Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The importance of free debate

Why the Socialist Party debate all-comers.

The Tories want to ban “Islamist extremists” from speaking at universities, to “no platform” them in the same way that the SWP wants to ban racists and those they designate “fascists” but by law. This is provided for in the 2014 Counter Terrorism Act but an argument, patently on the Tories’ part for vote-catching purposes, has broken out between them and their partners in government, the LibDems, over its application. The Tories want to ban anyone advocating support for ISIS or even a new Caliphate. The LibDem position, asreported by the Daily Mail (1 March), is more nuanced:
“Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey said it was ‘easy to demolish’ the views of hate preachers if they were debated in public and warned that driving them underground would only increase their appeal. ‘If these preachers are inciting violence, if they are saying it is OK to be a terrorist, if they are saying you can cut off people’s heads, they can and should be arrested,’ he said. ‘What the Conservatives seem to be wanting to do is to introduce, against British values of free speech, a new type of rule that says that the state will know what “extremism” is. The phrase “extremism” they are talking about is nebulous, it is unclear, and there is a danger the Conservatives will clamp down on free speech and that will be giving in to the terrorists.’”

The LibDems have a point. Rather than trying to stop someone, whether by law or by physical confrontation, from expressing views considered objectionable, put them up on a platform and refute their views forcefully point by point. Trust people to be able to see through them. Censoring what you don't want people to hear is a patronising and elitist attitude towards people as if they are incapable of making up their own minds up or might be corrupted by what they hear (while you're not). And dangerous too as, when “no platform” becomes the norm, who's going to be next, whether imposed by the state or the crowd?

The free circulation of ideas is the best condition for the emergence of socialist consciousness. Which is why we have opposed the SWP policy of “no platform” for fascists, racists, UKIP, etc. The best way to deal with them is not to prevent them expressing their views but to challenge these and expose them in a public debate. And we practise what we preach, having debated against fascists, the National Front, UKIP and Islamists as well as against Tories, LibDems and the SWP.

In fact, we are planning a debate between our candidate in Swansea West and the UKIP  candidate there, Martyn Ford, one of the skeletons in their cupboard:

We can’t wait to get him up on a platform.

Brian Johnson will be our candidate for the Swansea West constituency for May's general election.

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