I have taken part in two radio debates this week with two Conservative MPs. The intention of BBC Radio Five Live and BBC Radio London was that I should have a lively debate over a possible media ban on “hate preachers”.


I was asked to appear partly because I was a Lobby Correspondent during a similar ban on the IRA between 1988-1994 and hold the view that such bans are very difficult to operate, are counter-productive and are an offence to our democracy. Even earlier in my career I resisted a full blown campaign against my decision to interview the National Front on one of my programmes.


This debate about how the media should deal with “hate preachers” follows the despicable murder of Lee Rigby and how far such dastardly actions are inspired by people who pervert the message of Islam.


In the hours of media discussion that followed the horror of Woolwich, broadcasters included a small contribution from Anjem Choudary. He referred to Lee Rigby’s murder as “one death, but if you add up the number killed and tortured by the British government, it is in millions.”


It is easy to see why the Home Secretary would be angered by such opinions. Most people find them highly offensive. But Theresa May went on to question the decision to give him air time and before we knew it the papers were full of suggestions that the government might use the media regulator Ofcom to implement a ban.


I was expecting my Tory MP opponents, Tobias Ellwood on Five Live, and Colonel Bob Stewart on Radio London to argue the Home Secretary’s case. But they didn’t. Both debates took the same course. As we discussed the practicalities and possible consequences, both men seemed to back away from a media ban on “hate preachers.”


The fact is that we have within our democracy people like Anjem Choudary who openly despise our liberal way of life and parliamentary system. I imagine he would like Britain run as a theocracy under sharia law. He praised the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorists. Awful, but the question is should such people be silenced on mainstream broadcasts?

Some organisations are proscribed because of their policies. Incitement to violence and racial hatred is already an offence. If Choudary and his ilk are guilty of these offences, then they should be in prison. If they keep on the right side of the law, then editors and programme producers are left with the decision whether in limited and controlled circumstances to allow their point of view to be heard.


If this is to be changed we could have Ofcom deciding which side of the line individuals, not otherwise proscribed, fall. The press has recently been up in arms over a supposed threat from Lord Leveson to their editorial freedom. Any paper advocating such a difficult role for Ofcom will be being hypocritical.


Apart from the difficulty of implementation there are other issues. The IRA ban was far from perfect but it came about in the pre internet age. It is the fundamentalist websites where ranting texts are accompanied by graphic images where young people are principally influenced, not by a balanced debate on Newsnight.


We must also be careful not to allow people who have no respect for our democracy, to chip away at its values and finally there must always be space to debate British foreign and military policy.


Congratulations to the European Union on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Amid all the bile that is hurled at the EU, we should never forget that its founding purpose was to prevent general European war after two devastating conflicts that had ripped the continent apart.


However I sometimes feel that relying on that justification to support the EU is a bit desperate, the last refuge of a pro-European who has run out of other arguments. So let’s look at much more up to date evidence that the EU is doing a good job whilst most British politicians are engaged in a pathetic race to prove their Euroscepticism to a deluded British public.


Let’s take the Home Secretary’s announcement that she is considering pulling the UK out of European police and justice co-operation. The European arrest warrant is at the heart of this with Euro sceptics claiming that we are in danger of being lifted off the streets at the whim of some Belgian or Bulgarian policeman and left to languish in a foreign jail for years.


How the warrant works may need looking at but it, along with a whole range of other measures have been highly successful in breaking up paedophile rings, arresting terrorists, deporting dangerous criminals and catching fraudsters who thought they were safe from British justice as the sunned themselves on the Costa del Crime.


Those pressing for this grand assertion of British independence from the grip of Europe should ponder the successes of the warrant in arresting Hussein Osman one of the failed 21/7 London bombers or more recently the arrest of Jeremy Forrester the teacher wanted for alleged child abduction having run off with a 15 year old pupil.


We need to work wholeheartedly within the European Union and stop this ridiculous half in half out nonsense. Take the current discussions on bank regulation. Do we suppose that just because we are not in the Euro zone, our banks won’t be affected. They trade in Euros all the time. Our voice must be heard to make a difference.


Despite this Tory and Labour politicians grow increasingly frightened of UKIP. David Cameron and Ed Miliband both know withdrawal from the EU would be disastrous for Britain but fear that is what would happen if the public was offered an in/out referendum.


So examine the Prime Minister’s remarks on a referendum very carefully. What he is likely to offer is a referendum on what concessions he can get on social and employment law, probably after the General Election.


You can predict that he will get very little from the other 26 countries on the basis that we all have to abide by the same rules in a free market. The press will criticise the package, the voters will vote to reject Cameron’s package……and then what?


It is a disgraceful con and shame on Labour for flirting with the possibility of offering a similar referendum.


We are in the EU, let’s use our influence to reform it and away with this endless boring argument about leaving.




I went to the memorial service for Lord Alf Morris who died this summer. Born into Manchester poverty he was Wythenshawe’s MP for over thirty years. His crowning achievement was the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which has transformed the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Few politicians make a real difference, Alf was one.