In ancient Rome, the person of a 'Tribune of the Plebs' was inviolate but that didn't prevent the murder of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus.
Republican Roman politics was of course a nasty and frequently murderous business with some minor parallels with our own party politics in Britain today. However and in principle at least, Plebian Tribunes, as the people's representatives, were supposed to be immune from the threat of personal violence:
"Their sacrosanctity was enforced by a pledge, taken by the Plebeians, to kill any person who harmed or interfered with a Tribune during his term of office. All of the powers of the Tribune derived from their sacrosanctity. One obvious consequence of this sacrosanctity was the fact that it was considered a capital offense to harm a Tribune, to disregard his veto, or to interfere with a Tribune."
I have no love of the BNP which is, in my opinion a political aberration. However, today's scenes outside Westminster. where BNP leader and European MEP, Nick Griffin was assaulted by members of the UAF -'United Against Fascism - group, may have been well-intentioned but was, I believe, harmful to our sense of democracy.
Who is to decide who can or who cannot speak in our country? After all, 'Speaker''s Corner' in Hyde Park has been an institution for over two hundred years. If we deny the right of any of our democratically-elected representatives the right to speak then our own democracy is the loser and a dangerous precedent is set. All such action encourages is greater sympathy and more publicity for the BNP; achieving the very opposite of what sensible political debate and lucid argument can achieve in revealing their racially divisive policies for what they are.
The right to demonstrate peacefully is a sign of a strong democracy and Nick Griffin should be allowed to speak unhindered by egg-throwing and placard wielding demonstrators from the UAF. After all, he will argue that we allow other small extremist groups to march unhindered through our streets, calling for the murder of our own soldiers or Holocaust Denial. By preventing his democratic rights as an elected MEP - no matter our own personal thoughts - we risk provoking the growth of the very extremism that politicians of all parties and their supporters should be working tirelessly to avoid.
"Freedom of thought and freedom of speech in our great institutions are absolutely necessary for the preservation of our country. The moment either is restricted, liberty begins to wither and die..." John Peter Altgeld