Copenhagen: The Great Global Warming Deal Swindle?

From today (December 7), some of the most powerful people on the planet will meet in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15), the stated aim of which is for the government’s of the world to agree to a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997.

For many, the fate of humanity rests on the outcome of the conference. Will any agreed global climate deal at Copenhagen, of which Kyoto is the template, be sufficient in curbing runaway climate change and who will bare the brunt of the costs involved?

Previous conferences have widely been regarded as having been fudged and have failed to address the underlying issues in respect to the climate change and its effects (1).

Many see Copenhagen as a turning point. But is there any justification for this optimism?

For Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and incoming COP 15 president (pictured below), failure is not an option: “If the world fails to deliver a political agreement at the UN climate conference … it will be the whole democratic system not being able to deliver results in one of the defining challenges of our century. And that is, and should not be a possibility. It’s not an option.” She calls Copenhagen a “window of opportunity” which should not be missed, arguing that it may take years to rebuild the momentum (2).

Ivo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while apparently optimistic of a “successful” agreement, expressess what he considers to be the reservations from the business community:

“I get the impression talking to business people that they still want clarity from Copenhagen. If you’re making investments now, for example in the energy sector, in power plants that are going to be around for the next 30 to 50 years, you can’t really afford to keep waiting and waiting and waiting for governments to say where they’re going to go on this issue (3).

What do the official pronouncements of Hedegaar and de Boer and the the pro-business solutions implied by the comment of the latter, tell us about the current state of play in respect to global warming?

For the answer to the question, we need to examine the issues that underpin Copenhagen.

Undoubtably, one of the main reasons why previous conferences have failed to deliver is due to any effective political pressure from mainstream society. Although grass-roots activism has been a constant feature of successive conferences, awareness of the underlying issues amongst the general public in respect to global warming appears to a large extent to be lacking, characterized in no small part by a general feeling of apathy.

Arguably, the basis for much of this apathy is the misguided belief amongst a significant minority that global warming is a myth. Many of the sceptics appear to have been taken in by either the mis-information and propaganda emenating from certain individuals, most of whom are the paid hirelings of the fossil fuel corporations or their front organizations which have a vested interest in propagating climate change denial (4).

Further, documentaries such as The Greenhouse Conspiracy and The Great Global Warming Swindle, have played a significant part in fuelling public cynicism. Indeed, the latter had a huge impact, persuading many people that manmade climate change is not taking place. Both films used misrepresentation, distortion or fabrication to sustain claims that environmental problems do not exist and are the fantasies of a self-serving group of mendacious and fanatical scientists (5).

A spokeswoman for pollster Ipsos Mori, showed that there had been a decline in the number of people who believed that global warming was a real phenomenon – primarily, she said, as a result of The Great Global Warming Swindle (6).

Another major factor adding to growing public scepticism, was the recent Climate Research Unit e-mail hacking incident, also known as Climategate, that involved the hacking of a server used by the UK’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) in which sceptics have selectively quoted words and phrases out of context in an attempt, it has been argued, to sabotage the Copenhagen summit (7).

Global warming denial has undoubtably become a growing industry against a background of consensus within the scientific, political and environmental fields, affirming that global warming is a reality. This is underlined by the authoratative Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which states that there is a 90 per cent certainty that the causes of global warming are man-made (8).

The “very high confidence” the IPCC expresses in the global warming thesis, is the strongest statement any reputable scientist would make about his area of study. The thesis that an increase in global temperature (which has been increasing over the past 50 years) is primarily human induced, is unequivocal (9).

The consensus stretches to heads of government and even heads of (some) of the very corporations most responsible for global warming.

A useful summary of this consensus came in a speech made in September 2004:

The emission of greenhouse gases [principally carbon dioxide]…is causing global warming at a rate that began as significant, has become alarming and is simply unsustainable in the long term. And by long term I do not mean centuries ahead. I mean within the lifetime of my children certainly; and possibly within my own. And by unsustainable, I do not mean a phenomenon causing problems of adjustment. I mean a challenge so far-reaching in its impact and irreversible in its destructive power, that it alters radically human existence…
Let me summarise the evidence: the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1990. Over the last century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6 degrees Celsius: the most drastic temperature rise for over 1,000 years in the northern hemisphere.
Extreme events are becoming more frequent. Glaciers are melting. Sea ice and snow cover is declining. Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring. Sea levels are rising and are forecast to rise another 88cm by 2100 threatening 100 million people globally who currently live below this level.
The number of people affected by floods worldwide has already risen from 7 million in the 1960s to 150 million today… By the middle of this century, temperatures could have risen enough to trigger irreversible melting of the Greenland icecap – eventually increasing sea levels by around 7 metres.

The man delivering the speech was Britain’s former New Labour prime minister Tony Blair (10).

News headlines about severe storms, cold snaps, heatwaves, floods or hurricanes certainly focus debate and attention on climate change. It is impossible to link individual short term weather events with global warming. The earth’s climate system is far too complicated for such a simple mode of causation and prediction. But when such events coalesce into a general pattern, as seems to be happening today, the causal link with global warming is much clearer.

Global warming is caused by the growing concentration in the atmosphere of a series of gases which act as a blanket, trapping the sun’s heat. By far the most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, and the main source of the extra carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas in power stations and in internal combustion engines.

The concentration of greenhouse gas in the earth’s atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide, has increased at an unprecedented rate as measured by air samples taken year on year in Hawaii over recent decades, and further back from ice core samples taken in polar regions. This growing concentration of carbon dioxide is directly correlated with a systematic rise in global mean surface temperatures over the last century, and especially over the last few decades. Beyond question the general effect of heating up a system like the earth’s climate will be an increase in extreme weather events across the globe (11).

The consequences of global warming are already evident. The science informs us that even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immedietly, global temperatures are likely to rise by another half a degree Celcius and sea levels could be two or three times as great as the IPPC has predicted by the end of the century. This equates to between approximately 20-30 centimetres (12).

As Gerald Meeh, a lead scientist on the definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, argues:

“Many people don’t realise that we are committed right now to a significant amount of global warming and sea level rise because of the greenhouse gases we have already put into the atmosphere” (13).

