputation for itself, and the events of 23rd April 1979 were the beginnings of its eventual downfall and replacement with the equally nasty Territorial Support Group (TSG).
Just like Ian Tomlinson, the newspaper vendor killed at last year’s G20 demonstrations by a member of the TSG, Blair Peach was attempting to get home when he fatally encountered the police. A New Zealander, Peach was a teacher and anti-fascist activist who had come to Southall that day to protest against the NF.
In the midst of confrontations between protesters and police, Peach was separated from his friends as they tried to make their way out of the chaos. At least ten people saw and later gave consistent accounts of what happened next.
Oh really? I wouldn’t have guessed this from tonight’s performance:
“I am not a not Nazi and never have been. I am the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain’s Nazis. They loathe me because I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists”
And so most of the country falls off its collective chair in hysterics. We just don’t believe you, Nick. Particularly not when you make additionally silly comments like this:
“I regard the BBC as part of a thoroughly unpleasant, ultra-leftist establishment which, as we have seen here tonight, doesn’t even want the English to be recognised as an existing people”
Oh, yeah, all that and those highly deniable KKK links, Nicky boy…
My god, that was car-crash TV. Nick Griffin’s debut (and hopefully final) appearance on Question Time was one of the most evasive, offensive, incompetent and downright funny televisual performances of all time. And not in a so-bad-it’s-good way. For a start, the man is clearly not as intelligent as he thinks he is; he’s incapable of giving a direct answer to a direct question – and is in no way good enough an orator to have the charismatic authority he thinks he has, although he has the necessary sense of self-delusion, as evidenced by his comments to the media afterwards:
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me” – Martin Niemoller.
Martin Niemoller was a controversial figure, whose motives and actions are still debated by historians, theologians and political theorists to this day. But his words (above) ring as true today as they did in the 1940s. Like many Lutheran pastors (and other religious leaders) in 1930s Germany, Niemoller was an anti-communist who opposed the democratic experiment of the Weimar Republic and its associated ‘decadence’, welcoming the Nazi accession to power in 1933 even to the extent of apparently having official meetings with Adolf Hitler.
I can understand the many people who are up in arms about the possibility of the British National Party appearing on the BBC’s Question Time programme. I have gone on record many times with my personal view that the BNP are a deeply unpleasant gang of ignorant, racist, homophobic, fascist bully-boys who disgust and disturb me, and that this country would be a much better place if they (and others of their ilk) were to shut the fuck up and crawl back into the hole they came out of.
However, I also believe in freedom of speech (something the BNP don’t appear to acknowledge even exists for anyone other than themselves). But believing in freedom of speech means believing in that freedom for everyone, whether you agree with them or not. Censoring a group like the BNP because you disagree with their ideology just plays into their hands, reinforcing their already deeply-felt view that they are being victimised for holding views they perceive as ‘correct’ – no matter how vile and factually incorrect those views may actually be in reality. Such censorship also runs the dangerous risk of driving these groups underground, where they may become even more of an extremist threat to the groups they oppose within our society, and, as a result, harder to campaign against and police. Do we really want to run that risk?
To me, that possibility is even more harmful, sinister and dangerous in the long run than allowing them to say their piece on Question Time. Unfortunately, since Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons were elected to the European Parliament earlier this summer, they have become a part (albeit a marginalised one) of the mainstream political structure of this country, which – scary and unpleasant though it is – does give them certain rights as elected politicians. So why not get these elected idiots on the telly, get them to spout their ill-informed rubbish – and watch how they shoot themselves in the foot. Because they will. They will make themselves look ridiculous. Why? Well, mainly because their policies are so vague and badly structured (apart from the ones that discriminate against such targets as ethnic groups and the LGBT community, of course), and they lack any sense of the political savvy needed to actually get anything done in the world of politics. For a start, I’d really like to hear how Griffin and co plan to deal with the complexities of the current economic crisis, a situation that I think even (the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer) Gordon Brown doesn’t fully understand….
And to the politicians from other parties who have stuck their noses in the air and loftily stated that they refuse to share a platform with the BNP – why not take this as a much-needed opportunity to counter the lies these fascists tell and publicly prove their stupidity and ignorance? I’d love to see the likes of Respect’s George Galloway or the prospective Green Party candidate and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell go up against Nick Griffin in a televised debate. Whatever you think of Galloway and Tatchell, they would easily wipe the floor with Griffin and his cronies in a most entertaining and educational fashion. Or get someone like the comedian and activist Mark Thomas on Question Time. I’d pay good money to see him confronting the BNP; being far, far more well-informed and aware than them, he’d rip them apart.
It is vital that Britain continues to stand up to the BNP and their supporters, particularly as the far right continues its sinister and threatening regrowth across Europe. It must be made clear time and time again that Nick Griffin’s party do not and will never represent the vast majority of this country. And if we can start the process by showing them up as the ignorant fascist bully-boys that they are on national TV, then so much the better.