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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Good Moaning

It may have vanished from TV screens long ago, but the spirit of ‘Allo ‘Allo returned yesterday to Westminster. The latest publicity wheeze of the British National Party (BNP) ended in straightforward farce as a makeshift convocation of activists sent Oberscheissenführer Nick Griffin and his fellow Stürmers packing in a hail of eggs. And the farce is set to continue today, as the deeply unsavoury Griffin, protected by his trusty Waffle SS Abteilung, attempts to make a speech in Manchester.

In a scenario that appears to inhabit the world somewhere between the Harry Palmer of The Ipcress File and the pursuit of the picture of the fallen Madonna in ‘Allo ‘Allo, Griffin is set to tour the city, presumably in search of a good location for him to stand defiantly and deliver his dubiously crafted speech. Meanwhile, his pursuers will be touring the city in search of him, armed no doubt with whatever they find out the back of local supermarkets. The inedible in full pursuit of the unpalatable.

Observing this unusual variation on job creation schemes, though, the thought may enter that Griffin’s pursuers are no less guilty of suppressing free speech than those BNP followers indulging in hate mail and other routine acts of bullying. It’s a valid point, but I’d advise caution: let’s put the episode into context.

Extremist organisations like the BNP, merely by their presence, evoke an equally extreme response: it was as true of Oswald Mosley in the 1930s as it was of the National Front (NF) in the 1970s, the latter often confronted by groups like the Anti Nazi League (ANL). Moreover, the BNP gets publicity every time the eggs and other overripe produce starts to fly, so however perversely, it does no harm to their public profile.

Also, the idea that Griffin and his fellow Stürmers are striking a blow for free speech by fetching up opposite Parliament is pure tosh: no leader of a major party would do such a thing – brief photo opportunity perhaps, but speech - pointless. Pa Broon, as serving Prime Minister, wouldn’t be allowed to, even if he was so minded. Young Dave and Corporal Clegg could get away with it, but what would be the point? You want to make a statement, you go where there is no chance of interruption, where the message can be got across, and where you’re most likely to reach the target audience.

That means using the news media, whether broadcast, print – or by email or podcast. Nobody is stopping the BNP there: if they have something to say, there will be a media outlet ready to listen and transmit. Voltaire would not have felt the need to intervene on their behalf. The BNP, as I considered earlier, consistently but falsely paint themselves as victims, but the conclusion is clear.

It’s a publicity stunt.

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