A recent paper shows that “climate change … is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop” (14).

Climate-related changes are already observed, for example, in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change.

Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions of the US. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage (15).

The threat posed by global warming is not restricted to the US but is global, and many of the unusual weather patterns which have marked the last decade may be linked to the rise in global temperatures.The result will be a major increase in storms, heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes across the planet, with all the human and social consequences that brings. Dealing with this will be among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades (16).

But far from halting all carbon dioxide emissions, the world’s major states and corporations are pumping out ever-increasing amounts with little sign of any meaningful cuts. The potential consequences are that extra heat in the earth’s atmosphere will melt glaciers and polar ice caps at some point (possibly rapidly, on a timescale of years and decades). Significantly raised sea levels could submerge whole areas that are now land, wiping out whole states from Bangladesh to the Netherlands, and destroying major world cities, including New York and London (17).

Continued global warming will at some point have large-scale, relatively sudden and unpredictable impacts on global rainfall, wind and temperature patterns and on the related ocean water and heat circulation patterns. The details of these shifts are inherently unpredictable, but that they will occur with dramatic impact on global and local climate, agriculture and much else is beyond doubt.

Changing climate will also see shifts in the global distribution of disease-carrying insects, with potentially huge impacts on human health. The consequences of all of these effects would be catastrophic causing untold misery and immense social upheaval if the growth of emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, due to human activity, is not halted and reversed. Arguably, such a scenario represents a threat to the future viability of civilization on the planet (18).

So, these are the realities and potential consequences posed by runaway climate change. The science is clear. But what does the science indicate needs to be done to curb and reverse the situation, and why is the current negotiating process apparently unable to translate the science into affirmative action?

The Blair quote that I cited above – although specific to the UK, is supported by the science and gives an indication of what is required on a global scale – the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 (19).

The international framework by which countries are legally bound to cut C02 emissions is the Kyoto protocol which came into effect in February, 2005. As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol. Kyoto is a complex deal, but its centrepiece is a general commitment by signatories to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 5.2 percent from their 1990 levels by 2012. Some countries went further, with Britain for example pledging a 12.5 percent cut by 2012.

A major problem is that the state responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than any other, the US, with a quarter of all global emissions, refuses to sign the Kyoto agreement or any other international agreement on climate change.

But that is not the only thing wrong with Kyoto. All the fanfare around the deal is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. It is utterly worthless. The cuts in carbon dioxide emissions envisaged under Kyoto will do nothing significant to halt global warming and climate change even if fully implemented.

The European Union claims to be leading the rest of the world on climate change, yet when its governments met during the time of Kyoto’s implementation in 2005, they too refused to set any post-2012 targets for emissions cuts at all (20).

Business and many governments argue that there is nevertheless a key feature of Kyoto which will deliver real emissions cuts – ‘emissions trading’, a market where companies and countries buy and sell the right to pump out quotas of carbon dioxide. And some NGOs which have a good record of campaigning on climate change have accepted this as part of the solution. It is not.

One of the most important emissions trading schemes was formally launched by the European Union in January, 2005. The theory is that the market will set a price on the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide (or the equivalent amount of five other greenhouse gases). Companies will then have to buy a permit for the amount they pump out. The idea is that if the price is high enough market pressure will cause companies to find ways to cut emissions.

The idea at first glance can have an easy appeal, as is often the case with theories based on the market – but in reality is an illusion. When the scheme was piloted in January 2004 the price of the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide was around 12 euros. By the time the scheme came into full operation in January 2005 it had fallen to around 7 euros.

Currently there is little market pressure to change behaviour at all. Even enthusiasts for the scheme acknowledge that the price needed to rise, not fall, to force any switch. The Green Alliance think-tank, in a study of the scheme, concludes bluntly, ‘The first phase of emissions trading from 2005 to 2007 is not going to deliver emissions reduction’ (Quoted on BBC news report, 16 February 2005. (21).

The scheme only applies to a limited number of establishments. Some 12,000 are included in the scheme, accounting for less than half of the European Union’s emissions.

It is also open to crude manipulation. For example, in 2005, Britain’s government attempted to increase by 3 percent the baseline emissions for the 1,000 establishments big enough to be included in the trading scheme. It then claimed that under Kyoto targets its own quota should be set 5.2 percent below this increased baseline, in effect watering down the Kyoto cut from 5.2 percent to just 2.4 percent. Even the European Union thought this New Labour scam a little too blatant and blocked it. The British government, a supposed global champion of action on climate change, launched legal action against the European Union to win the right to fiddle its emissions figures (22).

Things get worse still when you find out that an absolutely central role in the emissions trading process will be played by an entity called the Prototype Carbon Fund – an arm of the World Bank. The Transnational Institute and Carbon Trade Watch argue in a definitive report on emissions trading:

“Trading programmes in effect privatise the problem of air-pollution. Government and communities lose control over environmental protections, placing it in the hands of the polluters. When the incentive to reduce emissions is profit and cost-effectiveness, there is incredible pressure to cheat by overestimating reductions, while underestimating emissions” (23).

In this way, “carbon markets create a muddle” and “…leave much room for unverifiable manipulation” (24).

Carbon Trade Watch argue that it places disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change (25).

The report is a devastating critique of emissions trading, based on schemes that are already under way. It concludes that emissions trading schemes remove any credibility at all from the Kyoto protocol:

“A country will be able to meet 100 percent of its Kyoto reduction commitments through purchasing credits in the market rather than reducing climate change emissions at source… Unfortunately the protocol’s market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading allow countries and companies to escape their responsibilities to reduce their own emissions. With the inclusion of these ‘flexible mechanisms’ this hard-fought agreement may actually be a first step backwards.”

An indication of how flawed the system is, relates to a scandal that erupted in April 2005 around one of the first schemes backed by the Prototype Carbon Fund. This involved the Plantar corporation setting up a massive eucalyptus plantation in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil to produce wood for making charcoal to be used in pig iron production. The corporation argues that otherwise it would have used coal, producing even more carbon dioxide, and is claiming a carbon credit under the Kyoto scheme with the backing of the World Bank.

