A Ban on Trump Would Help Nobody - and Hinder Discussions We Need to Have

18/01/2016 14:57 GMT | Updated 18/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Today, Parliament is due to debate the banning of Donald Trump from the UK on account of his views on immigration - and specifically Muslim immigration into the UK. Not only will this be completely ineffective at challenging his views, but the fact that he is a very likely candidate for the Republican nomination (and therefore a real potential President) would make it all the more foolish to ban him from coming to the UK.

In the first instance, it's worth pointing out that - even if Trump becomes President of the USA, this is far from the same as if Trump was Prime Minister of a majority government here, where he'd have an in-built majority so could set the agenda more clearly. Instead, he'd be reliant on Congress passing his legislation (with two-thirds majorities in both Houses required), which would be at the mercy of its sponsors and Committees before it even reached the floor of either House. Given the balance of power in the two Houses, it seems quite unlikely that bans on Muslims entering the USA would be passed (or survive the Equal Protection Clause even if they did), and the idea that Republicans in Congress would include the budget for a wall on the Mexican border (or the massive legal expenses required to advocate the laughable idea that Mexico should pay for it in Court) must surely seem anything but certain.

We need also to remember that no-platforming people and excluding them from the debate rarely, if ever, works. In fact, it often does the opposite; firstly it often increases interest in what is actually being said, such as in the case of No Offence in Oxford, the banning of which by OUSU made national news, or more famously the controversy surrounding David Irving. Efforts to prevent Irving speaking (including Austria imprisoning him before he could even say anything in Austria) were what led people to think he may have something worth saying, and it was only after he was allowed to speak (such as his famous speech to the Oxford Union in 2007) that he became conclusively discredited; indeed, the President of the Union in 2007 described Irving as coming across as "pathetic".

The Conservative Party should know this better than anyone; their own attempts to restrict the speech of Gerry Adams (with the bizarre injunction banning his voice but not his words) were completely ineffective. The same should be said of the other side of the spectrum; "anti-fascist" pressures to no-platform the BNP didn't stop them winning two seats at the European Parliament in 2005. Again, it was after Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time that many realised that the BNP were not in fact a legitimate party of protest.

In fact, one of the biggest problems with taking very large groups of people out of public discourse is that they don't only develop their own victim narratives, but their views get more extreme as, rather than being able to argue to moderation, groups are left to become more extreme as they operate in an echo chamber. As Douglas Murray reminded us when he spoke to One Law for All, when the EDL started out, its protests included banners highlighting that Islamism discriminates against women, and is anti-gay - which you certainly don't have to be an "Islamophobe" to believe. Instead, however, of having those conversations, the nascent EDL was cast out of the Overton window and, as we saw, devolved into an increasingly extremist organisation whose marches often looked like organised football hooliganism.

At least some of this could surely have been avoided if the group hadn't have simply been cast aside wholesale because of the obvious bad elements within the group. Instead, we should have engaged with the legitimate points that Robinson and others were making and argued with them to moderation; that's how society moves forwards. Instead, what we increasingly see on parts of the Left is an attempt to define the parameters of discussion in ways that exclude ideas they don't like, something which we increasingly need to move away from - particularly in conversations about Islamism - at a time when France has been the target of two terror attacks in a year. Faced with a choice between "anti-imperialist" denialism and the dismissal of criticism of Islamism as Islamophobic, and bigotry which conflates Islamism and Islamic doctrines with all Muslims, it shouldn't be surprising when people choose to side with the latter since they're at least having a discussion at all.

Perhaps more worryingly, if we are to have discussions about Islamism and how to combat it, this isn't a precedent that we want to be setting - that people should be banned from speaking because their views can be classed as hateful. Indeed, contrary to some reports, it's not a principle that we're already applying and would be making an exception for "billionaire politicians". In fact, we already allow Islamist hate preachers to speak at universities regularly, and the answer to this isn't to establish such a principle (a la Prevent), but to allow the other side to speak just as freely. More importantly, who would be next to be restricted under this policy? Would Philip Hollobone be free to argue that we should ban the niqab, and propose Bills to that effect, and would the critics of Lutfur Rahman's identity politics and coercion have been gagged because Rahman painted them as racist (despite the fact that for the first time in over a century, an accusation of undue spiritual influence was proven in Court)?

One more thing the Government needs to remember is, again, that Trump is almost certain by now to get the nomination; nothing less than a complete collapse of his campaign will prevent him remaining the frontrunner for the Republicans, and if he can get that far in the nomination process, it would be foolish to automatically dismiss the idea that he could win. And if he did win, we would have to deal with him as we deal with the American state, and to ban him from the country and start a confrontational relationship would be most unwise given not only our country's historic ties with the USA (including trade ties), but the choice of allies on the world stage. Trump openly admits admiration for Vladimir Putin, and to turn a Trump-led America into a pariah in Britain would surely only drive the two closer together than their mutual praise of each other would suggest they could already - something we should not take lightly given Putin's recent actions against Ukraine.

So as MPs and the Government debate the idea that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination (and a potential US President) should not be allowed into the UK, they would do well to remember not only the differences between the US and UK systems of government, but also the failures of no-platform in the past, and exactly where this precedent would take us at a time when debate is needed now more than ever. Indeed, if we really wanted to challenge Trump's views, we would be inviting him here, and turning up to question him and show him that we don't support him - and maybe manage to change his mind just a little in the process.