The Obscurer

Nicked Griffin

I obviously didn’t shed a tear when Nick Griffin was arrested on Tuesday for inciting racial hatred but I wasn’t exactly cheering either. It was probably because the first I heard of it whilst watching Channel 4 News was seeing the BNP leader being released on police bail, punching the air, before a crowd of cheering supporters. It was not a pretty sight. But then he is not a pretty man.

Unfortunately, I also have my doubts about the law under which he was arrested. Now clearly I am not suggesting that I agree with inciting racial hatred; but I do believe in free speech, and I am very uncomfortable with any law which tries to undermine it. We can agree that inciting racial hatred is wrong, but at what point should it become a criminal offence? The famous quote often attributed to Voltaire, that”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” seems as relevant now as it ever did. When I was at University there was a “No Platform” policy towards the National Front (I don’t know if there still is) and I always argued against it. These people should be engaged in debate and defeated; otherwise their lies and misinformation will still be heard but will go unchallenged.

Of course, I don’t think you should be able to say anything; if Griffin roused the crowd into a call to attack and burn Asian houses, then I would be happy for him to face severe legal consequences; but there already is a law against inciting violence. Fair enough, we can take into account whether or not any incitement to violence is racially aggravated, that seems fine by me; but do we need a separate law, and is it effective? Surely we should be free to hold opinions some may find offensive, and be able to speak our minds; if you go too far, then there are other laws which can deal with you. I am not sure there exists a point at which I would be happy for free speech to be compromised, but which is not covered by other more general laws on incitement, discrimination, public order or defamation; in which case, the law on inciting racial hatred causes me some concern with regards free speech. Perhaps I will change my mind when the case comes to court and we fully learn what Griffin has said; but this is my current position.

At the same time the debate has started up again regarding extending the law to cover religious hatred. Charles Moore of the Telegraph was recently criticised for saying “It seems to me that people are perfectly entitled – rude and mistaken though they may be – to say that Mohammed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to.” The interesting thing here is that were one to say that “Jesus was a paedophile”, then that could fall foul of the current Blasphemy laws which are in fact stronger that the proposed law on inciting religious hatred; this somewhat blunts Rowan Atkinson’s belief that the law could result in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian being banned. But his basic point, as stated again last week, that “the freedom to criticise ideas is one of the fundamental freedoms of society” is surely right. The Home Office asserts that comedians jokes will not be compromised, but the reaction to Charles Moore’s comments shows how freedom of speech could be affected when potentially offensive but non threatening comments could be dragged to the courts.

But perhaps the main reason to criticise these laws is the fear I have that they will be counter productive. I haven’t looked at the BNP website since Griffin’s arrest, but I don’t have to. They will be saying that the arrest is due to an out-of-touch political elite, ignorant of the problems suffered by native brits. They will say it shows that immigrants and asylum seekers rights are prioitised ahead of the the concerns of the majority of law abiding (white?) citizens. They will say it shows how scared the major parties are of the electoral threat posed by the BNP, and illustrates again how the opinions of immigrants are affecting Britain’s longstanding principles and traditions such as freedom of speech. They will say that only the BNP truly understands what you understand, about the threats facing the nation, and only they can do something about it. These opinions will be repeated from now until the case comes to court; but unlike Griffin’s original statements which were made to a small rally of far-right knuckleheads, these comments will be played out across the national press and media, to a far larger audience. The BNP will get more free publicity, and some people will be stupid enough to believe them.

Then we will see just how effective the law has been in trying to prevent racial hatred.

IDeology

Eagle-eyed reader(s?) may have noticed the NØ2ID button which has been added to the sidebar of this site; between the search box and the adverts (which you are free to click on, by the way, and so provide me with another 10 cents revenue!). This is because I have decided to finally get off the fence on the issue of ID cards.