A whole series of Brazilian and international NGOs and social movement groups have united to slam the fraudulent scheme, which involves the forcible eviction of people from land in the area to establish a huge monocultural plantation. These organisations have signed an open letter calling for the Prototype Carbon Fund to be shut down. They draw out more general arguments about emissions trading which those climate change campaigners who have accepted emissions trading as part of the solution would do well to heed:

“The Prototype Carbon Fund was born out of the World Bank’s efforts to promote neoliberalism. It is an instrument to commodify the atmosphere, promote privatisation and concentrate resources in the hands of a few, taking away the rights of the many to live with dignity. The PCF is not a mechanism for mitigating climate change.
Having followed the PCF’s activities and projects to date, we have learned by its doings that it does not avert dangerous climate change but instead increases hardship for local communities. This exposes inherent flaws not only in its own projects, but in project-based ‘carbon trading’ as a whole and the offset culture underpinning it. Any other similar fund or trading regime will systematically replicate these flaws.
The PCF extends the World Bank’s unacceptable political activities into a new sphere with its own special technical impossibilities. The PCF accordingly must be closed down as a first step in the right direction. It is neither ‘carbon’ nor pollution that is being traded, but people’s lives and paper certificates claiming to be carbon credits. Offset culture and pollution trading must be rejected as false solutions to climate change” (26).

Emissions trading is not the only scam. In recent years, many businesses and governments have latched on to what is dubbed “carbon sequestration” as the answer. Oil companies, in particular Norway’s Statoil and Britain’s BP, have been particularly keen to push this idea, and both have major projects under way. In essence the idea is to capture some of the carbon emitted by burning fossil fuels and store or “sequestrate” it in secure deep rock formations or in exhausted undersea oil reservoirs.

Ron Gueterbock, one of Greenpeace’s climate change experts, rightly argues: “This whole approach is the wrong way to tackle climate change” (27).

It diverts resources away from measures to cut emissions and is an attempt by the giant fossil fuel corporations to say we can have business as usual while they come up with a technical fix which will get us off the hook of climate change.

With the creation of a market for mandatory trading of carbon dioxide emissions within the Kyoto Protocol, the London financial marketplace has established itself as the centre of the carbon finance market, and is expected to have grown into a market valued at $60 billion in 2007 (28).

23 multinational corporations came together in the G8 Climate Change Roundtable, a business group formed at the January 2005 World Economic Forum. The group included Ford, Toyota, British Airways, BP and Unilever. On June 9, 2005 the Group published a statement stating that there was a need to act on climate change and stressing the importance of market-based solutions. It called on governments to establish “clear, transparent, and consistent price signals” through “creation of a long-term policy framework” that would include all major producers of greenhouse gases (29).

By December 2007 this had grown to encompass 150 global businesses (30).

All the major oil companies, with the exception of Exxon, may now talk of the need to take action on climate change, as do the car, tyre, power and other corporations responsible for pumping out greenhouse gases (31), and Shell and BP may have moved into renewable energy. But no one should be fooled into thinking this is a strategic shift away from fossil fuels. Behind the greenwash it is business as usual.

Whatever the views of those at the top, and however genuine their concern over climate change, they are prisoners of the remorseless logic of profit by which corporations live or die. On average all the oil companies still depend on fossil fuels for 95 percent of their revenues and profit. So renewables account for just 0.8 percent of Shell’s global investment, and for just 1 percent of the $8 billion BP spends a year on fossil fuel exploration and production. It is the same story with the car firms. Ford, for example, makes lots of green noises about climate change. But it is utterly committed to selling more and more cars, expanding into newer markets like India and China, and so contributing even more to global warming (32).

It may be argued that the measures needed to tackle climate change are not necessarily incompatible with capitalist society. And it is quite easy to imagine how the giant polluting corporations can profit by adapting to the production and sale of renewable energy. Indeed, there is no reason in abstract why capitalism has to be dependent on fossil fuels and industries linked to them. Capitalism can profit from anything it can turn into a commodity-and the history of capitalism is one of showing a remarkable facility for turning just about anything imaginable into commodities (33).

The future of civilization literally depends on the extent to which capitalism is able to break from the relationship it has with fossil fuels and the speed at which any transition to renewable sources of energy takes place. But in doing so, agreements must be meaningful and genuinely deliver.

Up until now, the figures climate talks have set bear no relationship to the science and are negated away by loopholes and false accounting. Some countries like the UK are meeting their obligations, but outsource their pollution to other countries, whilst a country like Canada, flouts them with impunity as a result, for example, of its practice of extracting tar sands that involve the biggest open cast mining operation on earth (34).

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell (35), a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment.

The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it (36).

The British bank RBS, 70 per cent of which belongs to the government, has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands (37).

A radical departure from the kinds of deceitful practices described in this article is needed if politicians are serious about saving the planet – practices which have seen opportunities squandered by denial and delay, and have led to the current situation whereby the years in which more than two degrees of global warming could have been prevented, have passed (38).

Recent work by scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, suggests that even global cuts of three per cent a year, starting in 2020, could leave us with four degrees of warming by the end of the century(39).

At the moment emissions are heading in the opposite direction at roughly the same rate. If this continues, nobody knows what will be the effects in terms of temperature rises.

What all this illustrates, is that mitigating the effects of global warming (limiting greenhouse gas pollution), has failed.

Moreover, when one considers that the costs of mitigation have apparently been underestimated (40), the need for a shift away from the present orthodoxy becomes an urgent necessity.

This shift would arguably involve the governments of the world either exiting from the capitalist system altogether – a system that necessarily prioritizes the competitive logic inherent to the accumulation process which is at the root of the global warming crisis – or finding ways to restrict the worst of the projected devasting impacts of global warming, through a policy of adaption.

As the environmental activist George Monbiot points out, the costs of stopping climate breakdown – as high as they are – are far lower than the costs of living with it. Germany is spending E600 m just on a new sea wall for Hamburg. The Netherlands will spend E 2.2 bn on dykes between now and 2015; both of which are likely to be inadequate (41).

