Until the European election success of Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, I hadn’t heard the slogan “No platform for Nazis” for a good few years. The last time was at a meeting of the National Union of Journalists’ London Magazine branch back in the early part of this decade when I was vice-chair(man). I’m not sure of the branch’s political make-up now, but back then it was Socialist Worker-dominated. Nice people, but a bit obsessed.
‘No platform’ was, and I suspect still is, the Union’s official policy. The matter came up, and all present agreed that it was a sensible policy, aimed at repelling evil. All but one. Although I knew that registering my concern would be like shaking the last drips of urine off in a force 9 gale, and that I would almost certainly be persona non grata for the rest of the meeting and possibly a fair bit longer, I felt it worth doing. My hand went up. Surely denying opponents the right to express their views and run for election, on the basis of their beliefs, were the sort of acts you’d expect from fascists? Wasn’t it dangerous to do so? Would not the Socialist Workers be squealing like stuck pigs if the positions were reversed? Surely the proper way to repel the evil was to let it have its say, then refute every single point with sweet reason and humanity? My prognosis was correct. For the rest of the meeting, I was the man in the Bateman cartoon. I’m sure I heard one person tutting, completely unironically. Merely for daring to suggest that we should give fascists enough rope and then ensuring a satisfying outcome just by pointing out what poisonous bilge they had to offer, I was seen to be marching down Cable Street on the wrong side.
Until, that is, the meeting came to an end. We repaired to the pub and continued the debate. When it was thought that the chair(man) of the branch wasn’t looking, one of his fellow travellers sidled up to me and said “You were right, of course, but I couldn’t say so in the meeting. What are you having?”. This clandestine dance was repeated a couple of times by other SWP members during the evening.
Free speech, free assembly and free elections are just that. Free. You can try to stop the electorate voting for fascists. That’s fair game. However, if you believe that fascists do not deserve the same democratic rights as you, then aren’t you a bit of a hypocrite?