What is interesting about the appearance of the leader of the fascist British National Party (BNP), Nick Griffin on the BBC political programme 'Question Time' on Thursday, is how it has actually made politics headline news. The particular episode of the programme attracted 8 million viewers, three times the normal level and for the first time exceding the popular entertainment show on BBC1 on Saturday nights, 'Strictly Come Dancing'. If you missed the programme a lot of it is available online (for the moment) at: Http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/question_time/default.stm
Everyone seems upset about the event. The BBC said it went ahead with featuring Griffin because it feared that if they did not feature the BNP on the programme they would be sued. At present, though its policies on the race of members has been condemned as illegal, the BNP is a legitimate political party in the UK and it has two MEPs in the European Parliament. The BBC thus seems to have acted out of fear. You could also argue that any party that attracts sufficient votes to get two MEPs is sufficiently significant that it could be ignored and if it had been then the BBC could not have featured other small parties such as the Green Party.
Others fear that featuring Griffin gave free publicity to his racist views. Peter Hain, MP, a strong campainger against apartheid condemned the decision to let Griffin appear. Ministers are concerned it has given publicity to the BNP's views. Listening to BBC radio it was clear that of those who rang in, more supported the BNP's views than those who opposed them. Griffin and his supporters were far from happy about the event despite getting the widest coverage the party has received. The questions on 'Question Time' come from the audience and the BBC over the thirty years the programme has been running has always tried to get a balance of gender, ages, ethnicity and political perspective from audience members no matter what part of the country the programme is coming from (it moves from town to town each week). In my view the real left has always been under-represented, but I respect the BBC's efforts. Griffin complains the BBC put together a 'lynch mob' that only had questions directed at him and in a negative way. Clearly, very arrogantly, he had expected to go on the programme and be able to expound his racist views with minimal challenge. I think because the BNP feels its views are 'common sense' they think the bulk of white British people will accept them without challenge, whereas in fact the majority of us are abhorred by them.
Griffin whines that only a couple of questions were not directed at him. Again, he shows terrible naivety. Members of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties appear weekly and people like Jack Straw (currently Justice Secretary) have been on the programme numerous times; there has been loads of opportunity to question them on this programme and in other places. This was the first occasion anyone from a neo-Nazi party has appeared on a British political programme, no wonder people are going be fascinated. Even if he or one of his colleagues appears again in the future, I imagine they will never have such a fascination for the audience as he did on this first occasion. In addition, of course, Griffin sees his policies almost as bland, common sense and seems oblivious (wilfully or not) to the fact that they provoke a harsh reaction from people across British society. Griffin does not consider blacks or Asian British people as British, he gives them no designation, but say he sees them as foreigners, would he expect any different response to his views if he was speaking to a French audience or an American one? Griffin's horizons are so narrow that he does not realise the implications of the arena he is wanting to step into.
Griffin claims that the particular episode of 'Question Time' was 'not a genuine Question Time' and that it was distorted to discredit him. He is angry that it was held in London (though he would have known this in advance) saying the city was 'no longer British'; he feels that London is 'not my country any more' which seems a bizarre statement. He says it should have been held in Burnley, Stoke or Thurrock, places 'where there are still significant numbers of English and British people and they haven't been ethnically cleansed from their own country'. It is clear Griffin lives in some fantasy world. Ethnic minorities make up only 17% of the UK population, the large majority of Britons are still white and the bulk of the audience, even in London which Griffin sees as some strange country, rather than housing 10 million (71.2% of whom are white) of Britain's 65 million people. Does this suggest that Griffin envisages a UK like South Africa was under apartheid with different 'tribal' groups assigned to 'homelands'? Or does he, even more sinisterly, envisage tufing millions of Britons, at least 7 million of whom are white, out of their homes in London to 'bring it back into' the UK. Now we are moving into the realm of ghettos and deportation so characteristic of Nazis.
It is clear that the programme was a shock to Griffin who clearly believed if he could get his message across he would be welcomed with open arms. The BNP claim that since the programme they have gained 3000 new members. That is not surprising, fortunately the BNP does not get much coverage so simply appearing is going to stir people who support his views to join him, I am sure the same would happen if a member of the Green Party or the Scottish Nationalist Party appeared.
