Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Problem with Pie Throwing

When a member of the group No Borders, which advocates reducing immigration controls, justified the actions of one of its members who threw a cream pie in the face of immigration minister Phil Wollas at Manchester University yesterday, its logic was as infantile as the "protest" itself.

"We threw the pie," said a spokesperson "because we didn't want to engage in debate and legitimise what he was saying. What he was spouting were right wing anti-immigration policies. The danger is that people like him are making such views mainstream."

I understand the principle the group are trying to articulate (in their simplistic way). There is a case, perhaps, for sometimes not giving a fanatic the oxygen of publicity to spread their extreme views. I don't think, for instance, that there would be a lot of public sympathy for inviting Omar Khyam onto Question Time to share his thoughts on the legitimacy of the July 7th bombings when the appropriate environment for him and his fellow conspirators is in a maximum security prison for life.

But to take this principle and apply it to an elected government minister reveals such a limited level of sophistication that it beggars belief and, frankly, makes the cause of No Borders look ridiculous.

Firstly, the action reveals an anti-intellectual strand in the group's thinking: "We don't want to engage in debate." Debate, of course, is such an awkward activity. It requires such inconvenient resources as facts, logic, coherence and a willingness to listen and persuade. And, of course, there's always the risk that you might lose the argument. Thank goodness for squirty cream (vegan, according to the BBC report on the incident) which cuts through these unpleasantries like a warm knife through butter.

In the real world, of course, debate is the only means open to people with opposing views being able to co-exist in the long term, as the IRA and British Government ultimately came to realise.

Secondly, the pie throwers reveal that they have assumed powers beyond their stature: "We didn't want to...legitimise what he was saying." Sorry to deflate your bubble (they're easily inflated in the heady world of student politics, I know) but the minister's legitimacy comes from the elctoral mandate which placed him and the current government in place and can only be removed by "we the people" in open and free elections. I am watching a number of my freedoms being eroded by this current government and I do not intend to allow a central one - my right to vote - being interfered with by Ms Pie Woman of Manchester, even if she is a vegan. I can take care of my own decsions about the legitimacy or otherwise of those elected to rule me. Thank you.

And finally, the protesters have revealed their detachment from reality: "he was spouting right wing anti-immigration policies. The danger is that people like him are making such views mainstream." Where to begin with such nonesense....?

Surely, you cannot expect a government minister to be anything other than mainstream, can you? In any pluralistic society, some unfortunate individuals have to occupy that middle ground located between various forms of extremism. If No Borders ruled the world, all that would happen is that the middle ground would shift to them and the extremes would become ... well, more extreme.

Right wing, let us briefly remind oursleves, is when the authorities in a "Western friendly" Gulf state such as Dubai refuse entry to Israeli passport holders; right wing is when the thugs of St Petersburg attack African students becasue of their colour and then intimidate reporters who try and expose the criminals. Right wing is not defined as disagreeing with No Borders.

The fact is that a significant section of the British population are instinctively conservative with a small c. Views that No Borders disagree with are already mainstream and have been for centuries. An elected government immigration minister has, therefore, to engage that section of the population in pursuit of public policy; failure to do so hands the immigration debate to the BNP.

So, a coup for No Borders, whose web site celebrates other recent triumphs such as glueing the locks and damaging the vehicles belonging to housing provider Angel Group, but an image that the pie thrower will come to regret should she ever seek public office in future decades.

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