When I decided to interview Tony Martin as part of Croydon Radio’s local election special, I knew that it would be controversial.
In the borough of Croydon where I live, 45% of the population is from a Black or Ethnic Minority (BME) background. West Thornton, the ward in which National Front candidate Tony Martin lives, is Croydon’s most ethnically diverse ward where 76% of the population is from a BME background. Given the demographic profile of Croydon, it is peculiar that a representative from a party that advocates the ‘repatriation of all immigrants and their descendants to their ancestral homelands’ is choosing to stand here as a candidate in the forthcoming elections.
When I decided to interview Tony Martin as part of Croydon Radio’s local election special, I knew that it would be controversial. There are those who believe in free speech, but limit that free speech by stating that groups such as the National Front should not be given a platform because of their extreme views. There are others who, like me, abhor the views of the National Front and what they stand for, but believe that it is only by challenging these views in the open that their hate-fuelled ideology can be exposed. Furthermore, I was curious about Tony Martin’s desire to become an elected representative in a culturally diverse Croydon when his party’s previous attempt during the Croydon North by-election resulted in just 161 votes.
When I initially set up the format for the show, Tony Martin was included to debate alongside candidates from the Liberal Democrat and Communist parties. The Liberal Democrat candidate was the first person to inform me that they did not wish to share a platform with the National Front, but would be OK to attend the show if they were allowed to discuss issues separately from them. In the first instance, I did not want to reprogram the whole show at the behest of one guest and, by virtue of the fact that the Liberal Democrat candidate did not wish to share the same platform with the National Front, they excluded themselves from the show. Later that day, the Communist Party also stated they would not take part in the show if they had to share a platform with the National Front. In addition, Ivana Bartoletti, a London Labour candidate for the 2014 European elections who was due to take part in the show as a pundit, expressed that she has a “no platform policy for fascists”. With these new variables to contend with, I had to decide on how to proceed with the show. I understood and respected the views of those who were opposed to sharing a platform with the National Front. At this point it would have been easy to back down completely, but from the outset I wanted to challenge Tony Martin’s views in the open and, whether I or others like it, nothing would change the fact that Tony Martin is standing as a candidate in the forthcoming local elections.
Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, stated that he backed my decision to broadcast the interview and that the views of the National Front need to be “exposed and confronted”
After consulting with the management at Croydon Radio, the best compromise was for me to do a pre-recorded interview with Tony Martin. This, I thought, would allay the concerns of the Liberal Democrat and Communist Party candidates, and Ivana. I informed the aforementioned candidates that Tony Martin had been removed from the live show. However, after further discussions with the candidate from the Communist Party and Ivana, they were still unhappy with me providing any sort of platform for a discussion to take place, by way of a pre-recorded interview, and would not take part in the show on this basis.
Contrary to the account of events in a blog site, I also had a telephone conversation with Councillor Tony Newman, Leader of Croydon Labour, two days before my radio show. During this conversation, we spoke about the fact that I may play a pre-recorded interview with Tony Martin during the show. Newman expressed that he would prefer me not to play the interview and proceeded to educate me on the ethos of the National Front. I was also in communication with the Green Party candidate prior to the show and stated that I had yet to decide on when to play the pre-recorded content.
I interviewed Tony Martin a day before the live show and was happy that the interview had achieved its purpose. The management at Croydon Radio also listened to the interview and felt it was ‘professional and robust’ and confirmed that they would support it being included in the live show if I chose to use it. At this point, I decided that I would include the interview as part of the election special, rather than as a stand-alone podcast.
Since the live show on Sunday, I have seen a number of discussions taking place on social media. I have purposefully chosen not to engage, but to instead write this blog to convey my side of the story. A number of people have sent me messages both publicly and privately supporting the basis upon which I conducted the interview, and also with positive feedback about how the interview was handled. In a response to a tweet from the Leader of Croydon Labour, Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central, stated that he backed my decision to broadcast the interview and that the views of the National Front need to be “exposed and confronted”.
I have noted that a small element associated with an aforementioned blog site, has sought to smear the quality of my broadcasts and I believe that their reports in relation to this have been misleading. I feel their attitude towards me and my decision to interview Tony Martin has been patronising. Whilst I understand the views of those who say no platform should be given to people like Tony Martin, there is another aspect to this debate that is never considered. Surely, as a ‘victim’ of Tony Martin and his party’s ideology, by virtue of being of Nigerian heritage, I should be able to challenge this view in the open? It is curious that the blog site states that it is ok for David Dimbleby to challenge people like Tony Martin, but not people like me. I do wonder what the associated thinking is behind this ‘privilege’ that seeks to exclude people like me from role of ‘challenger’.
I certainly have no regrets about my decision to interview Tony Martin and, like Louis Brandeis, believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant.