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Sunday, 8 February 2009

When is right wrong?

Should anyone be barred from joining a far-right political party? I ask this because I heard on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme this morning that Church of England priests could be prevented from belonging to the British National Party (BNP).

During the course of the programme we were told – although we knew this anyway – that British cops were not allowed to join. I suspect there are other employee groups likewise forbidden.

Now, I fly no flag for the BNP. OK, some of its policies – especially on the environment – seem good, and, if they were truly about questioning and, if necessary, reducing immigration without the racist overtones one cannot help but detect, they would be more acceptable. You still might not agree with them, but, then, you would not agree with some of the policies of any given political party that isn't exactly your bag.

But racist overtones there are, along with a somewhat thuggish image (much of it left over from earlier times, I suspect, when it was more associated with the Natinal Front). And the BNP is avowedly antigay (search on “What is your attitude to homosexuals?” in that link). Oh, it’s moderated its stance on that of late, but it’s attitude is still that of the 1968 Sexual Offences Act: keep it behind closed doors, don’t talk about it. In other words, continue to feel dirty about it.

So, in many respects, a despicable bunch of people. In others, well, they just do politics, and you might find yourself agreeing with some things, disagreeing with others, as you would with the Tories, New Labour or the Lib Dems.

The BNP is a recognised political party. It can field candidates in elections. It’s not a proscribed organisation. Therefore, in law, anyone can join.

I also recognise that it would look bad for cops to be members. There are still associations drawn – maybe a few of them justified, though I suspect less so these days, when many British cops are to be seen in Gay Pride parades – between the police and authoritarianism.

But there’s still this niggle. The BNP is a legal entity. Yet some organisations are preventing their employees from joining. It may be bad to be seen to support it, for all kinds of reasons, but is it wrong, actually wrong, to belong to it? Or should it be left up to individuals, who would, of course, know that they would be exposed to ridicule, perhaps, to opprobrium certainly in many quarters and maybe, at best, debate as to why they chose to join?

I haven’t put forward an answer, but I can’t help feeling that, as with censorship, we should tread carefully.

This blog has railed against censorship, believing (well, in my case, anyway – let the others speak for themselves) that, short of defamation and incitement to do violence, we should allow issues to be debated; that they’ll stand or fall by that debate; that, once we start on the road to the suppression of anything we disapprove of, we invite the same treatment for ourselves.

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