The Public Gallery: Free speech, smears and non-debates

By - Thursday 10th April, 2014

Tom Black looks into the eye of a political storm that raged around Croydon Radio this week

Ulterior motives a possibility in the ‘outrage’ over Bieneosa Ebite’s National Front interview

On Sunday, during a four hour radio election special, Croydon Radio’s Bienesoa Ebite broadcasted a pre-recorded interview with local National Front member Tony Martin. How this came about, and what has happened since, is a complicated story, so here is Ebite’s own explanation.

Ebite now finds herself the target of smears, with one local blogger referring to her as a ‘poor dear’ and making unkind remarks both about her abilities and Croydon Radio’s allegedly lowly status.

But there are more serious accusations – namely, that she deceived her guests over Martin’s inclusion in the show. This she comprehensively denies, and given that certain guests did indeed decline to take part in the broadcast, the accusations quickly cease to make sense. If some knew in advance and chose to disassociate themselves from the programme, how can we believe others were somehow kept in the dark until the broadcast began?

White men emerged from the woodwork to tell a BME woman how to handle racism

But perhaps most concerning is the number of white men emerging from the woodwork to tell Ebite, a BME woman, how and how not to deal with racist extremism on her radio programme.

One such white man is Andrew Pelling, former Conservative MP for Croydon Central and now a Labour candidate for Waddon ward. Pelling – a now-former Croydon Radio presenter – resigned from the station in public fashion by sending a tweet during the programme’s broadcast. Tributes and backslaps for this apparent display of antifascist solidarity rolled in, though Tony Martin himself questioned Pelling’s consistency – the NF member claimed (without sources) that Pelling had complained about the BNP’s exclusion from the 2010 General Election hustings in Croydon Central.

I’ve no doubt that Pelling is indeed disgusted by the policies and behaviour of the NF. I know I am, and thankfully I’ve met only a few people who aren’t. But it’s worth considering that Pelling’s candidacy in the upcoming local elections itself presented (no pun intended) a dilemma for Croydon Radio. Management figures within the station were known to be of the opinion that it would be improper for him to continue broadcasting around the time of the election. Furthermore, were he to become a councillor in May, the resulting conflict of interest would bar him from further broadcasting on the station, full stop.

Private decisions are private decisions. There’s no way of knowing everything that motivated Pelling’s decision to resign. But I thought it worth mentioning that there may have been other factors on his mind when he made his principled stand against fascism on Sunday evening.

Is ‘no platform’ exactly what the far right wants?

There are those who believe that regardless of claims of ‘deceit’, Ebite was wrong to give airtime to a racist. ‘No platform with fascists,’ they say, and it’s a powerful argument. Their claim is that giving credibility to racist views by engaging in debate with them makes violent attacks more common, and strengthens groups like the EDL, NF and BNP.

I disagree. To expose the absurdities and vileness of the far right is a more productive course than (ironically) giving them the credibility generated by excluding them from the democratic process. Unsure how that works? I don’t blame you, but I’ll try to explain.

Unlike many of Ebite’s detractors, I’ve actually met BNP and NF supporters. I’ve spoken to full-blown ‘racial realist’ neo-Nazis, too. These were not pleasant experiences, and I didn’t actively seek them out, but the conversations proved useful in at least one respect – they showed me how people on the far right perceive themselves.

I could have done without hearing doubts of the veracity of the Holocaust

Themes of ‘the establishment’, the ‘LibLabCon’ and the ‘Marxist BBC/Guardian elite’ are common among Britain’s modern racists. They believe, it would appear, that they are being deliberately excluded and that their views would stand up to the same kind of scrutiny extended to other parties, if only they were given a fair opportunity to put them across. Where this occurs, they are thankfully found to be wrong – Nick Griffin’s disastrous appearance on Question Time in 2009 set in motion the collapse of the BNP as a meaningful force.

With all this in mind, surely the worst thing to do is give credence to the view that far right groups lack opportunities to put their case in an open way? Forced underground and hence unexamined, they can position themselves as an attractive, radical or even counter-cultural force. UKIP’s Nigel Farage showed the power of that position when he deftly dispatched Nick Clegg, repeatedly painting him as The Establishment two weeks ago. Why would we lend such appeal to the forces of the even-nastier-and-even-further right?

Sure, I could have done without hearing Tony Martin explain that he ‘isn’t sure’ whether the Holocaust took place. But Ebite handled him ably, and successfully exposed the ludicrousness of some of his proposals. A particular highlight was his offer to ‘repatriate’ her to a country she was not born in. I listened to the whole four-hour programme, and while I was impressed overall by Ebite’s handling of her many guests, it was not during the Martin interview that I had objections.