The UN suggests that the rich countries should be transferring $50-75bn a year to the poor ones now to help them cope with climate change, with a massive increase later on (42). But nothing like this is happening.

The rich nations have promised $18bn to help the poor nations adapt to climate change over the past seven years, but they have disbursed only 5 per cent of that money (43).

In real terms, this amounts to a net gain for the poor of nothing (44).

Oxfam has made a compelling case for how adaptation should be funded: nations should pay according to the amount of carbon they produce per capita, coupled with their position on the human development index (45).

On this basis, the US should supply over 40 per cent of the money and the European Union over 30 per cent, with Japan, Canada, Australia and Korea making up the balance.

But there appears to be no chance of them ever meeting these obligations.

Regardless of whether they meet there obligations or not, there is a limit to what this money could buy anyway. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that “global mean temperature changes greater than 4°C above 1990-2000 levels” would “exceed … the adaptive capacity of many systems.”(46).

At this point there’s nothing that can be done, for example, to prevent the loss of ecosystems, the melting of glaciers and the disintegration of major ice sheets. Elsewhere it spells out the consequences more starkly: global food production, it says, is “very likely to decrease above about 3°C” (47).

The IPCC also finds that, above three degrees of warming, the world’s vegetation will become “a net source of carbon” (48).

This is just one of the climate feedbacks triggered by a high level of warming. Four degrees might take us inexorably to five or six: the end – for humans – of just about everything.

So the situation facing humanity is critical. But who is going to pay for the global warming crisis?

A relatively new framing set by Copenhagen, is the growing demand for the repayment of climate debt which is coming predominantly from the developing world, led by the government of Bolivia and other Latin American governments, and it has been joined by the coalition of least developed countries which are primarily in Africa.

What they are saying is that the climate crisis as we know was created in the industrialized world.

There is a direct correlation between industrialization (what the Western world calls development) and carbon emissions. In fact, 75 per cent of the historical carbon emissions have been produced by only 20 per cent of the world’s population.

There is a geographical irony to this, which is that the effects of climate change are felt overwhelmingly in the developing world, and the parts of the world that are least responsible for creating the crisis (49).

According to the World Bank, 75-80 per cent of the effects of climate change are being felt in the developing world (50).

So, there is an inverse relationship between cause and effect.

It is in this context that we see a growing movement from the developing countries that really are on the front lines of climate change, saying those who created the crisis (the rich world), owes them a debt – tangible reparations for the creation of this crisis. And those reparations should be paid in three forms.

Firstly, through deep emissions cuts in the developed world – at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

Secondly, they are saying the rich world, the G-8  industrialized countries, should pay for the huge costs that poor countries face in adapting to climate change.

Thirdly, they are arguing that they would like to leapfrog over the dirty energies, the fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis.

But they point out that this is expensive, and more expensive to shift to cleaner green technology than it is to develop with cheap, dirty fuels, which is the way we did in the rich world.

So, the developing countries are committed to positive changes, but they don’t think they should have to pay this additional cost because the problem, they argue, is not of their creation.

Essentially the climate debt arguments is the “polluter pays” argument, which is a familiar argument to people in the United States, its a basic principle of jurisprudence. Another way of putting this is “you broke it, you bought it” (51).

But judging by the previous conferences, it is unlikely these demands of the poor will be heard by the rich.

What for activists, will be regarded as the measure of success for the conference?

For writer and activist Naomi Klein, the definition of success has been lowered and lowered. She states:

“A few months ago the definition of success in Copenhagen was countries agreeing to lower emissions, to levels that climate scientists were demanding. And the science is very clear that we really do need cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

The other definition of success was rich countries coming to the table with levels of funding for the developing world that once again meet the actual need. And we know what those types of figures are. The World Bank for instance, has estimated the cost faced by developing countries to simply adapt to a changing climate dealing with droughts, dealing with increased flooding, is $100 billion a year. The cost of leapfrogging over those dirty energies is $500 billion-$600 billion a year. That’s a figure from independent UN researchers. But now what we hearing from the UN is there hope for Copenhagen is that they can get developed countries, rich countries, to agree to $10 billion a year” (52).

At Copenhagen, will the decision-makers continue on the path of hoodwinking the public into believing that something meaningful is being achieved, or will they commit to the required C02 emission cuts of 40 per cent below 1990 levels as argued by Klein? Further will they insist that the rich world pays for the costs of the pollution that they are fostering onto the poor?

What is certain, is that the consequences for the planet are catastrophic if we continue on the path that we appear to be committed to at present.

Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.

References:

(1) www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/03/17/a-self-fulfilling-pr0phecy/

(2) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2257

(3) http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=876

(4) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107)

(5) www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/07/21/distortions-falsehoods-fabrications/

(6) Dr Lucy Arnot, October 18, 2007.

(7) https://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2009/nov/CRUupdate

(8) www.ipcc.ch

(9) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(10) http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2004/sep/15/greenpolitics.uk(11). (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(11) (http://www.ipcc.ch/

(12) www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/sea-level-rises-climate-change-copenhagen

(13) www.ens-newswire.com

(14) www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

(15) http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts/key-findings

(16) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(17) http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(18) http://www.isj1text.ble.org.uk/pubs/isj88/mcgarr.htm

(19) www.rcep.org.uk

(20) The Guardian, 10 February 2005

(21) www.bbc.co.uk

(22) The Guardian, 12 March 2005

(23) www.tni.org/reports

(24) www.ft.com/cms/s/0/4680ee18-f393-11db-9845-000b5df10621.html/?nclick_check=1

(25) www.carbontradewatch.org/

(26) www.tni.org

(27) The Guardian, 5 September, 2003

(28) www.pointcarbon.com/

(29) www.weforum.org/pdf/98_climatechange.pdf

(30) www.epa.gov/climateleaders/partners/

(31) The Observer, February 20, 2005

(32) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(33) www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=119&issue=107

(34) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2009/nov/30/canada-tar-sands-copenhagen-climate-deal

(35) http://peopleandplanet.org/tarsands/localimpacts

(36)  ibid

(37) The Financial Times, November 16, 2009

(38) http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-%e2%80%a6-canada/

(39) www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/journal_papers/fulltext.pdf

(40) Dieter Helm, Tanner lecture, Oxford, February 21, 2009

(41) www.monbiot.com

(42) John Vidal, The Guardian, February 20, 2009

(43)  ibid

(44) (Oxfam, May 29, 2007

(45)  ibid

(46) www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter19.pdf

(47) ibid, Table 19.1

(48) IPCC, 2007b, ibid

(49) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(50) http://beta.worldbank.org/climatechange/

(51) http://www.democracynow.org/2009/11/23/naomi_klein_on_climate_debt_why

(52) ibid

The Rise of the BNP: Time To Question Freedom?

