Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Round-Up: Race And Spitfires!

18th October 2009 offically marked the 204th anniversary of the defeat of the Napoleon fleet. Trafalgar Day is a traditional point of the year for the British to celebrate the defeat of dictatorship and tyrrany in the defence of our traditional liberties.

However the occasion is often hijacked by a more bellicose, militaristic sensibility which harkens to xenophobia.

Matt Blackall gets involved in the furore over the symbolic use of military symbols for political purposes.

He takes BNP leader Nick Griffin to task for obscuring the details of participants involved in the Battle of Britain. He describes how Griffin's ignorance of the international make-up of the forces who flew the Spitfires and shows how this creates distortions which have political consequences.

Paul Walter provides an insightful anecdote of the views of those in the military.

The related issues took on more serious overtones when the BNP gained two seats at the European elections for the first time earlier this year, giving them a platform to make their case. This translated into a furious debate over whether the BBC should renounce its' independent stance by refusing to invite any party representatives onto the flagship political debating show, Question Time.

For as long as no platform existed the current establishment could remain silent on these issues and refuse to get drawn into any controversy. However as the electoral situation changed and the appearance of an official 'no platform' policy continued the proponents of a non-inclusive identity transformed into defenders of free speech.

In the end a policy U-turn by Labour means they will appear alongside the BNP on QT.

BBC News editor Ric Bailey explains the corporation's decision, saying that 'due impartiality' means having to "take account of the political context when... making editorial judgements."

However Reading Chronicle editor Maurice O'Brien is dubious about whether the decision is "guided by expediency or a rare desire for impartiality," a dilemma he surely encounters regularly.

Somewhat paradoxically he says, "there are certain political figures so obnoxious and repugnant that they should certainly never be allowed anywhere near a broadcast," before adding, "it will be a good moment for democracy when BNP leader Nick Griffin gets to appear on Question Time," because it will force mainstream politicians to stop running away from the issues "like startled virgins".

Central Reading resident Ash takes up the baton:
"given the choice between an expenses fiddling, home-flipping, duck house owning, mortgage free (yet claiming mortgage payments) chancer of an MP or Nick Griffin I'd take the former any day of the week."
He argues that rising to the bait of inflammtory statements will only feed the attention-seeking behaviour ofrepresentatives who have been properly-elected - the way to defeat them is to offer a more positive alternative without alienating anyone.

The ever-excellent Mark Reckons finds it odd that Labour politicians are prepared to simply hope the BNP will 'just go away' - especially considering their recent gains.

Instead, he proposes that the only way to defeat ideas you find disagreeable is to engage with them and convert them through debate. He also notes that playing the BNP at their own game may highlight their inconsistencies - would they 'no-platform' those they wish to exclude?

He also follows up with a summation of his opposition to any 'no platform' policy based on principles of freedom of information and speech. He also notes BBC Director General, Mark Thompson's argument that it isn't their job to indulge in political censorship - if an intervention is to be made it must be done by the government itself so that they can be held accountable.

Matt Blackall also discussed the consequences of a 'legitimised' BNP for the wider political debate. He says they make him sick, and that he would like to watch them get ripped to shreds intellectually by a representative of the working-classes, like the Green Party's Caroline Lucas.

Elsewhere Rapscallion satirises the situation, comparing the no-platform policy toward parties which cause offense to newspapers which cause offense (making a clear reference to recent outrages) - newsagents would be forced into disarray if "the nation’s mainstream newspapers suddenly announced that they would refuse to share shelf space with the Daily Mail."

Meanwhile Kenyan Baba Mzungu reminds us that identity is as much if not more a matter of mentality as it is one of ethnicity.

The local voices will be able to make themselves heard in person on 6th November when Doreen Lawrence will speak at a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Reading Declaration on race equality.


Update: Scaryduck's Alistair Coleman writes an open letter to the BNP leader. He does not engage in any dark humour whatsoever. And nor is it funny. You are commanded not to smirk.

Adrian Windisch says the BNP and Ukip are like two peas in a pod.

Carol states that the debate drives to the heart of tolerance, but cites the often mis-attributed quote 'I may not like what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it'.

She recalls that politicians with direct links to paramilitary groups were given a voice during the Northern Irish toubles and concludes:
"It is only through honest and open debate that we can eliminate misconceptions, present the facts, and get a fair picture of what the public think and want."
Diggestive gives six reasons why he is in a dilemma over the matter, and says "let the debate begin."

z0man doesn't like extremists.

Cllr Richard Willis calls the BNP a "party of thugs and racists" and worries that Griffin will use the platform to increase their profile.

Alistair McRonald calls Labour MP Peter Hain a closet supporter of the BNP for 'doing their work for them' and overseeing a period where Labour's working class support has collapsed.

Former Labour MP Jane Griffiths agrees - Hain is organising the counter-demonstration with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, a man who gave his platform to Hamas.

Baglady says it's an opportunity for a drinking game to build on the stereotyped perceptions of the BNP - "If he mentions Churchill, The War, British Jobs for British People or Illegal Immigrants there's the potential to get very drunk. Very drunk indeed."


Local background: According to Reading Council on Racial Equality (RCRE) ethnic minority employment at Reading Borough Council is falling behind as more migrants are attracted to the town. Similar towns have taken a more proactive line and a report is due.

Thames Valley Police have taken a strong line on prejudice towards the local traveller population, saying they are "misunderstood and should be shown consideration."

They are also taking the initiative to hold surgeries in Polish as a way to help foster better community relations and meet their needs - Woodley Airfield was base to a large company of Polish Airmen during WWII providing a legacy of a lasting cultural community.

June Stoute takes the opportunity of the recent visit by Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, to note that Reading has the largest concentrated population of Bajans (4,500) outside the Caribbean island.

And Reading has also been at the forefront of the Gurkha residency dispute because of the large community of former Nepali servicemen in the area.

Oranjepan says:
If I linked to every local blog that had connections beyond British borders I'd still be here after the lights went out!

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