Well, what a wonderful few days for the media in Northern Ireland. Seasoned hacks who have been struggling to get to grips on boring issues like housing (er, is it housing for catholics or protestants?), healthcare (er, are closures in catholic areas or protestant areas?), welfare reform (er, will this affect catholics or protestants more?), were given welcome relief in the form of Parades, Racists and Homosexuals. They know what they're doing with those issues, that's for sure.
But let's focus on racists for now. In particular, the racist, sexist, homophobic leader of the racist, sexist, homophobic British National Party. Nick Griffin turned up at Stormont on Saturday during the celebrations to mark the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant. As is to be expected, he then set about trying to offend as many people as he possibly could in the shortest space of time that he could making full use of Twitter's ability to reach an audience of thousands.
I'll not go into details of his particularly offensive tweets - if you want, you can get detail here - because pretty much everything he spouts is offensive in some way but I do want to talk about the reaction. It was, as ever, pleasing to see widespread condemnation for Griffin and the BNP, particularly from many members of the Orange Orders and our Unionist politicians who made it clear he was not a welcome presence (though I think referring to the covenant celebrations as being inclusive was taking it a step too far).
Following this reaction though, Stephen Nolan sought the public's views on whether he should interview Griffin on his TV show or not. This itself was a surprising development as I never imagined Stephen Nolan considered anything other than ratings when choosing his guests. I may still be right because Griffin is going to be on his show despite what was, in my own view, an emphatic NO response to Nolan's suggestion.
But I am pleased Griffin will be on. No matter how offensive you may find him, Griffin does represent a legitimate (in the most literal sense of the word) political party and it is essential that we don't make exceptions to our desire for freedom of expression for those who we disagree with, no matter how awful we perceive them to be. What is particularly important is that small political parties are given a platform to discuss their policies and inform the electorate of their agenda and ideology.
This platform doesn't need to be equal to that given to bigger parties, for obvious reasons, but there is a need for it to exist. It seems pretty obvious but I'll point it out regardless: if we don't give small parties the chance to showcase themselves then the big parties are left with a virtual monopoly within the media and that is good for no one. Of course it is the job of political parties to win the votes that warrant more and more airtime but there has to be a starting point and those that say the BNP shouldn't be given any airtime seem content to throw the baby (all small parties) out with the bathwater (the BNP).
We've had - and continue to have - this discussion in Northern Ireland about the TUV. So called progressives cry foul every time Jim Allister is on TV and the radio but those same progressives never seem to mind if Steven Agnew is on air (unless it as the expense of one of their representatives) and the desire for that kind of selective censorship makes me very uncomfortable.
It's understandable, though. The idea of Nick Griffin spouting his vile views on TV is distressing. The way we combat that, though, is by not letting him talk about the things he wants to talk about. If he wants to parade as a full service political party, then he should be taken to task on that. Ask him about Healthcare, Education and the economy and don't let him pivot to his go-to excuses such as immigration, foreign aid or human rights. I wrote some time ago that it was important that we don't just attack the BNP for being racist but that we interrogate and critique all aspects of their agenda. It's still true. They're still incoherent.
Bring them on, and let's embarrass them in front of a big an audience as we can muster. Nick Griffin, after all, likes an audience.