The BBC’s long-running political debating programme, Question Time, entrenched itself in controversy recently, following the decision by BBC executives to allow on to the show the  British National Parties (BNP’s) leader Nick Griffin. In western liberal democracies like Britain, which supposedly value democratic free speech, is it right that Griffin be granted a major political platform such as the BBC as a vehicle with which to air his organizations views?
The intention in the first half of this article, is to provide the reader with an outline of the nature of the party, its historical trajectory and what the implications are for granting the BNP the oxygen of media publicity. In the second half, the educational and professional backgrounds of those responsible for the decision-making process which allowed Griffin on to the programme, in addition to the possible grounds by which he was invited, will be evaluated.
The BNP is widely regarded to be a far-right fascist political organization (1) (2) (3). In this sense, the party represents a unique threat to all forms of democracy at every level of society. This includes the removal of the rights of all working class people – black and white, Jewish and non-Jewish, Muslim and non-Muslim (4).
The Standards Board for England ruled in 2005 that describing the BNP as Nazi was “within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate” (5). The Daily Mirror newspaper described the party’s MEP’s as “vile prophets who preach a Nazi-style doctrine of racial hatred” (6).
An editorial in The Guardian characterizes the BNP as “a racist organization with a fascist pedigree that rightfully belongs under a stone” (7).  The European Parliament’s Committee on racism and xenophobia described the BNP as an “openly Nazi party” (8). When asked in 1993 if the party was racist, its deputy leader Richard Edmonds, who has been convicted for racist violence, said: “We are 100 percent racist, yes.” (9).
The BNP was formed in 1982 in Britain under the leadership of John Tyndall, one of the countries foremost post-war fascists, who proclaimed that “Mein Kampf is my bible” (10). At that time the BNP remained in the shadow of the larger National Front (NF). The NF split, torn as they were by internal conflict, created a space which the BNP filled (11).
One of the BNPs main activists in 1985 was Tony Lecomber. Lecomber was sent to prison for attempting to detonate explosives at the offices of a rival political organization. He was also caught with hand-grenades and was jailed for three years for assaulting a Jewish teacher (12). He was propaganda director at the time of the latter conviction (13).
Lecomber is not alone:  Many other BNP members  have been convicted for racially-motivated violence.  Kevin Scott, the BNP’s North East regional advisor, for example, has two convictions for assault and using threatening words and behaviour against ethnic minorities (14). In addition, Joe Owens, a former BNP candidate, has served eight months in prison for sending razor blades to Jewish people in the post, and another term for carrying CS gas and knuckledusters (15).
Other BNP members and supporters, that include Stephen O’Shea and Simon Briggs, have been convicted for violent racist attacks (16). In 1998, Nick Griffin received a nine-month prison sentence for inciting racial hatred (17). Griffin subsequently became leader of the party in 1999.
During the early 1990s, much of the BNP”s activities were focused on East London, where, in 1993, it secured a council by-election victory in the Tower Hamlets ward of Millwall. The price to pay was a massive rise in racial attacks (18).
At about the same time, the BNP spawned the violent Combat 18 (C18) as its security force. C18 later emerged as a Nazi terror group, responsible for a letter bomb campaign and a series of murders. C18 thugs, made up of football hooligans and Nazi skinheads, protected both BNP meetings and the BNP leadership during party marches.
In 1993, the BNP became increasingly embarrassed by Combat 18 violence. After its victory in Millwall, it decided it no longer needed the street thugs and banned dual membership. However, most BNP members ignored this plea. In September 1995, four of the five London BNP branch organizers attended a C18 meeting (19).
The Millwall seat was lost eight months later. The BNP lost momentum, with younger members going over to C18. Tyndall reversed the slide by adopting a more hardline strategy, which included bringing veteran US Nazi leader, William Pierce, to London.

