We haven't got a working TV in my house at the moment, since we practically never turn the wretched thing on and haven't yet got round to going digital. So I missed Nick Griffin on Question Time. Nevertheless, I was following the tweets and talking to friends on Instant Messenger as soon as they'd switched the TV off. The first thing to say is that, a few months ago, I didn't think it was worth giving that bunch of lunatics any publicity. Put anyone's face and quotations up in the papers and it gives them legitimacy as well as the attention and ears Griffin must have been craving. But I now think I was wrong. Sorrow that I must say it, but it seems this is something Britain needs to get together and talk about.
Some commentators said that most of the UK was united that night. It wasn't long before a same-sex kissing flashmob outside the BNP headquarters was set for a few days later (how did that go, folks?). A very straight friend was so angry after watching Question Time that he told me he wanted to go just to make the point! Several splendid remarks were made on Twitter, pointing out Griffin's poor defences against accusations of racism, hatred, etc., and it was all very heartening - until I started reading some of the comments on newspaper reports in the following days, and the sheer number of people who wrote supportive comments for the BNP were alarming.
(As an aside, don't worry too much about these "numbers" - I doubt these people are a majority in society. A professor of Energy Resources at university told us once that 50% of all the anti-wind farm letters published in the four main broadsheets over several years were all from the same 25 individuals.)
One chap bemoaned how he "didn't feel like he was in Britain any more, it made him want to cry" to see foreigners everywhere. Someone below him sensibly wrote something along the lines of: "Just talk to them! You might meet your girlfriend, your best friend, people to go to the pub with, people to watch football with". I wonder if people who think like this self-pitier have ever asked themselves why people emigrate to Britain? What they might be leaving behind? The BNP's idea of bribing people to "go home" is to reduce these people to litter: to be put in the bin and hurried off somewhere else; it doesn't matter where, so long as it's out of sight. There was also, I seem to remember, the false idea that Britain was the only country full of immigrants. Get serious. I could say more, but had better leave this topic before I actually start spitting incoherently. Oh, hang on, I'll just add that the "whitest" area I've ever lived in is Cornwall, and that was the most miserable place I've ever been, and the most excluding.
Most of the BNP's supporters, however, seemed to have their heads completely in the clouds about its actual policies. They didn't see any difference between the BNP and UKIP: they swore Griffin was not racist, for example, and that the other panelists on Question Time were just bullies. To them, the BNP's appeal was that it hadn't yet done all the things that Labour and the Tories have: it hadn't sucked the NHS dry, made paperwork and gobbledygook targets the workplace's highest priority, charged the taxpayer to clean its moat, or "sold our sovereignity to Brussels". This is very thin ice they're treading on, and a poor analysis. One party's being a spectacular disappointment is no credit to another. Are people so poorly educated that they cannot distinguish between a right, and a mere lack of wrong? A worrying letter published in a newspaper remarked that Griffin is the only politician "talking about what actually matters to the British public" (i.e. what matters to himself and his mates, I suspect). Bringing in the sorely needed wisdom of Sattareh Farman Farmaian again, she reflects in her book that the reason the Islamic Revolution took place in 1979, rather than a return to democracy, was because the mullahs were the only strong alternative power: the Shah had silenced the moderates, and it seemed to be a choice of either him or religion as an effective leader.
That was just one massive row among many others - Trafigura and Carter-Ruck being another! Everywhere I look, the death count is different. Trafigura, of course, deny that any deaths resulted from their poison dumping, or indeed any injuries. The Minton Report is cautious in this respect: it points out that the media and "mass hysteria" can both exaggerate effects. (This is a principle of science, my A level Biology teacher explained when we started on statistics and the null hypothesis. It is better to claim no effect, or no link, if you are not sure, than to claim a false positive. In the same way, he said, it is better to let a guilty man go free than put an innocent man in jail. Er, Brown, did you hear that last bit?) But it also says that death is a possible consequence of exposure to the chemicals in the waste, and acknowledges that, since the waste has been dumped and it does not have any samples, it is extremely hard to tell.
Carter-Ruck have made brilliant asses of themselves, akin to someone sitting on a drawing pin. They seem to be suing left and right, including the international media, who I am pleased to report are not cowed. But the libel chill does spread overseas; Newsnight is being sued over this; and meanwhile we don't know how many more super-injunctions are in place - since, by their very nature, the press may not tell anyone that there is such an injunction. The Guardian and us bloggers and Twitterers circumvented them this time; but how many times have we been unable to do so?
The Guardian has at least got hold of a copy of the injunction, well worth a read. Apparently Carter-Ruck sent every single MP a letter claiming that they should not be debating the super-injunction, because that would stop it being a super-injunction - or something along those lines! That was when I wrote to my MP, who sent me a reply stating that while he couldn't comment on individual cases but was a pretty cool e-mail anyway. Not often I can say I'm proud of our politicians, but they went ahead, and considered further action - more on the Guardian's blog. To say Carter-Ruck caused a stir is underestimating things - I quote Denis McShane:
In past years people who sought to gag Parliament or who were held to behave inappropriately were brought before the bar of the House and in some cases sent to prison. Do we not need to see the partners of Carter-Ruck bought before the bar of the House to apologise publicly for this attempt to subborn parliamentary democracy?This, of course, led to a row over whether politicians should have the cheek to stick their noses into law, and that it was a judge's decision to let them go ahead, and so on so forth. And then a row over whether this was press freedom or individual freedom being defended. And then, after Richard Wilson and others demonstrated outside Carter-Ruck's offices, there was another row between him and Jack of Kent over whether Carter-Ruck were being scapegoated. Jack said that the people who should have been protesting were Trafigura, having been given legal advice which wasn't beneficial to them, and that it was the law which was to blame, not lawyers. I agree entirely that everyone is entitled to legal advice no matter what their crime, and that the law should be changed; but I agree with Richard Wilson that Trafigura should also have said, "We can do this, but it will be counterproductive" (or even "morally wrong" if such vocabulary is allowed to be used seriously!). Anyway, go and read Jack's post as linked above and the comments; their knowledge and wisdom far outstrips mine, especially at the moment. My only two pence's worth is to pick at Jack's analogy of the "incomplete adverse report". The Minton Report acknowledges its own completeness, but is it really that adverse? I don't think so. And if a report will prejudice a trial, should not this be addressed during a trial rather than hushed up?
Perhaps I've been too busy concentrating on coughs and aching muscles to look at the news this month, but suddenly things seem to have gone very quiet by comparison indeed. What is clear is the threats, from one source or another, to the democracy that so many have died for, and that we still have - but only if we keep fighting. A certain amount of fighting amongst ourselves is a good thing: it keeps us critical and open, not easily led astray by false promises. Just so long as we do, in the end, compromise and unite enough to make our common purposes happen.