Why should we let Fascists have freedom of speech?

I ignore death threats unless Special Branch warns that I am under far-right surveillance
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE DAY before the Brixton bomb I had a letter from the "White Wolves" identical with that received by Oona King and other parliamentary colleagues, but, given the number of death threats I have had, it just went into the bin. Yesterday, however, I received a letter claiming to be from Combat 18 which had been posted the day before the Brick Lane bomb, saying there would be another nail bomb attack next day in an "alien" area. It listed Southall, Golders Green, Kilburn, Petticoat Lane and Brent as potential areas.

I passed it on to the police. They are now examining it for any evidence they may be able to extract, although, of course, it could just be another sick hoax.

Over the years, I have been attacked by racists on several occasions. Most of these incidents took place in the early Eighties at the height of press hysteria about the Greater London Council. I clearly remember my first warning from Special Branch officers, who arrived at County Hall to tell me the disturbing news that my movements were being monitored by an extremist group. However, because I lived in a bedsit and travelled by public transport there was, apparently, little they could do to protect me. An attack eventually did take place, taking the form of my being sprayed with red paint by two members of the National Front masquerading as "Friends of Ulster".

Through long experience, I have tended to ignore death threats unless accompanied by a warning from Special Branch that I am once again under surveillance from the far right.

As I am still alive I suppose the police have been justified in not providing the appropriate resources at these times. The best I ever got was when a psychiatric patient released under the care in the community programme was known to be trying to buy a gun in order to kill me. My local police offered to walk me to and from the Tube each day, which was the best they could do given the cuts in police numbers during the final days of the Tory Home Secretary Michael Howard.

I have always viewed Combat 18, however, as an altogether more worrying organisation. They have sometimes recruited embittered former members of the military and therefore have been trained in the use of weapons and attack. A few years ago they totally trashed the Kilburn Book Shop for the crime of stocking Irish and left-wing literature. The whole operation, undertaken with military precision, took hardly any time. A car screeched to a halt on Kilburn High Road and four balaclava-clad thugs destroyed the inside of the shop and were away within five minutes, never to be apprehended.

Despite the lessons of the Lawrence Inquiry, which underlined the way that the police and other authorities tend to dismiss or play down racial motivation in violent crimes against black people, it was disheartening to see so many people who should have known better rushing to deny that the Brixton bomb could have been a racial attack.

When Lee Jasper, the secretary of the National Black Alliance, said that black people in the area would regard this as an attack on them, his comments were largely ignored. His views were even attacked on the grounds that Brixton is a "multiracial" area. But, compared with all the economic targets that could be attacked in London, Brixton's only attraction for a bomber is its status as a symbol of black Britain.

To their credit, the Metropolitan Police did consider the racial option, and even went so far as to release details of Combat 18's claim of responsibility, ghoulishly made from a phone box in Well Hall Road where Stephen Lawrence was murdered. This area of south-east London, which has housed the BNP headquarters, has become known as the racist murder capital of Britain following the brutal deaths of young black men - Stephen Lawrence, Rohit Duggal and Rolan Adams.

The fact that so many attacks and murders continue to take place against black and Asian people is a brutal reality only partly acknowledged in wider British society. The advances represented by the Lawrence Inquiry appear to be the motivation behind the bombings.

According to a leaked internal document of one of the terror groups linked to the bombings, the White Wolves, the main target was the black communities: "If this is done regularly, effectively and brutally, the aliens will respond by attacking the whites at random, forcing them off the fence and into self-defence."

This is a declaration of a race war with its clear aim being to roll back the recommendations of the Lawrence report, and it should be dealt with as such by the police and the Government.

In just a few weeks the Fascist British National Party will field candidates in the local and European elections, thus giving them free mail-shots to the electors, and possibly a party political broadcast. But the Lawrence Inquiry and these two nail-bombings raise a fundamental issue of democracy.

Whose civil liberties do we protect by allowing such people the right of access to such resources? Only those who stand to gain from the death and maiming that arise from their politics. Combat 18 and other such groups should be apprehended and the BNP should be banned from gaining the rights accorded to genuine political parties in the coming elections. We should ban the BNP, which is no more than a racist criminal conspiracy.

There will be those who argue that freedom of speech must extend even to views as abhorrent as those of the BNP and Combat 18. Yet no one suggests that we should allow paedophiles freedom to advocate child abuse. How many young thugs will be encouraged by the next BNP political broadcast to go out on to the streets and give a good kicking to the first black man they find?

British race relations have arrived at a crossroads. It is not now simply an issue of rounding up a few nutters, but of reshaping how our major institutions deal with racism and black representation. Jack Straw's commitment to extending the 1976 Race Relations Act to the police and other previously exempt institutions is a welcome first step.

In 1977 the National Front won 5 per cent of Londoners' votes at the GLC elections. In Hackney North I made the issue of the National Front candidate the major part of my election campaign, in contrast to other Labour candidates in the area who argued that we should ignore them totally. The result was that the NF vote in my seat was only half what they managed to achieve in the rest of the area. The lesson is clear: we can't ignore the Fascists in the hope that they will go away. We must take them on and defeat them using all the powers of the state and with the backing of local communities. And we must start now.