The headlines make pretty grim reading. Britain seems to be mostly underwater, the threat of Islamic terrorism prevails, an evil universe version of a Sesame Street character is alarmingly close to the most powerful office in the world and it's getting nearer to the time of the year when it feels a bit weird to watch Christmas specials.
You could be forgiven for thinking that January 2016 is a month we'll be glad to see the back of. However, there is good news for those willing to look for it. According to a story reported by both The Independent and Huffington Post; the Electoral Commission has removed the British National Party from the list of official political parties. It seems that we might finally have gotten rid of this gaggle of mouth-breathers.
As joyous as this news is, there is an important lesson to be learned from it and it pertains to the ongoing debate around free speech, both on university campuses and in our broader public life. The right to say exactly what one wants to is under attack from many different parts of society. Extremist feminists seem to have it in their cross-hairs, with calls for 'safe spaces', speech codes and trigger warnings; while Islamic terrorism hates free speech with such a passion that it is willing to murder journalists in the countries it does not control and publicly maul bloggers in the counties it does.
Free speech is under constant attack and must be defended. I was one of those individuals - the principled minority - who defended the right of the BNP to exist and to promote its awful views as the price we have to pay for the right to live in a free society because free speech means nothing if you deny it to the despicable. I also did so because 'hate speech' is a completely fatuous charge - used in place of the intellectual fortitude required to dissect objectionable ideas - and because all ideas are prima facia worthy of scrutiny, although any humiliation suffered after that is very much the fate of the speaker
What do the fall of the BNP and freedom of expression have in common? I'd suggest that the downfall of the British Nationalists proves that the best cure for abhorrent views is not darkness, via bans and censorship, but a spotlight - the heat of which causes them burn.
Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of Autumn 2009. In the European Elections, the British National Party achieved its greatest success. It returned two British MEPs, in the form of Andrew Brons and party leader Nick Griffin, to add to their clutch of councillors and the entire country was poised to see the far-left (remember they're in favour of industrial protectionism, nationalisation and set out a hard-leftist stall for leaving the European Union - no conservatives or liberals they) bigots making gains until, eventually, the unthinkable would happen - a seat at Westminster.
Then something happened...
Against a backdrop of boring demonstrations by the nitwits at United Against Fascism - a case of false advertising if there ever was one - the brave decision was taken by the BBC that Nick Griffin (then an MEP) would appear on the October 22 edition of Question Time. For the uninitiated, Question Time is a BBC current affairs programme hosted by the inimitable David Dimbleby, which is essentially a cross over between Prime Minister's Questions, the story of the lions and the Christians and the scene where Peter Finch's character goes nuts in Network. It's the quintessential British current affairs programme.
Fears were expressed that it would legitimise a figure like Griffin and therefore lend credence to his party. Mr Griffin, as promised, appeared alongside Bonnie Greer, Chris Huhne, Jack Straw and Baroness Warsi.
Well, Mr Griffin, you'll pardon the expression, was 'torn a new one' (Google if necessary). He was made fun of, his arguments were undermined and he was left slack-jawed. Also included was a David Brent-esque cringeworthy moment when Griffin defended the KKK to a black British-American woman. Seriously, that happened, go back and watch it if you don't believe me.
The timeline from then until the BNP's demise is simple. They expected to do brilliantly at the General Election - they didn't. They told us that their potential would be realised at the following European Parliamentary elections where... well, they lost both of their MEPs and were left with nothing. They fell off the political map entirely and now it seems they're no longer even considered a proper political party. The BNP story consists of three or four very short chapters, written, in crayon, in very short words. The parrot, it seems, was dead all along.
The facts are obvious and are a matter of record; the pertinent question however, is why?
I submit that the level of exposure the BNP received led directly to its downfall. The interviews, media scrutiny and attention foisted upon it led people to genuinely debate with it, to ask questions and removed the mystique and titillation from what seemed like a new set of ideas but turned out to be the same old jingoistic, nationalistic claptrap we've heard countless times before.
Thrusting the BNP into the limelight and putting them on centre stage for the entire country to see, showed them for what they are... or were. A bunch of bigoted fools with out-dated notions, wearing a thin mask of pseudo-patriotism. Their fate was sealed as soon as that tin of spam in a suit leader of theirs dragged his form on to the stage and sat, squirming, as he was temporarily treated like a proper politician until he turned out not to be. Had he not received this treatment, the public might not have had the BNPs true nature exposed to them and we might still be talking about its upcoming, seemingly inevitable, electoral success.
As it stands, we don't have to - ain't free speech grand?