Winston Mackenzie’s display of ignorance went unchallenged, and I must admit I was disappointed in Ebite

While speaking on behalf of UKIP, Croydon North’s Winston Mackenzie defended his anti-gay marriage stance with a case amounting to ‘think of the children’. “They really need to see and understand what the normal way of life is,” Mackenzie insisted. This display of ignorance went unchallenged, and I must admit I was disappointed in Ebite for allowing this to happen.

But back to the matter at hand. I say all power to Bieneosa Ebite and if people disagree with her, at least let’s try to keep things civil. Insults like ‘scum’ and ‘poor dear’ help no-one. Except, perhaps, those on the far right who profit from a divided and tempestuous centre.

Reed and Barwell to discuss Tech City tonight

Croydon North’s Steve Reed and Croydon Central’s Gavin Barwell will speak to a gathering of Tech City folk at 7pm tonight at the Croydon Conference Centre. Tech City’s Jonny Rose has been trailing the event as some kind of Kennedy vs. Nixon c.1960 debate, but I feel he’s being overly dramatic.

Tonight’s event will not be a debate. It will be two men vying to agree with one another the most. Both will also be seeking to present themselves as the greater ‘friend’ to Tech City as a movement. Barwell is likely to have a slightly easier time of speaking to Tech City, since anecdotal evidence (and stats hinted at by Jonny Rose some weeks ago) suggest that – surprise surprise – the tech-focused, anti-government, pro-business group has more right-wingers in it than Labour supporters.

It promises nonetheless to be an interesting evening. Reed expressed discomfort at how Rose was previewing the event on Twitter last weekend, but both he and Barwell are informed, modern MPs able to contribute much to discussion of how technology is changing both society and politics. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend myself, or I’d be promising you a livetweet right now. If you want to go yourself, sign up here. Tickets are free but should be booked in advance.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Becca Taylor

    In your absence, I will be livetweeting, likely from the @icuknet account, or my personal @beccactaylor – give us a follow if you want to be kept up to speed! #ThumbsofFury

  • Anne Giles

    I wanted to come tonight, but had two meetings yesterday, followed by the Tweet-Up, so need to be in this evening. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast of the radio broadcast, but everything is being put on CDs for me to listen to in the car. I also agree that it was right to interview Tony Martin, just to show everyone what a nasty man he is.

  • bieneosa

    Thanks for including a link to my blog piece, Tom. Everything I have to say about my decision to interview Tony Martin is included there.

    In relation to Winston McKenzie, please bear in mind that it was indeed a four hour show and therefore it is not always possible to pick up on every single point made by candidates. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I have interviewed Winston McKenzie previously where we discussed his views on same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Should anyone wish to listen, it is available as a podcast here: (5 mins 57secs in).

    • Tom Black

      I quite understand, Bieneosa. My reaction at the time was one of anger, and it’s fair to say I was disappointed that this wasn’t pulled up at the time. But I do appreciate there was a time issue on the show, and you have a strong record of calling Mackenzie and others on extremist views. Case in point, your Tony Martin interview mentioned above!

  • gbsblogs

    I agree with much of this, but, to reiterate our conversation on Twitter yesterday (connected to an entirely different issue) I do not agree that people who are not directly affected by an issue of discrimination (racism, sexism, homophobia…whatever) don’t have the right to contribute to the discussion.

    • Tom Black

      As with yesterday, that’s not what I was saying. It’s a shame that there’s a kneejerk tendency to paint this as such among the Croydon right. There is a middle ground between ‘hand-wringing social justice lefties’ and ‘glorious, unrestricted meritocracy’, Gareth.

      What I am saying here is that the sight of white people telling off a BME individual who confronted racism *directed literally at her* during an interview is, well, troubling. I don’t for a moment mean to suggest that white people have no right to a contribution on this matter – I’m paler than a Milky Bar and I’ve just written a thousand words on it – but the implied authority that some of the white anti-Ebite crowd have sought to create simply doesn’t exist.

      • gbsblogs

        If you are arguing that being rude / aggressive / bulling is wrong than I totally agree. Beyond that I’m not entirely sure what point you are trying to establish.

        • Tom Black

          Just that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone of any creed, colour or orientation saying ‘I think x or y’. There is, however, a problem in my eyes when someone who is inherently unaffected by the specific prejudice in question instructing someone who *is* affected by it, *and* has literally stared that prejudice in the face, on how they should conduct themselves. I feel this is what occurred from some corners of Croydon’s commentariat this week.

  • Anthony Miller

    The problem with “no platform” apart from the fact it is really a reinvention of old fashioned forms of control via social exclusion such as excommunication