I should explain that the reason I have been reluctant to take sides up until now is because I have been one of the “I’ve got nothing to hide” brigade, as ridiculed recently by Jarod Borries. If people really want to collate a load of information about me, I thought, then good luck to them; I can’t imagine it being of any interest to anyone. I have always thought that, should I attract a stalker, rather than trying to hide away and be secretive I would welcome them into my home, talk to them and tell them all about my life. They would soon be so bored that they would just leave me alone and pick on some other, more enigmatic prey.

On the other hand, although I haven’t any huge civil liberties fears, I have always thought it would be a complete waste of time. Once ID cards are up and running, I’d give it about 6 months before there are forgeries out there; perhaps sooner. With regards terrorism, unless you have to specify on the application form that you are a member of a terrorist group, I cannot see why terrorists are not perfectly legally entitled to hold an ID card; after all, most Irish Terrorists held British Passports. Concerning social security fraud, I don’t know how an ID card will have any effect on those employers who currently illegally employ people on a cash in hand basis.

So it may be a harmless waste of time, but should it be actively opposed? Well, the more I think about it, yes. For one thing, the “I’ve got nothing to hide” argument relies on the fact that we don’t live in a South American Dictatorship; but the recent Queen’s Speech, with a heavy accent on more authoritarian law and order measures, along with recent legislation which has resulted in the situation of the Belmarsh Detainees (terrorists so dangerous that they are free to go to any country that will have them!) makes me wonder just what direction we are going in; the lazy phrase “the thin end of the wedge” springs to mind.

And then, this week, there was the news that the authoritarian wing of the Conservative Party had outflanked its libertarian wing, in deciding to support the Government in next weeks vote on ID cards. All of a sudden it seems like a done deal, and to prevent ID cards we are going to have to rely on Liberal Democrats and whip-defying backbenchers. This is the shock which forced me to make up my mind. When I then read on the “NO2ID” website that there are over 50 pieces of information which could be accessed via your ID card, it confirmed my opinion that this is something to be fought against before it is too late.

Of course, it won’t be David Blunkett, but Charles Clarke who will implement the ID cards scheme, following Blunkett’s resignation last night. I can’t see there being a massive change in the direction of the Home Office under Clarke, but we shall see. He seems to exhibit a similar sort of arrogance to that which Blunkett displayed, and which to my eyes made him a poor Home Secretary and the worst kind of politician. It is often said that the best ruler is one who would have to be reluctantly dragged to the despatch box; in fact we we often seem to get egotists desperate to flex their muscles, and to expand and display their own powers. That certainly appeared to be the case with Blunkett; someone who introduced rafts of legislation conveying more power to the state and to himself. An illustration is the 2002 Police Reform Act, which allowed the Home Secretary to suspend a Police Forces’ Chief Constable. Once it was introduced I always got the impression that Blunkett couldn’t wait for an opportunity to put it into practice, and indeed he didn’t wait long; requiring Humberside Police Authority to suspend Chief Constable David Westwood following the Bichard Enquiry into the Soham Murders.

However, I do feel a certain sympathy regarding the manner of his exit. His paternity battle was unpleasant and ugly, but I understand and can empathise with his position. This led to the allegations surrounding the visas and train tickets, and which ultimately led to his resignation; but how many other people have fiddled their expenses or given preferential treatment to friends in a professional capacity? I am not saying it is right, but it is hardly a hanging offence. In the end I think it was the daily accumulation of negative headlines, along with the incredibly ill-judged criticisms of his colleagues in Stephen Pollard’s biography which left him friendless in Westminster, and so made his position untenable. He probably went for the wrong reasons, but he has at least gone.

However, as I said earlier, I don’t I think it will make much of a difference to the behaviour of the Home Office; and judging by Tony Blair’s eulogy in accepting his resignation (“You leave government with your integrity intact and your achievements acknowledged by all. You are a force for good in British politics and can take great pride in what you have done to improve the lives of people in this country”) I doubt he will be out of Government for long.