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Vote for the BNP? I'd rather chew off my right hand

PUBLISHED: 12:05 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:56 07 September 2010

WE all know of political parties the world could do without. Particularly loathsome are those fathered by bigotry and intolerance. In 35 years of journalism I ve met some Premier League bigots (not by any means all of them from Ulster, my old stomping gr

WE all know of political parties the world could do without. Particularly loathsome are those fathered by bigotry and intolerance.

In 35 years of journalism I've met some Premier League bigots (not by any means all of them from Ulster, my old stomping ground).

The kind of knuckleheads whose racist views make you squirm with indignation are part of the reason I greatly admire Hampstead's own Sacha Baron Cohen and the cunningly shy Louis Theroux, who have turned the naming and shaming of bigots and racists into something approaching an art form.

In my view what they achieve, by peeling away any veneer of respectability and stripping bigotry bare for the world to see, borders on genius.

Baron Cohen's 'throw the Jews down the well' stunt in a redneck country music club ranks as one of the greatest comic moments ever - not because it was funny, but because it illuminated an abhorrent, deeply-ingrained bigotry we know exists in every society, even though it seldom shows its face in public.

For the benefit of mankind, we need to know that this form of intolerance still lurks amongst us.

So why would a respectable organ like the Ham&High carry an advert for the BNP, a party that was surely born of the kind of values all decent people detest?

The simple answer is that this is not China. It is Britain.

Our democracy may be tainted, but it is still an example to all. So let's keep it that way.

The level of tolerance I experienced in London in the wake of the July 7 bombings astounded me, but tolerance is no easy option.

To be able to tolerate those we vehemently disagree with is the hallmark of a truly open, egalitarian and democratic society, where freedom of speech and expression are sacrosanct.

Once we start tinkering at the edges of these principles, we allow ourselves to shuffle towards an exceedingly slippery slope.

Love them or loathe them (I have no doubt where the vast majority of Ham&High readers stand) the BNP is a legally constituted political party, with members who are prepared to test the popularity of their position at the ballot box.

Yet I have seen representatives from other political parties stamp up and down on their soapboxes and demand that they should be subject to blanket censorship, to the point of banning any BNP comment from our pages.

Paradoxically, some of those who now advocate censorship of the BNP, were among those who loudly protested against Margaret Thatcher's broadcasting ban. If you recall, that act of legally-enforced censorship on the media was aimed at a party, sectarian in nature, that was 'inextricably linked' to an active terrorist organisation.

In an act of defiance, our London mayor, Ken Livingstone, went out on a limb to welcome those representatives of terrorism into the democratic process, and did so with firm handshakes and open arms. No beating about the bush for Ken.

He was roundly criticised for doing so but in the longer term, events proved him ahead of his time for within a decade successive Conservative and Labour governments were doing the very same thing.

And when you really think about it, isn't there actually something creepy and more than a bit sinister about politicians claiming the moral high ground and demanding that other politicians be censored?

There's an art in building and maintaining a democracy, and part of that art is leaving its doors open to all.

Don't get me wrong. I dislike the BNP and all it stands for. I'd rather chew off my right hand than use it to cast a single vote in its favour.

But while the government of the country accepts that they are a bona fides political party, the only people who can rightfully banish the BNP to oblivion are the voters. In the meantime we have to put up with their electoral ambitions.

This is part of the price we pay for living in the mother of all democracies, and it can be no other way.

Geoff Martin

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