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George misses his stop as phalanx of card carriers miss the point

PUBLISHED: 19:06 18 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:58 07 September 2010

THE ARRIVAL of George Galloway and his Battle Bus at the Ham&High offices on Tuesday would have been a thrilling sight. Sadly it was not to be. Earlier in the day, a press release from his HQ had informed us that the firebrand MP would be calling to rebuk

THE ARRIVAL of George Galloway and his Battle Bus at the Ham&High offices on Tuesday would have been a thrilling sight. Sadly it was not to be. Earlier in the day, a press release from his HQ had informed us that the firebrand MP would be calling to rebuke the Ham&High and its Archant owners for accepting those controversial BNP election adverts, thereby joining a superleague of local politicians venting their spleen.

I've always admired Mr Galloway. As many adversaries have found to their cost, his debating skills are unrivalled on both sides of the Atlantic. Respect is due!

But he really should find a new mechanic.

On route, the Respect Battle Bus developed an engine problem and was delayed in its promotional tour of Swiss Cottage. Next thing we knew, he was on his way up Haverstock Hill, perhaps with bigger fish to fry.

However, Marc Mullen, one of our reporters, did bag a seat on the open top bus and GG was only too happy to make his views plain on the controversial advertising campaign.

I was happy to read that while disagreeing robustly with our decision, he made a point of upholding our right to cover the BNP from an editorial perspective.

This is a view entirely in keeping with an open democracy, but disturbingly it is not shared by the 45 councillors, union officials and assorted others on the left of Camden politics, who signed a letter saying that we should not give the BNP any space at all, full stop.

Another letter from three GLA Labour candidates went as far as to say that the BNP should not be given 'any publicity' in the run-up to the election. It soon becomes clear that for Labour supporters who were in the vanguard of the protests, this was not just about the running of adverts.

It was about giving the BNP house room in any of our columns, about starving them of what Maggie Thatcher famously referred to as 'the oxygen of publicity' - though her reference was to a much more dangerous political organisation which at that time enjoyed the friendship and support of so many Labour Party politicians, members and supporters.

For me, the idea of total censorship of a single political party in the run-up to an election is pretty alarming stuff and I have to wonder just where this line of reasoning comes from and whether it is something the letter's signatories ought to think long and hard about, just as we had to think long and hard about the advertising dilemma.

The union representatives who came to the Ham&High offices on Wednesday afternoon kept to this line of total censorship when I had a chat with them on the steps of our offices.

Most are members of the Labour Party and I wondered why they were not waving banners outside the party's headquarters in SW1 instead of in NW3. Why? Because when these people, who obviously feel genuinely aggrieved at the BNP's participation in this election, cast their GLA votes on May 1, the name of the British National Party will be firmly fixed on the ballot paper.

There's nothing they can do about that without spoiling their vote. There's nothing I can do about it. But the Labour government could do something about it by taking the same line as other European states in terms of proscribing parties purely because they are proven to be offensively racist by nature.

I was, however, surprised to see the signatures of Green Party members on that letter. I've met people who would have argued not so long ago that the Greens should be under some kind of media censorship, on account of its members being certifiably insane.

Now the Greens are on the pig's back, winning popular approval and setting local and national agendas with ground-breaking policies which other parties must subscribe to, or risk the wrath of the masses.

But I had never before realised that they would give their support to outright censorship of another political party.

As you can imagine, it's been a week of challenging and thought-provoking debate about the BNP, and no doubt there will be more in next week's edition. See you then!

Geoff Martin

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