At his trial in Oslo, Anders Breivik’s testimony has been horrifying and chilling, not only as a result of his brutally graphic account, but because he has been able to present the murder of 77 people in such a calculated and reasoned way.
There is no doubt that the response to Breivik’s attack has been dominated by a discourse of confusion. In the last decade or so, through experience, Europe has developed a nascent understanding of Islamic extremism and can therefore begin to absorb it. Breivik’s far right nationalist extremism on the other hand was thought to be resigned to history and therefore the sense of shock across the continent is all the more prolonged. He represents the extremes to which the far right can go, and it is a societal responsibility to ensure that such terrible events never happen again.
The far right want to destroy our democracy and stand for the elimination of our basic rights…
It is inevitable that multiculturalism in Europe will be challenged by a minority of illiberal groups and individuals. Undeniably, it brings a variety of problems and therefore it is equally inevitable that this challenge will be presented on the political stage, as people seek a way of articulating their grievances. In Britain, the liberal majority are woefully inadequate at dealing with any expression that strays to either side of the mainstream liberal centre.
No more clearly can this be seen than in Ken Livingstone’s decision to withdraw from a BBC London Mayoral candidate debate in protest at the inclusion of the BNP candidate, Carlos Cortiglia. In a decision that has since been repeated by the Green Party’s Jenny Jones and Boris Johnson, Livingstone said, “I have long held to the belief in no platform for the far right. The far right want to destroy our democracy and stand for the elimination of our basic rights. They cannot be treated as a legitimate part of politics.”
…they do not preach hatred, endorse violence or break the law.
I can’t help but see the glaring contradiction in this statement. In proclaiming the illegitimacy of the BNP and calling for their exclusion from mainstream politics, Livingstone is indeed corrupting the democratic system he accuses the BNP of “destroying”. For the key point here is the BNP have demonstrated “evidence of electoral support” in a series of elections and by winning representation in the London Assembly in 2008, and therefore deserve proportionate coverage. Furthermore they do not preach hatred, endorse violence or break the law.
It cannot be denied that the BNP represent the views of a minority in Britain and therefore if the system of democracy that we so cherish is to be upheld with integrity, they must be given equal treatment. We must trust democracy to expose the political inadequacy of groups such as the BNP. It is on the official political platform that they should be judged. It speaks volumes of Ken Livinstone’s confidence and ambition that he is not willing to go head to head with Mr Cortiglia, a man who recently responded on the economic viability of his proposed free weekend travel by saying, “I don’t give appreciations in terms of numbers”.
Surely it is the duty of politicians with a sense of righteousness to expose the illiberal and ill-conceived policies of the far right on the political platform. A debate over policy will deny the BNP votes. Refusing this debate not only gives them more publicity (I wouldn’t be writing this article had the debate gone ahead) but supplies them with propaganda that can only enhance their position.
Rather than disregard the BNP, their presence should motivate Livingstone and other politicians to do something about the reasons for their existence. The BNP, while a minority, reflect a proportion of society that was alienated by mainstream politics. Livingstone should ensure he seeks to win back these voters. This will be achieved by addressing their grievances, and the causes for such feeling. Disregarding the BNP only strengthens the alienation of their supporters from the mainstream. There needs to be faith in the liberal majority to return an appropriate political leader. Indeed, as the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, said in the aftermath of the Norway attacks, “We will stand by our democracy. The answer to violence is more democracy, more humanity.”