Griffin’s right to be heard

The debacle over Jan Moir’s recent article, in which Stephen Gately’s death was used as a winch with which to hold up the evils of civil partnerships, has meant freedom of the press is now under increasing scrutiny.

There was similar outrage on display yesterday when a group of protestors charged into the BBC car park over the Corporation’s decision to allow BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time. Those wishing to see Griffin denied a platform, like those calling for Moir to be muzzled, no doubt act with good intentions. However the cost of denying either their right to speak is too high, even in the face of an almost inhumanly callous article or the political views of an odious right-wing bigot.

The demonstrators, there to publicise their antipathy towards Griffin’s politics, trampled over barriers as they forced their way into Auntie HQ. Unfortunately, they were also trampling, whether knowingly or not, over one of the most sacred traditions in modern political thought.

It’s exactly 150 years since John Stuart Mill published On Liberty, the treatise which, alongside the writings of the French Revolution, lay the foundations for freedom of speech. It was a radical idea at the time, now commonplace, almost banal.

Yet the tenet appears to be increasingly under attack, whether it’s Muslims ordering the death of a Danish cartoonist, Christians demanding the closure of Jerry Springer the Opera, calls for police action over homophobic article, or Liberals storming Television Centre over a guest on a panel show.

In hindsight, the protestors should be thankful they failed. Despite the build-up, more akin to a boxing match than the usual Thursday night fare, the broadcast proved nothing more than a dog and pony show as Griffin, dressed in moderate guise, put up little fight, even in the face of fellow panelists, seemingly hand-picked for a lack of intellectual cut and thrust.

So utterly hopeless was the BNP front man that Jack Straw was able to reinvent himself as the enforcer, a Blackburn-born bruiser who wasn’t afraid to wag his bony finger at Griffin, even if it meant cutting across Dimbleby’s eye line. The BNP leader, his own eyes lurching independently from side to side, responded to Straw’s onslaught by digging himself a succession of large holes, much to the delight of the unusually boisterous crowd.

The most interesting note of the early exchanges was a question posed by a young man in a Newcastle United top. And black and white soon proved the focal point for the discussion, as Griffin, already stumbling over his words, was taken to task over a series of quotations around holocaust denial and the true agenda of the right wing party. As a contest it was over, but not before Straw put in a few more hay makers.

“Your politics are based on colour,” stormed the Justice Secretary.

“Colour is irrelevant,” bleated back the evening’s bête noir.

Griffin fared little better on the question on British Muslims; with Baroness Warsi pointing out that the BNP leader had once shared a stage with Abu Hamza. They have more than a stage in common. Meanwhile, the real fun was online, with social network sites offering real-time comment as the drama unfurled. Twitter, a network with a “liberals only” recruitment policy, scoffed at the pantomime villain, tweeting and re-tweeting his every agonising line. “We’re the white aborigines” did some business.

The “non-violent Ku-Klux-Klan” did some more.  Equally lively was Facebook, with status updates on the show adding to a wealth of articles and opinion that had formed throughout the day. Interestingly, the Beeb, perhaps dismayed at the one sided nature of the affair, tried to even things up via the red button, with plenty of messages of support for the BNP making it onto the texting message board.

Back at Television Centre, the show was nearing its farcical end as the non-BNP panellists, fresh from fifty minutes of table banging on the joys of multiculturalism, set about a distasteful natter on which of them took the strongest line on immigration. It was a fitting denouement to what had been an amusing if slightly unpleasant evening’s viewing.

Still, that’s the price we all pay for the right to speak our mind. In the ongoing battle against censorship and restriction, the Great British public should feel proud that this type of debate can take place here. Let’s just hope they weren’t all smiles in the green room after the show.

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.


Ancient decadence and a modern beat

Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning suggested that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue”. It is the paradox of hedonism that pleasure can only be found indirectly. If you go looking for it, you won’t find it.

