A Guardian Comment Piece for Nick Griffin?

Sunny Hundal at Pickled Politics and I find ourselves thinking along the same lines:

Last week the Guardian announced further integration of its resources in a move towards a ‘digital future’. The article quoted its own managing director Tim Brooks as saying the paper had “global ambitions” to become the “world’s leading liberal voice”.

Hold on a second. Leading liberal voice? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fiercely loyal Guardian reader: one of those mythical regulars you have to take outside and shoot to stop them from buying the paper. But this is false advertising.

Broadly speaking the comment editor of a newspaper has two ideal choices when commissioning articles.

1) Only run op-ed articles that toe the official line. So the Guardian runs only liberal opinion while the Telegraph sticks to promoting conservative ideals.

2) Run articles from a broad spectrum of political opinion so it can become the leading place for intelligent commentary of all shades.

The problem is that the Guardian sits somewhere in the middle and, I believe, does so quite inconsistently.

This is precisely the point.

I have to confess, I have some difficulty in making a better argument than Sunny’s. He says, more or less, everything that I would want to say on the issue, and so I recommend reading it in full.

By way of introduction to the piece, try this thought experiment. What is the objection to Sunny’s suggestion: give Nick Griffin a Guardian op ed piece?

There’s a pat answer to that. The British National Party is a racist and fascist party: albeit one which poses as merely nationalist. It espouses a politics which I oppose on essentially every level. Its policies, if enacted, would actively discriminate against citizens on the basis of their ethnicity. Many of its officers are thugs and criminals: some with convictions for violence against ethnic minorities, and . A Comment piece for Nick Griffin amounts to handing him a megaphone. We need to do all we can to keep the likes of Nick Griffin out of the mainstream.

That argument may have had some validity in the days before the Internet. If you wanted to find out what the far right was saying, you needed to attend one of their meetings, or send off for one of their journals. That is no longer the case. You are presently a couple of mouse clicks away from access to all the neo-nazi material you could ever wish to see. Pretending that your enemies do not exist is simply no longer an option.

More to the point, media has now become interactive. The Guardian, in particular, has embraced a culture in which every opinion piece is immediately capable of being engaged with and critiqued. A Comment Piece is not a bully pulpit. Indeed, it is sometimes rather closer to a public pillory. Were the Guardian to publish an opinion piece by Nick Griffin tomorrow, his message would no more be left unchallenged than are the pieces that the Guardian presently runs by extreme right wingers, such as John Laughland.

Put it this way. Do we have so little confidence in our ability to take on the extreme right, that we need to engage in the futile exercise of hushing their voices?

My experience of blogging has been that direct engagement with those with whom you disagree, fundamentally, has the effect of exposing the true nature of your opponent’s politics, and sharpening your ability to combat it.

So, what is the objection to running a Comment piece by Nick Griffin in the Guardian.

It cannot be that the British National Party is a marginal political force. It won 4.9% of the vote in the 2004 European elections. The Guardian runs Comment pieces by the Green Party MEP, Caroline Lucas, who also has a regular spot on Comment is Free. Yet the Green Party’s share of the 2004 European Elections was only marginally higher: at 6.3%. By contrast, RESPECT gained 1.5% of the vote in those elections: yet George Galloway – whose profile is as high as Nick Griffin’s – is a regular in the Comments pages and on Comment Is Free.

It cannot be that the Guardian would not publish a piece by a supporter of totalitarian politics, as it regularly hosts pieces by the Communist Party of Britain’s Kate Hudson and Andrew Murray. Andrew Murray, you remember, is the man who stressed his Party’s “basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea”. I assume that the Communist Party of Britain is still in favour of revolution, followed by the establishing of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Does Nick Griffin’s politics – unpleasant though they are – really begin to compare with that of Saad Al Fagih: Al Qaeda’s European ambassador?

It cannot be that the Guardian does not run articles by right wingers. Simon Jenkins is a columnist, and regular appearances are made by the likes of Max Hastings and Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

It cannot be that the Guardian has an objection to far right sectarians, as it runs pieces by Muslim Brotherhood supporting Faisal Bodi, Anas Altikriti, Ismail Patel and Soumaya Ghannoushi. Azzam Tamimi, one of the most regular commentators of all, is a Hamas’ “Special Envoy“, who would like to be a suicide bomber.

A year or so ago, I found myself sitting next to Seumas Milne at a meeting. When questions from the floor were called for, I asked Milne why the Guardian had become a soap box for the Islamist far right, and accused him of having inflated the stock of a tiny clique of clerical fascists who are supported only by a fringe of British muslim society, and whose prominence is the product of a hapless coalition with his section of the extreme Left.

His response was that, as the editor of the Guardian Comment pages, his job was to ensure that his paper gave space a broad range of voices with contrasting perspectives on matters of public interest and importance.

Given that the Guardian’s Comment Pages are evidently not the exclusive preserve of “liberal voices”, that was a fair answer. By the logic of that position, there is no good argument for denying Nick Griffin a spot. He is no less a national political figure than George Galloway.

Georgina Henry should offer Nick Griffin a Comment piece.