Griffin is going to whine because that is what he does. Everything about the politics of the BNP is based on a distorted view of people and of the UK and then whining about it. What was more worrying was Conservative Baroness Warsi also on the programme telling Justice Secretary, Jack Straw that the mainstream parties need to be 'more honest' about immigration policy to see off the spread of the BNP. Personally I feel that the current government already distorts the news about immigration in favour of the racists and the policies of the Border Agency have helped to whip up racism. However, it does show that any future Conservative government is liable to be tempted to adopt even more racist policies and poor Peter Hain is likely to find himself living in a country increasingly like the South Africa that his family fled.
The danger, shown by Warsi's comment is that the Conservatives, who many are assuming will form the next government, are the ones most in fear of the increase of the BNP (and probably even more so of the less-racist nationalist party UKIP which has 17 MEPs) and so will begin introducing mild racist legislation as a way to draw support away from the BNP. Of course, there have always been racists in the Conservative Party but they had tended to be kept under control by moderates within the party and by those who actually believe in multi-cultural Britain (which the BNP denies is reality). However, in the context in which the BNP might be appearing to win support from the Conservatives it will allow the extremists within the Conservative Party to press for discriminatory policy. Whilst that will not bring on the dystopia the BNP want, it will lead to tens of thousands of individual tragedies and will stoke up racist attacks and discriminatory behaviour rather than defuse it.
Anyone of my generation (I am now 42) can probably remember the 'no platform' dispute of the 1980s. This was the argument at colleges, polytechnics and universities over whether people expressing racist views should be allowed to speak at campuses. The argument from groups like the Socialist Workers' Student Societies (SWSS) was that to allow such people to speak was to give them 'the oxygen of publicity' which would attract support to their cause. Others such as the Labour clubs, argued that in a democracy you had to let everyone speak however vile their views, because otherwise you were imposing censorship something you were fighting against fascists to prevent happening. Policies ebbed and flowed with various speakers barred or allowed to speak. I always favoured letting these people speak so that everyone could at least see what their views really entailed rather than making judgements on assumptions and rumours. In addition, it meant those who opposed them had to have policies that addressed the kind of concerns that such speakers raised. If left-wingers and moderate right-wingers do not face challenges then they get complacent and do not work out or articulate policy (part of the problem with the Conservative Party at present).
Extremists are often their own worst enemies, particularly as so much of their policies tend to be one dimensional and simply complaining about how they feel things are rather than offering any positive alternative. Griffin was caught out when asked about his previous denial of the Holocaust and his persisting dispute over the number of people killed by Nazi Germany and its allies. He admitted he did not know why he thought about it the way he had before (outright denial) which for a politician seemed very weak. To natural BNP supporters even if they were not already in the party, no matter how weak Griffin's performance had been they would have seen it as wonderful and now are complaining that effectively he was not able simply to make a party political speech based on his distorted assumptions of history and of Britain today. However, to more wavering viewers, I can expect that at least some have seen that Griffin is simply full of hatred founded on a perception which bears relevance to the actual UK we live in.
Naturally the focus is on his policies on ethnic minorities, but no-one I have heard has asked him, assuming the BNP came to power, it would treat the Irish population of the UK. He keeps on mentioning the British and the English forgetting that one of the four components of the UK, Northern Ireland, actually has English and British (Great Britain is England, Scotland and Wales; the UK is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) minority. Would people from Northern Ireland be barred from coming to the mainland? Would they be barred from jobs in Britain? That is just one element in the many holes in Griffin's nasty set of policies.
I am happy for any BNP member to appear on political programmes because they cannot but help show how mentally weak they are and that all they do is based on policies of complaint and destruction of British society and its economy. They have to learn that their previously privileged position of being able to stand above the political scene and simply snipe is over and that they will face hostility when they speak in public arenas. These are not closed BNP meetings where Griffin and his cronies are speaking among friends, these are places where an audience exposed to virulent, hateful policies are more than likely to respond equally as forcefully, just as we saw on Thursday. Grow up Nick Griffin, you are in real politics now, do not expect the easy ride you have had up until last Thursday to last any longer.