Friday 17 January 2003

The extreme centre

Tim Luckhurst says that the BBC is exercising thought-control over the extent of legitimate debate

Obey! Angus Roxburgh, Europe correspondent of the BBC, has published a book called Preachers of Hate. It analyses the resurgence of populist politics in Continental Europe through interviews with leaders and supporters of parties including France’s National Front, Austria’s Freedom party, Slovakia’s HDZS, the Danish People’s party ...and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Preachers of Hate deserves to be read. Roxburgh is intelligent and informed. He believes he has identified a new generation of proto-fascists, and that they are responsible for a ‘steady erosion of the ideals of European society’. If such ideals exist, historians may one day conclude that they were more grievously injured by communists like Slobodan Milosevic than by assertive tribunes of the new Right. Great minds at Harvard, Cambridge and Heidelberg may even assert that tolerance of dissent suffered terribly under the sanctimonious political monoculture promoted by T. Blair and his ilk.

But let us leave the ultimate evisceration of Third Way claptrap to those who will enjoy the benefits of hindsight. My question relates to the mindset that constricts Roxburgh’s musings and that of many of his BBC colleagues. Britain’s state broadcaster is exercising thought-control over the extent of legitimate debate. The BBC has contributed to a narrowing of the once broad plain of tolerated opinion. It has forgotten that, in a confident democracy, extremism in the defence of liberty should not be deemed a vice. Read Roxburgh and the work of other BBC stars like Andrew Marr, Fergal Keane, Jeremy Paxman and Gavin Esler. The allegation will not feel as contentious as it reasonably should.

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