As if any of us hoped that Gordon Brown might be any more honest a prime minister than Tony Blair. Witness this piece of less-than-joined-up government. Nick Griffin, the nasty little fascist at the head of the BNP has gotten off on charges of inciting racial hatred. Despite the fact that he clearly did (for instance when he said "lets show these ethnics the door in 2004"). To me the issue raised by the case it what's wrong with our law courts? The Times offers a good run-down of this guys offensive views so the failure to convict makes me want to know more about who was the judge, why were the jury not better screened to make sure they didn't hold racist opinions themselves and who was bringing the case and why didn't they get someone competent?
Instead of course Gordon Brown has waded in and said "Any preaching of religious or racial hatred will offend mainstream opinion in this country. We have got to do whatever we can to root it out from whatever quarter it comes. And if that means we have got to look at the laws again, we will have to do so".
Now firstly Nick Griffin's offences date from befor ethe incitement to religious hatred bill came in so we just don't know if the laws we have now would have been enough to get him. As I understand it even the old laws sound like enough to get him, but something went wrong in that process.
Secondly the issue of what should and shouldn't be allowed to be said in this country shouldn't in my view be a matter of what will "offend mainstream opinion". I have lots of opinions which some people may find offensive. For instance I believe that there is no God. Indeed I believe that the idea of cloud-dwelling fairies who can read everybody's minds and make notes and then use those to decide what happens to our eternal soul (I don't believe we have one of these either) such as being burnt in hell forever is absolute nonsense. I think those who believe it in the face of modern scientific understanding are delusional and as such should be barred from public office or going near children. I want the law to protect people from threat and intimidation - not criminalise debate.
But finally what Gordon Brown is calling for is a strengthening of the law on Racial and Religious hatred. And that's really the sneaky thing. More or less everyone I know thinks Nick Griffin should be locked up fr his offensive views on race issues. However religion and race are not the same issue. Saying it's bad to be black or Asian is wrong, because people don't choose their race. Saying it's bad to believe certain things is open to debate, people choose what to believe. Nick Griffin described Islam as a "wicked and evil" religion. Now I think many of it's modern adherents are very nice reasonable people, but looking at the history of Islam and the way it is still used in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and even in parts of the UK to justify treating women like goats, I think there are certainly aspects of it that are "wicked and evil", and believe me, I don't agree with Nick Griffin very often... But to read remarks from Gordon Brown you would think that race and religion were somehow equally weighted in terms of things you can't be judged on. I feel bad for those people genuinely trying to defeat racism that suddenly they're being co-opted onto a whole different movement. To me that feels like Brown doing exactly the sort of sneaky backhanded politics that we're very used to with Blair. Leaving me less than optimistic for the future.