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Why ‘No Platform’ means something different today

By Nick Lowles
January 7 2013




A few quotes attributed to me about ‘No Platform’ on Huffington Post, as part of a wider article on Free Speech issues in 2012, appear to have caused a bit of a stir in some quarters. The left of centre blog ‘Liberal Conspiracy’ applauded my comments while I have been firmly denounced by the anarchist-aligned ‘’.

Basically, in the course of a much wider interview about the state of the Right and the work of HOPE not hate I was asked about my view on No Platform – the position where we refuse to allow fascists an opportunity to act like normal political parties and, more specifically, which sometimes includes physically deny them the freedom to operate.

I told Jessica Elgot that this traditional position of No Platform was now out-dated and, I went on to say, that anti-racists and anti-fascists needed to do more to debate the ideas we oppose but not the people.

I really did not think anything more of it until my comments appeared on the Huffington Post website. After the applause and abuse, I thought I should expand on my thoughts.

By stating that what we historically understood as ‘No Platform’ is outdated is a simple fact. And of course I still would not give a platform to Nick Griffin or the BNP but others do and enforcing it is no longer a central plank of our work. I say all this for three reasons:

1. The British National Party has won elections and so it has a platform regardless of what we think or would like. Many people got understandably upset when Nick Griffin appeared on BBC’s Question Time but that was a consequence of him getting elected to the European Parliament. The BNP are, or at least were, in council chambers, so what should we do? Under No Platform we would demand that people refuse to sit in the chamber with them or council staff refuse to work for them but that is clearly impossible. Councils have to operate and staff would get sacked if they refused to follow orders.

2. New technology has made ‘No Platform’ increasingly redundant. Back in the 1980s groups like the BNP and National Front would only reach the public by holding papersales on street corners or public meetings at elections. Both gave anti-fascists an opportunity to drive them away and so prevent the public from hearing their racist diatribe. With the advert of the internet and social media that has now all changed. Anyone can now access racist and fascist material without leaving their house or exposing their interest to the wider public.

The rise of the Internet and social media has been accompanied with changing attitudes to freedom of expression and censorship. Arguments about silencing ideas are far less acceptable now than they once were. This was vividly recognised back in 2009 when the BNP tried to hold a fundraising event in Leigh, near Manchester. HOPE not hate joined a community campaign which helped force the venue owner to withdraw the invitation. Success, so we thought. However, a few BNP supporters did turn up and were attacked by anti-fascists, one with a hammer. What began as a great success story turned into a PR disaster as images of the beaten man dominated local, regional and even national news for three days.

3. Hate and hate speech is changing and not all the groups we now oppose are fascists who follow an ideology that is so repugnant that it is easy to explain why they should not be allowed to have a platform. This is especially the case with the emerging anti-Muslim extremists, those in the self-defined Counter-Jihad movement. And it is these groups and individuals who are a far more dangerous threat to local communities than the tiny neo-nazi parties like the British People’s Party or the Racial Volunteer Force. All too often those who profess to be militant anti-fascists ignore these more dangerous racist groups in preference for opposing the miniscule nazi grouplets.

Whether we like it or not the old strategy of No Platform is increasingly redundant, not least because it is no longer enforceable. Despite all best efforts of those who stick to traditional ‘No Platform’ BNP councillors still sit in council chambers, their local branches meet, leaflet and hold street stalls quite openly; the English Defence League march and campaign across the country and anti-Muslim groups oppose mosques and Islam with impunity.

But there is one further point I would like to make. Whilst I still would not debate with Nick Griffin, because at heart he remains the fascist he always was, I also recognise that he and his party do not articulate their true beliefs publicly. Rather, they go into local communities and try to tap into local issues, disillusionment and economic pessimism. That is why I argue that our most important task is to go into these very communities and take on their ideas and arguments.

And this is what HOPE not hate tries to do. We might not always get things right but we go where the problem is. We have consistently taken the BNP on in places like Burnley, Bradford and Sandwell. We produce community leaflets and newspapers in places like Dudley, Croydon and Leeds. In Barking & Dagenham we distributed 355,000 pieces of literature in just five months which helped defeat them in 2010. In Luton, more recently, we have consistently leafleted and campaigned on the estates where the EDL receives its support. The list of our community engagement could go on.

No Platform was a policy we backed in the 1980s and 1990s but it is no longer the same issue or has the same relevance today. But a different type of ‘No Platform’ does exist today and it is one that I do subscribe to. It is a No Platform which means we deny fascists, organised racists and other haters the freedom to spread their poison within communities unchallenged. Just as the BNP have moderated their public views to win the hearts and minds of local people so we must also change. It is about defeating thier ideas rather than just beating them. Working in the communities targeted by racists and fascists, engaging with ordinary people and persuading them to not support these groups is now our priority.

Originally published by Hope Not Hate

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