A series of events over the past few weeks have left me realising quite how dangerous it is to hold opinions – to the extent I’m thinking of giving them up.

In recent weeks I’ve had two episodes in which my opinion has elicited a surprising response. First when I suggested in my weekly wrap-up a couple of weeks ago that Tony Belton was a little too political in comments he made during a long service celebration at the council. Then when I made a comparison between the diagonal crossing at Balham and the “country’s first” at Oxford Circus.

Far more high profile have been the the response to Jan Moir’s article on the death of Stephen Gately, the BNP appearing on Question Time and the furore over Stephen Fry taking offence at a comment made about him on Twitter.

The simple fact is that all these involve someone’s opinion. Nothing more, nothing less. We all have a fundamental right to have opinions. And we all have a fundamental right to disagree with the opinions of others. What worries me is not the opinions expressed (however much I may disagree with them) but the response to them.

I commented in my post on Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time that “mob rule isn’t suddenly justifiable because the cause is right.” A comment I stand by.

Returning to my experiences, after my comments about Tony Belton I received an email which disagreed with my interpretation. I responded that it was a personal and political blog and, as you would expect, it was my perception. While that perception was shared by everyone I spoke with that night, I’m not so vain as to think it is the only perception one might have. My offer and suggestion of commenting on the post was rejected (well, ignored) and the complaint restated. I was also offered the warning that unless my blog was more balanced it “will soon be totally ignored.”

Well, I could live with that – there are plenty of other things with which to fill my life. But it’s a shocking state of affairs that I am expected to be balanced, as if I have some sort of equivalent to the BBC Charter and don’t stand for election under a party label.

When it came to Oxford Circus I was taken aback at Westminster’s response to the comments about Balham. I don’t think I would ever seriously compare the two crossings and it was tongue-in-cheek (as was my apology). I’m not sure if there’s an element of insecurity or unnecessary defensiveness on Westminster’s part, but I’m fairly certain their press team are lacking a sense of proportion or a sense of humour.

The simple fact is that I will display bias. You should expect that. I am a Conservative so I am far more likely to agree with them and disagree with any other party. I am a Wandsworth councillor and, naturally, everything in Wandsworth is better than anything anywhere else. Even within Wandsworth I would contend that it’s better in Battersea than the other bits of the borough. These opinions won’t always have an evidence base, they just reflect me and my position in the world. No human can ever be totally balanced and impartial, however much they strive towards that goal. With me, I would contend, at least it’s fairly transparent where my bias lies.

Equally, we shouldn’t be expecting balance from the likes of Jan Moir or Nick Griffin. But what I would expect is a sense of balance and proportion from the right-minded people who disagree with their bigotry.

I would have much preferred the BNP Question Time to be a discussion on policy, but can’t pretend to have shed any tears for Nick Griffin’s treatment. One could, at least, reason that while the ganging up was unpleasant, at least public opinion can be relied on to be right. Or can it?

The Stephen Fry episode suggests it can’t. The alleged assailant merely stated an opinion that despite his high regard for Fry he found his tweets boring. And they can be, just as mine often are. Just as anyone is boring unless the the person reading or hearing them has an interest. Boredom is rarely an issue with the person being boring – because it is a certainty that someone else would find it interesting – but with the person being bored.

Unfortunately, this caught Fry at a low ebb, and his response made news in both the online and offline media while the unfortunate opinion holder had to withstand a torrent of abuse for a perfectly valid opinion with people like Alan Davies suggesting an “Essex style” mob to persecute him for daring to call Stephen Fry’s tweeting boring.

This worries me since ideas, opinion and the expression of those are essential to progress. Many, if not most, scientific and social breakthroughs were, originally, totally contrary to the accepted order at the time. If we create a society in which people are afraid to air new ideas and opinions then maybe we should give up on progress. And maybe we should accept that people who think like the Griffins and Moirs of this world should be driven underground where their poison will do far more damage to society than it ever could out in the open where it can be held up, examined and defeated.

It is, perhaps, an extension of the Diana-isation of grief. It seems as if we can no longer hold an emotion on our own unless it is shared tribally. If we are disgusted by the beliefs of Nick Griffin and Jan Moir we should also be disgusted by the baying mobs that formed to attack them rather than attack their ideas.