Yet since the Eighties, millions have travelled to an island in the Balearics looking to subvert the paradox. For many, the island of Ibiza is the contemporary pursuit of pleasure. In a world in which the social boundaries lay under constant siege – secularists push out and the religious push in – Ibiza remains aloof, not only an island geographically, but a place set part from social mores, somehow above the moral bickering of everyday life.

A recent trip for the closing party of Pacha, one of the island’s main nightclubs, was my sixth and perhaps my last visit to the small, acorn-shaped strip of land just off the coast of Spain. Did I say my last? I’ve said that after every single visit. One day I’ll mean it. It was a two-day jaunt, a surgical strike. In and out, starting with the customary 4am taxi to Stansted and a monstrous two-hour flight on easyJet (made worse by a flight attendant on the microphone reading excerpts from what I presume was The Bernie Winters Holiday Gag Book).

The thrust of the trip was to interview David Guetta, the prominent French DJ currently dominating the charts. As such, I was surrounded by my professional brethren – hacks, bloggers, online video bloggers, fashion writers, feature writers, camera men, dinner ladies and just about anyone else who had managed to charm their way onto the trip courtesy of a press card.

Some carried the scars of previous trips – a blank stare and the occasional twitch. They knew what was coming. Those unapprised chatted freely, each one a blank canvas on which the island would soon paint its indelible mark.

The sun, allied by a pool-side setting and an open bar tab, claimed several early victims. At 3.59pm a young woman on assignment for a saccharine teen mag, decided it was time to take a dip. Bereft of suitable attire, she progressed to the deep end in her dress. The press conference started at 4pm. Had she sat at the back dripping quietly, she may have got away with it. Sitting on the front row and demanding the first question made her slightly more conspicuous.

The interviews slots offered similar entertainment, as rival publications locked horns over space and time.  “I don’t do group interviews” shouted one girl. “Neither do I” said her mate. They were sent in together. I waited for feeding time to finish before making my move on the interviewee, probing him with banalities on dance music before getting the required joint picture for the paper… and then one for Facebook.

Dinner was booked for midnight. Some had made it through, some had gone to bed, some were face down on sun loungers… one was face down in the pool. Everyone was flagging. By 4am, a second wind had blown in, with all revelling in their VIP status at the club.

Kelly Rowland had put in a brief appearance, belting out a number on the stage, before disappearing, possibly to the VVIP area, which remained a constant aspiration. Still, high shenanigans reigned behind our own velvet rope as press, DJs and just about anyone in attendance became better acquainted.

It was at this point I decided to miss my 10am plane. I wasn’t alone in that folly, an expensive one as it proved. Still, the extra day was worth it, affording more time on this strange little atoll, this beautifully debauched place, this pretty whore.

Previous, longer trips had proved too much for some, with men and women of every stripe turning feral. I recall one chap rampaging through the villa at six in the morning looking for “something big to throw in the pool”. The fact that he’d already thrown in his wallet, a sun lounger and the music correspondent for a popular London Daily failed to quell his need.

One woman, a producer for music channel, disappeared for three days, having left her purse and shoes by the pool. I never enquired as to what she’d been up to – It’ll no doubt be disclosed to a psychiatrist in later life. Fortunately, the brevity of this recent trip prevented any major mishaps.

I quizzed the organiser on his hopes for the event during the meal on the second night. “Get them in, get them out, and hope nobody dies in between,” was his response. Mission accomplished.

It is hard to explain Ibiza; it certainly has a dark underbelly, like any tourist destination, whether that’s Blackpool or Benidorm. Yet for me it remains a place far removed from those Uncut programmes, scheduled well past the witching hour at the back end of the EPG.

For some it is Gomorrah, a 24-hour bacchanalia where ancient decadence dances to a very modern beat. For others a bastion of acceptance and tolerance in a world in which those central tenants are coming increasingly under threat. Hedonism is indeed a paradox… but I did have fun.

This first appeared in The Sunday Express. The original article can be found here.