Exactly who are the fascist bullies?

“Badgers… don’t give us a bad name. Badgers… please don’t give us a bad name.”

The middle-aged woman, dressed snout to claw in black and white, topped with homemade headgear and a megaphone, pleaded with the protesters.

“Badgers… come out of the road. Please don’t give us a bad name.”

On Saturday, opponents of the badger cull, who had massed in London to protest the animals’ impending slaughter, had strayed down Westminster’s Victoria Street, emerging at the Houses of Parliament to chance upon a 50-stong BNP protest against the death of Lee Rigby. As always, the BNP had been met by a counter demonstration of several hundred anti-fascists, many under the banner of Unite Against Fascism (UAF).

Some of the “badgers”, distinctive in their monochrome garb, had joined UAF ranks, blocking the road outside parliament, preventing cars from moving around the Palace of Westminster.

One last cry: “Don’t give us a bad name”. The “badgers” reluctantly moved on. For the anti-fascists it was too late – the damage had already been done.

By 4.30pm that afternoon, more than 30 of those opposing the BNP had been arrested under section 14 of the Public Order Act. By the end of the day the figure was nearer 60. At least one member of the BNP was given a bloodied nose, allegedly by one of the anti-fascist throng.

According to the UAF, the 58 arrests were “not because of violent clashes” but because “the police decided to extend by an hour the time allowed for the BNP protest, but asked anti-fascists to leave at 4pm.” The Anti-fascists were arrested “for refusing to leave”, they said. That may be so, but the tone of the protest was not one of peaceful opposition… it also doesn’t explain the bloodied and battered BNP member.

Having reported on several far-right demonstrations, this was not the first time I had witnessed aggression, criminal behaviour and a disregard for the rule of law by those claiming to walk against fascism.

Opposing the BNP, like opposing the EDL, is an essential political expression. The BNP is a fringe political party that campaigns on a plank of anti-immigration, playing on the fears of a white working class marooned from any type of upward social mobility.

The EDL are nothing more than a disparate group of drink-sodden thugs, politicised around a single anti-Muslim sentiment, and seemingly nostalgic for the days when you could fight at football matches.

Neither group has any genuine interest in Lee Rigby, other than using it as an excuse to wheel out clichéd admonishments towards “evil Muslims” and the threat of “creeping Sharia”.

However, the BNP had a legal right to march. A right, ironically, the anti-fascists tried to deny. The UAF had a similar right to demonstrate, but the tone was such that they looked close to becoming exactly what they were protesting against – vicious bullies.

Had the anti-fascist mob spent a minute looking at the BNP protest they would have seen 50 or so tired, haggard, middle-aged men barely worthy of a passing car horn let alone a huge counter demonstration. Some of the BNP struggled to string a sentence together. I asked one man waving a flag why he was there. “They’re killing our soldiers, aren’t they.” He could offer no more by way of reasoning.

What about the BNP threat? There were more journalists at the rally than ‘National Party’ supporters. There is no threat. Still, that didn’t stop those opposing Griffin’s party from acting like a violent mob – masked, angry and hysterical.

“Don’t give us a bad name,” shouted the badger woman. It’s a sentiment everyone who opposes fascism will hope supporters of the UAF start to heed.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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.