The ongoing expenses scandal and approaching European elections has seen the mainstream parties in a state of apparent panic over the 'dividend' it might gift the British National Party. Much debate and proclamation has ensued as to how we collectively resist their racist advances. MPs are ever-ready with condemnations and warnings. Yet, few of the parliamentary class are willing to countenance the most appropriate measure available: electoral exclusion. Unpalatable as it might seem, the response of any civilised, humanitarian and reasonably-functioning democracy would be to ban the BNP from standing for public office.
On what grounds? Specifically, their core racist beliefs. In what way might this be done? Through the existing legislation on incitement to racial hatred.
A small illustration of how this should be pursued as a legal imperative. The BNP have been trying to build and sustain their presence this past year on Glasgow's city centre streets and have been met by a collective blocking strategy involving a variety of leftist and humanitarian groups. In effect, we surround them, explaining to passers-by that people or groups peddling hatred of others have no legitimate place on the streets.
On one occasion, a man stopped to ask them about their policy on jobs (this was during the recent power station strikes over foreign labour). The BNP person stated that it was about "British jobs for British people", proceeding to explain that he meant 'indigenous' - namely, white - people. The police were standing alongside monitoring and listening. After the man left, I courteously addressed the officers, ensuring the BNP could hear, posing this question: the BNP are saying they want a white-only, 'indigenous' workforce. That clearly means they don't want Asians or any other non-white people in the police force. They are, in effect, arguing openly for a discriminatory and illegal set of working practices. Isn't that incitement to racial hatred?
At this point, one of the officers came over and told me to be quiet and "not draw us into this." Later, another officer confided that he thought their message abhorrent, but could only do his job.
It made me reflect on the point and purpose of anti-incitement laws which still allows political parties and their members to vocalise hatred of other citizens.
BNP members are already proscribed from joining the police force, and are effectively blocked by unions from teaching in schools and other public sector areas. Why, then, should they be permitted to amplify that same message of hatred as a political party?
It's not rhetorical to say that we're on the fast-track towards an authoritarian, fascist state. Yet, the government and its parliamentary partners continue to give legal and political cover to the BNP, allowing it a mantle of respectability it shouldn't have as a party openly promoting hatred and discrimination.
Of course, we must persist in the fiction that we live in an 'open liberal democracy'. However, this is not, in essence, an issue of democracy and free speech. It's an issue of law, the interpretation of which should aim to prohibit those who advocate social apartheid, racial repatriation and selective hatred of minorities. The failure to enact the law in this way allows a public acceptance of hate-speak based not just on personalised prejudice but on an open manifesto of racial exclusivism.
Banning the BNP from public office would show that there's no acceptable place for that kind of fascistic politics in this country. It might also, in the process, help concentrate minds on the kind of totalitarian methods the state itself is using to monitor minorities and purge groups working to halt the erosion of civil liberties and protect citizens from racist hatemongering.
Which begs the darker question: what does this surveillance-obsessed government fear most, the growth of far-right politics or the threat of real freedom of speech and open democracy?