The internet should be a wonderful tool for the sharing of knowledge and ideas, and the discussion and debate that leads to progress. Sadly, it might just prove that the internet is just giving us the tools to easily collectivise (and perhaps legitimise) our intolerance of what we perceive to be outside a shared norm.

It is with a heavy heart I find myself having sympathy with Nick Griffin.

Today he is bemoaning his fate of having had to face a BBC organised lynch mob. No better than he deserves you might think and I’m inclined to agree; but I have to stick by the principles that meant I supported his appearance on Question Time in the first place.

The simple fact is that it was a programme about the BNP. The other participants appeared to have agreed a truce to fight a common enemy, the audience happily joined the alliance and the producers selected the questions to help them all fight the good fight.

Why was this wrong? Because mob rule isn’t suddenly justifiable because the cause is right. If we apply one set of standards to ourselves and expect others to respect them, we must abide by those standards for everyone. When we don’t we create victims, and those victims attract sympathy. While most people will have been happy about the way it went, those who are attracted to the BNP, I suspect, probably found themselves just that little bit more sympathetic to them than they had been.

Rather than exposing the BNPs weakness on policy, we simply attacked them again and again. Right minded people know the BNP is wrong, but we must prove that, rather than just saying it.

Instead of just attacking their stance on immigration, we should have been discussing how it’s made Britain greater.

Rather than decrying their views on Islam we should have been talking about how religious diversity makes us stronger.

Rather than digging out old Griffin quotes we should have been challenging his vision for the future and proving why the Conservative or Labour visions are infinitely preferable.

Much as I dislike them, the BNP are a registered, legal, political party. We can all have our fun seeing politicians and the audience gang up on him in Question Time, but that won’t stop his party nominating candidates at elections and won’t stop people voting for them. They have to be stopped in the same way as any other political party.

By demonising the BNP we only succeed in making them appear stronger. Instead we should be attacking where they are weakest, their policies.

The past few weeks have seen tonight’s BBC Question Time take up a lot of people’s time and energy because the leader of a political party is on the panel. Nothing at all controversial about that, perhaps a little unusual since you would not expect to see Gordon Brown or David Cameron there, but not a subject of controversy, surely.

Of course, the reason for the controversy is the politician is Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party.

I’ve been following the various debates about whether he should be allowed with some interest, and cannot help but think of the quote attributed to Voltaire (but actually from a biography about him by Tallantyre): “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

A similar outcry was seen over an article in the Daily Mail by Jan Moir about the death of Stephen Gately. The article was, frankly, obscene – and I won’t link to it – and suggested Gately’s death was related to his sexuality, with some rather sordid implications. The result were complaints in their tens of thousands to the Press Complaints Commission – by far the biggest number for an article ever received and, apparently, totalling more than the PCC had received in total for the preceding five years.

Disregarding the rather sad and tawdry lives people like Griffin and Moir must lead to come to the conclusions they reach, the fact remains that in a free society they are at liberty to draw their own conclusions.

Personally, I find that hard to accept, but accept it I must. For the freedoms we all take for granted to apply to reasonable people like you or me, they must also apply to the unreasonable people like Griffin and Moir. But accepting that creates strength, it means we can start having the proper public debates that can kill off those poisonous views. And hitherto, without them, they have been allowed to flourish.

There are few things worse than knocking on the door when canvassing to discover a BNP supporter. There aren’t many, but they are around, and always have a hard luck story. Invariably they are unemployed, not because they are already drinking strong lager at 10am when I knock on their door (which is their right, after all) but because immigrants have taken their job. Often they need a new home, which they would have had, were it not for those pesky immigrants taking them all. If only, they opine, someone looked after them.

That’s what the BNP purport to do, and until now, because they were never given the platform, they were allowed to get away with it. Their charge that the mainstream parties were letting people down went unanswered. But now, finally, they have to articulate and defend their policies. And I’m confident they will be shown for what they are, rather vicious bullies who can only explain their own failure by pretending the system is rigged to favour others.

I think there is a valuable lesson here. The Griffins and the Moirs of this world are fundamentally intolerant people. Personally, I’d rather that intolerance be out in the open where it can be defeated, but for that to happen we also have to be tolerant of them. If we aren’t, every single time they are shut out of the democratic process it strengthens their anti-establishment credentials and helps convince people they might have something in what they say – and that’s how we get racist MEPs and GLA members.