William Pierce
Pierce penned the tract, The Turner Diaries, which inspired both the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the politicised BNP supporter, David Copeland, who was convicted for the bombing of a London pub (20).
During this period in the mid-1990s, the organization began to adopt a more respectable image:
It campaigned on rural issues and, publicly at least, watered down some of its more overt racism, co-opting many of the policies which have traditionally been the domain of the political left (21).
In 1999, it  exploited the debate in relation to proportional representation as an opportunity to begin the biggest racist recruitment drive ever to have taken place in Britain, launching a new party political broadcast and delivering 15 million leaflets (22).
Since this apparent surface shift in strategy in the mid 1990s, the BNP’s support has relatively increased, albeit intermittently. In 2002, for example, the BNP won three council seats in Burnley, and averaged 28 per cent of the town-wide vote. In Oldham, the party came second in four of the five wards it contested, and took an average 27 per cent.
Across the country, the BNP averaged 16 per cent in the council wards it contested – the best election results in its history. However, this must be offset against the fact that it only challenged less than one per cent of all seats up for election. Since then, they have added further seats, a total that currently stands at 46 out of around a possible total of some 21,000.
In the 2005 General Election, the BNP stood 119 candidates across England, Scotland and Wales. Between those candidates, they polled 192,850 votes, gaining an average of 4.2 per cent across the several seats it stood in and 0.7 per cent nationwide – more than three times its percentage at the 2001 election (23). Of these votes, half originated from disaffected New Labour voters (the governing party) consisting of semi-skilled manual workers, pensioners and the unemployed (24).
However, it is important not to exaggerate the overall reach of the BNP: It did not stand nationwide, meaning its national share of the vote was substantially lower than that of other minor parties and exit poll predictions of 3 per cent (25).
Still, indications are that relatively the BNP is increasing its support amongst sections of the UK voting population (26) (27), against a background and climate of increasing racism (28). Consequently, the ugly face of racially-motivated violence appears to be never far away.
In October 2006, for example, Robert Cottage, an BNP candidate to represent Colne and Pendle Council earlier that year, was arrested under the Explosives Act on suspicion of possessing chemicals that may be capable of making an explosion (29).
Cottage was also reported has having in his possession the largest quantity of explosives of its kind found in the country (30).
On 31st of July 2007, Cottage was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment for the charge of possessing explosives (31).
Electorally, the European elections of 2009 resulted in the BNP attracting one million votes, which translated into them winning two seats in the European parliament. One of these seats was won by Griffin, who was elected for the North West region with 8 per cent of the vote (32).
So, how can the current growing relative popularity amongst sections of the British people for the BNP, be reconciled with the organizations historical tendency for racially-motivated violence?
For the answer to that question we need to examine the specific socioeconomic circumstances and conditions which arguably provide the catalyst for such violence.
Historically speaking, the defining characteristic of fascist parties has been their apparent propensity to be able to exploit prevailing unstable economic conditions. To a large extent, fascism thrives on the support it receives from what are frequently perceived as the disenfranchised in society, who suffer disproportionately from any global downturn in the economic cycle.
Thus, the uneven growth or decline in the fortunes of fascist political parties such as the BNP, is mirrored by the economic conditions in society at any given time. In short, during periods of low unemployment and relative economic stability, workers are less likely to vote for, and support, fascist political parties. On the other hand, when workers feel socially and economically vulnerable during periods of economic downturn, then some people are prone to translate their internal frustrations and anger in an external way by terrorizing minority and immigrant communities and/or towards supporting fascist political parties who cynically channel this anger and frustration into violent actions themselves (33) (34) (35).
Moreover, support for parties like the BNP appears to be predicated on the perceived failure of mainstream established political parties in addressing many of the legitimate concerns that working people face in their everyday lives as evidenced by half of the BNP’s support (as of 2005) originating from the New Labour government as highlighted above. One of the main concerns is the lack of availability of affordable social housing in the UK, the construction of which have dropped by 99 per cent in the last 12 years of the New Labour government (36).
The BNP are a major beneficiary of this kind of disaffection which they are able to exploit electorally, as evidenced for example, by their by-election victory in Kent which stemmed from fears over unemployment and issues around immigration and race (37). In this regard, the BNP have been able to play on mainstream concerns about the economy, crime, housing and unemployment, while also exploiting more traditional far right subjects such as immigration and fears about Islamist extremism. Their use of the issue of migrant workers in particular, combines fears about immigration with the reality of rising unemployment (38).
So a direct correlation appears to exist between economic crisis or downturn, the inability of established governing political parties to address the legitimate concerns of a large proportion of the electorate, and the rise of political parties like the BNP. Given that the current global economic downturn is predicted by many experts to be a medium to long-term problem (39), the consequences for ethnic minorities who are the brunt of the BNP’s message (40), appears to be less than a rosy one. The growing popularity for the BNP is echoed in respect to the corresponding mainstream and corporate media coverage and publicity they have increasingly garnered in recent years – coverage that nevertheless, is seemingly disproportionate to the relatively small number of votes they receive (41).
In a democracy, ought not all views, no matter how potentially repugnant, be heard by the population at large, particularly if such views are apparently representative of an increasing amount of people?
If the level of support for the BNP has grown to the extent as to warrant their exposure on the popular television debating programme, Question Time, what possible grounds could there be to censor such views?
This might be a valid argument, if it was the case that the BNP are a political organization whose ideology was not fascist. As distinct from all other UK political parties, the BNP’s leader has denied the reality of the existence of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews, alongside millions of others, perished (42). Further, unlike any other party, the BNP discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity over which they have no control, and openly advocate the repatriation of “non-whites” (43). Up until October, 2009, the BNP required that all members must be of the “Indigenous Caucasian” racial group (44). This requirement was challenged legally by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who won their case against the BNP. Since October, 2009, ethnic minorities have been allowed to join the party (45).
It is for these, and other reasons, such as their use of intimidation and racial violence, that the claims for the legal legitimization of the BNP have been called into question – the case being that the agenda of the BNP is not a political, but a criminal one. All the evidence points to the fact that where the BNP have been politically active, have targeted its election campaigns or have otherwise had a presence, the resulting publicity has resulted in an increase in the amount of race attacks (46) (47).
In 1993, following their local council by-election victory in the Tower Hamlets ward of Millwall, for example, racial incidents increased by 300 per cent in the three months following the election (48). Barking in East London, has seen a 30 per cent rise in racist attacks since the BNP’s successful campaign in the borough (49). Two years ago, Griffin generated a significant amount of publicity following the controversy surrounding Oxford universities decision to allow him a public platform to address students at the universities campus. In the days following his speech, racist attacks in the Oxford area increased significantly (50).
