Much as I love the Beautiful Game, I’d be the first to admit that football has been driving me to furious distraction recently – and that’s nothing to do with events on the pitch. The English game has shown its nastiest, most venal and bigoted side in recent seasons; with racism, sexual violence and abject greed rearing their ugly heads in a sport that really should, you would think, know so much better than all that.
However, it is true to say that, in many ways, the avarice, violence and high profile scandals of the modern game that most fans find so infuriating (to put it mildly) are nothing new. Football has long been a controversial sport, as the 16th century diplomat and scholar Sir Thomas Elyot rather sniffily observed in his 1531 educational treatise, The Boke Named The Governour:
Football, wherein is nothing but beastly fury and extreme violence, whereof proceedeth hurt, and consequently rancour and malice do remain with them that be wounded.
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.