At the time of  Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the BBC attracted an audience of almost 8 million viewers, three times its average (51). Following the publicity generated by Griffin’s appearance, The Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed the results of a UK Gov opinion poll which indicated that 22 percent of British people would “seriously consider” voting for the BNP (52). Moreover, the BNP claimed that 9,000 people applied to join them after the programme aired (53).
It is usual for the BBC to announce the line-up of the show one or two days prior to broadcast, but on this occasion it stated that Griffin would be appearing many months in advance of it going to air. This generated further interest from amongst others, BBC Radio One and Channel 4 News.
Was this a deliberate cynical attempt by the BBC to increase their viewing-figure ratings in the almost certain knowledge that such an increase would by turn increase the profile of the BNP?
What does appear inconceivable, is that BBC management would have been unaware of the consequences for Britain’s ethnic minority population of granting the BNP this “gift horse” amount of public exposure.
Was the decision by the BBC to invite Griffin on to the show based partly on the shared professional and educational backgrounds of those concerned?
Many of the individuals who were directly responsible for overseeing Oxbridge-educated Griffin’s appearance, had themselves been educated at one of two of Britain’s elite educational establishments – Oxford and Cambridge. For example, BBC director-general, Mark Thompson was educated at Oxford, where Griffin was granted a public platform to speak. Following his appearance on the show, Griffin, who graduated in law, told the Guardian newspaper that he admired Thompson’s “personal courage” by inviting him (54).
Nicholas Kroll, director of the BBC Trust – an organization that supposedly represents the interests of the viewing public – was educated at Oxford. At least three of the 12 members of the government-appointed trustees, were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, while the remainder have a background in either law, business or economics (55).
So what were the grounds for the BBC inviting Griffin on the the Question Time programme?
BBC deputy director-general Mark Byford defended the BBC’s decision on the grounds of impartiality, insisting that Griffin’s invitation was not based on boosting viewing figures. Byford said it was “not for the BBC” to engage in censorship, echoing the views of his boss, Thompson, by saying that such issues were a matter for government (56). The Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was also educated at an elite university, Edinburgh, responded that the responsibility to allow Griffin on to the programme was the BBC’s (57).
In words that would have been music to the ears of Griffin, Brown said:
“I think the days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over….I think we should celebrate much of our [imperialist] past rather than apologize for it, and we should talk, rightly so, about British values” (58).
The “values” that Brown was referring to were not made clear.
After having the ‘buck’ passed back to them by Brown, the BBC were effectively compelled to pass the issue over to the government-appointed business-friendly and Oxbridge-educated BBC Trust, after cabinet minister Peter Hain and others, appealed against the decision to allow Griffin on to the programme (59).
Although in principle the BBC Trust is able to intervene in cases like this, in practice the body never interferes in individual programme content prior to transmission. A BBC Trust spokeswoman told MediaGuardian:
“The trust is the sovereign body of the BBC and could, in principle, intervene before a programme is broadcast. However, there is a long-established convention that it does not take a view on the editorial content of individual programmes before transmission, but only reviews them after transmission” (60) – cold comfort for Britain’s ethnic minorities, many of whom would have been verbally and racially assaulted as a direct result of the programme airing.
Does the decision to allow Griffin on to the programme on the grounds that not to do so, would break the corporation’s alleged impartiality guidelines, stand up to scrutiny?
The BBC frequently break their “impartiality” guidelines. This often takes the form of  BBC journalists  accepting the views and pronouncements of those in political power uncritically and as a given. In 2007, for example, Justin Webb, then the BBC’s North America editor, rejected the charge that he is a propagandist for US power, saying:
“Nobody ever tells me what to say about America or the attitude to take about the United States. And that is the case right across the board in television as well” (61).
Webb began a radio programme from the Middle East thus:
“June 2005. US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice flies to Cairo and at the American University makes a speech that will go down in history: “For sixty years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East; and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”
Webb told his listeners in all seriousness:
“I believe the Bush administration genuinely wanted that speech to be a new turning point; a new start” (62).
Nobody had to tell Webb to say these words; he genuinely believed them.
Consider too, the pronouncements of one BBC correspondent, reporting from Iraq:
“This is not promising soil in which to plant a Western-style open society.”
And:
“The coalition came to Iraq in the first place to bring democracy and human rights” (63).
When investigative journalists challenged BBC news director Helen Boaden on whether she thought this version of US-UK intent perhaps compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, she replied that such “analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many of the speeches and remarks of both Mr Bush and Mr Blair” (64).
In March, 2009, BBC reporter Reeta Chakrabarti was asked why she had claimed that Tony Blair had “passionately believed” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. After all, an alternative thesis – based on a mountain of compelling evidence – is that Blair was lying. Chakrabarti responded:
“I said Mr Blair passionately believed Iraq had wmd because he has consistently said so” (65).
In other words, for the BBC it appears to be a given that the unchallenged pronouncements of Western political leaders who speak on behalf of powerful economic interests, are the truth.
In 1999, the BBC  made the clear political decision to allow its own high-profile newsreader, Jill Dando, to present a DEC appeal for Kosovo at the height of NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign against Serbian “genocide” in Kosovo (claims that have since been quietly abandoned). Shortly after broadcasting the appeal, with bombing still underway, the BBC reported:
“Millions of pounds of donations have been flooding in to help the Kosovo refugees after a national television appeal for funds” (66).
This article linked to related reports on the conflict, which included comments from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair:
“This will be a daily pounding until he [the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms laid down by NATO” (67).
This contrasts with the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Gaza Charity Appeal in response to Israel’s violent 22-day attack on Gaza late last year. The attack resulted in the killing of a minimum 1,300 people and the wounding of 4,200 others. Israeli forces repeatedly bombed schools, medical centres, hospitals, ambulances, UN buildings, power plants, roads, bridges and civilian homes. The BBC’s refusal to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, breached an agreement that dates back to 1963 and left “aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations” (68).
The BBC apparently had no concerns that this might damage its alleged reputation for impartiality. The BBC argument is made absurd by its consistent and very obvious pro-Israeli bias. An early version of January 28 BBC online article (since amended) commented:
“Israel has carried out an air attack in the Gaza strip and launched an incursion with tanks and bulldozers across the border….The incursion follows a bomb attack which killed one Israeli soldier and wounded three near the Gaza border” (69). As usual, the BBC presented the Israeli attack as a response to Palestinian violence in which it was falsely claimed that they (the Palestinians) had broken an earlier ceasefire. In fact, Israel forces had already violated the ceasefire at least seven times (70).
The BBC’s claims of impartiality, are further compromised in relation to the nature of their senior management appointments. These are made by the government of the day. At the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies and his director-general, Gregg Dyke, were supporters of, and donors to, the Labour Party. Davies’s wife ran Gordon Brown’s office; his children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding. Tony Blair has stayed at Davies’s holiday home. “In other words”, noted columnist Richard Ingrams, “it would be harder to find a better example of a Tony crony” (71).
BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan lost his job after intense government flak in response to Gilligan’s report that the Blair regime had manipulated intelligence over Iraq’s supposed WMD (72).
Consider too, the establishment links of the members of the BBC Trust whose duty it is to uphold its public obligations, including impartiality. Notwithstanding the unrepresentative nature of the trust, as reflected in its members educational and professional backgrounds (see above), the BBC’s claim for impartiality cannot be sustained on the grounds of ideology alone.
One of these trustee worthies is Anthony Fry, formerly of Rothschilds and later the ill-fated Lehman Brothers where he was head of UK operations. Fry boasts on the BBC website:
“Having spent my career in the City as an investment banker, for over a decade specializing in the media industry, it’s a great privilege to bring my commercial understanding of the sector to help the BBC deliver value for licence fee payers in today’s rapidly changing broadcasting environment” (73).
Are we to believe that these individuals are independent of the government that appointed them and of the elite corporate and other vested interests in which they are deeply embedded?
Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, was honest in his assessment of the corporation and its relationship to the establishment:
“They know they can trust us not to be really impartial” (74).
What these clear examples of double standards and bias illustrate, is that the notion the BBC were obliged to invite Griffin on to the Question Time programme on the spurious  grounds that to deny him an invitation could conceivably undermine their claims for impartiality, are clearly bogus.
The BBC’s close ties to the British establishment undermines their credibility for impartiality at the first hurdle.
To recap: Many of their top executives were educated at one of the two elite universities Griffin was educated at and allowed to speak at. Moreover, having clearly made contradictory and politically-motivated decisions in the past – the latest of which was to invite the leader of a fascist political organization, whose existence is legally open to question, on to one of their flagship-political debating programmes – further undermines the BBC’s credibility.
The kind of cosy relationship the corporation has with the government of the day and with people like Nick Griffin and the BNP, makes sense when one considers the British establishments well documented historical links with the political far-right. The Daily Mail newspaper, for example, whose then owner Lord Rothermere, was both a supporter and friends of Hitler and Mussolini (75), propagated anti-Jewish sentiment at the end of the Second World War, as a catalyst for the then government to stem the flow of Jewish immigration into the country (76) (77).
This is the same establishment newspaper which, under the guise of the “war on terror”, regularly sensationalizes anti-Muslim stories on to its front pages, whilst relegating the relatively higher amount of terrorist activities of the far-right in its inside pages (78) (79).
Were the BBC justified in granting Griffin a slot on the programme on the grounds of freedom of expression?
This brings into sharp focus the concept of freedom in a liberal democracy like Britain. Unlike the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Britain does not regard unconditional freedom of expression as a right. In this sense, Britain (and most of Europe) regards such freedoms as necessarily restricted by the interventions of the state. The aim of such intervention is the restriction of some freedoms which are deemed to undermine the public good and society in general. In this regard, a persons freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded public space like a theatre, is limited by the right of other people not to be crushed to death in the resulting stampede.
In theory, existing UK law is designed to restrict the freedom of individuals like Griffin to publicly use inflammatory language that is intended to incite religious and/or racial hatred and violence. Perhaps the BBC thought Griffin’s arguments would be sufficiently ridiculed by the other panelists on the show?
Indeed, this kind of argument is often used by those who defend the right of people like Griffin to be heard. In theory, this might appear to be a plausible position to take. Clearly though, Griffin’s arguments were not adequately challenged by members of the panel on the Question Time programme (80).
Government minister Jack Straw’s performance, for example – whose position on race relations had itself been compromised by his refusal to meet with a female Muslim constituent at his Blackburn surgery – was regarded by many as inept and ineffectual (81) (82).
This begs the question as why it was the government hierarchy made the decision to use Straw as their representative (and therefore, by extension, the people) on the programme?
Could it of been that in the almost certain knowledge of Griffin’s arguments surviving the programme unscathed, they would have been aware of the likelihood of an increasing potential for racial tension and social conflict in the country?
The social policy objective of  “divide and conquer” implied by such a strategy, has served various governments both past and present very well (83). Thus, there is no reason to believe why such a strategy would not be repeated.
But Straw was not the only guest on the show who failed to expose the policies of the BNP. Many of the audience would have felt alienated by what seemed to be an attack by the whole establishment on one individual. Griffin was attempting to tap into this alienation. The biggest problem with Question Time was the lack of a genuine workers’ representative that could have punctured this attempt. Instead, Griffin was on a panel with establishment politicians, all of whom support anti-working class and pro-big business policies (84).
Whatever the reasons were for the government and BBC establishment deciding on their choices to confront Griffin, the fact that the latter effectively side-stepped the laws relating to conditional freedom of expression by granting him the platform of Question Time, highlights the limitations of applying existing British law in what clearly is a legal “grey area”.
Such a controversy would not be an issue in a country like the US, on the basis that one of the principles of the US constitution is the notion of unconditional or unlimited freedom of expression. Many people clearly remain convinced of the merits of unlimited freedom of expression and the First Amendment that overrides it, on the basis that all views in a “free” society, no matter how potentially offensive and repugnant, ought to be heard. The American, Michael Harrison, editor of “Talkers Magazine” is one such person.
When questioned by talk show host and British MP George Galloway on this subject, Harrison defended the rights of Nazis and their supporters to provocatively goose-step up and down the streets of a Jewish community in a major city, openly preach support of Hitler and to deny the Holocaust in which the relatives of the people living their would have probably been gassed to death (85).
For Harrison, the clear potential for civil unrest and violence resulting from the state legitimization of such behaviour, was a price he considered was worth paying in the defence of unconditional unlimited freedom of expression (86).
It is worth remembering that Hitler, under the guise of unlimited freedom of the kind espoused by Harrison, came to power as Chancellor in Germany in 1933 with one-third of the vote, only for him to abolish freedom altogether. Democratic freedom and the right to vote was only restored following the overthrow of the fascist regime by the allies over a decade later.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin, in countering this unlimited notion of freedom from which emerged Hitler fascism, put it well when he said:
“One is free to move ones fist in the direction of my face, but ones freedom ends at the point at which the fist makes contact with it” (87).
Sadly, for many of Britain’s ethnic minorities, the price to be paid for allowing people like Nick Griffin on to programmes like Question Time, is an increase in the incidence of the fascist fist and jackboot to their faces.
Copyright: Daniel Margrain, 2009.
For details of specific references applicable to the above article, contact the author at: margrain.daniel@yahoo.co.uk
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