So, the far right British National Party leader Nick Griffin has been included on a panel for BBC’s Question Time. I’m as sick as you of hearing about this, and just want to get on with seeing the actual programme (which at time of writing has finished being recorded). I’ve got a couple of reflections on what is – rightly or wrongly – probably the most momentous televised political event since Cameron did Marr. But first, at the risk of repeating what many have said before, I shall clarify my own position.
Democratically speaking, Nick Griffin is a properly elected representative for the UK in Europe, and in total the BNP have two MEPs, one London AM, and 57 councillors (out of about 22,000). Whilst this is by no means a majority, it nevertheless is a significant enough minority with sufficient support to earn them the right to speak. Moreover, as one BBC policy official said yesterday, we also have a right to hold our politicians accountable – why are Brown, Cameron and even Clegg scrutinised to the nth degree, yet the BNP get elected, and are allowed to go unchallenged?
From a liberal perspective however, it gets all the more interesting. Merely pretending the BNP doesn’t exist hasn’t worked, since support has slowly crept up. Not only does ignoring the local grievances of a certain demographic that the BNP exploit mean that many disaffected people drift towards them at the ballot box, but it gives gravity to the victimisation myth that they peddle. What better way to demonstrate that this country is endemically racist towards indigenous working class white people than to not just ignore their concerns as constituents, but to actively suppress and marginalise the only party that pertains to represent them?
Screaming ‘you’re a big fat racist’ and/or throwing missiles is amusing in the short term, but does absolutely nothing to mollify their growing support, and in all likelihood only bolsters it. If you really want to deal with ‘the BNP problem’, let them speak, rationally and calmly interrogate their obviously flawed and incoherent policies, and then sit back and watch as they undo themselves.
In short, the BBC should have Nick Griffin on Question Time, and it’s been a bloody long time coming.
Now, the furore in the last week has taken me completely by surprise. Firstly, the large numbers of people who are jumping up and down in indignation, are in my mind doing other lefties a disservice. The irony of supposedly liberal protesters campaigning against fascism by preventing freedom of speech seems to escape them, and it is immensely frustrating that they make us all seem hysterical and, dare I say it, quite childish in dealing with people who don’t agree with them. And also, rather than getting all in an outrage over the BNP, why not deal with the biggest factor in their recent gains – voter apathy.
With regards to the show itself, many people I’ve spoken to have expressed concerns about the choice of show for this event. Some argue that Question Time does not offer the best format within which to properly have a debate, and thus Griffin may come off better than he should. Further, the panel isn’t exactly the best possible combination; I’d have liked to have seen someone from the demographic that the BNP appeals to, fighting our corner. Identity politics? Yes, but necessary in this context.
It must also be made clear that whichever way this debate goes, it is going to be portrayed as a PR win by the BNP; as soon as the announcement was made that he was a confirmed panellist, this was going to the case. At the very least they’ve made it to the milestone of appearing on national primetime TV, which they would argue grants them greater legitimacy, irrespective of how Griffin actually performs under pressure.
If anything, the only thing the BNP had to gain – other than predictable United Against Fascism outrage – was what was offered up to them on a shiny silver plate by the national media – headline after headline for the last week, without actually having to do much. The newspapers’ perpetual bombardment of BNP-related tidbits, ranging from yet another outraged politician to the relatively trivial snubbed donation, meant that they got exactly what they wanted, and what UAF should be protesting against – free publicity with no opportunity to challenge them on their politics. Not to mention the BBC’s massive ratings coup tonight – godonlyknows how many millions will tune in.
Perhaps this kind of coverage should have been expected to arise from such a notable event, but it’s undeniable that the protestors and detractors added fuel to the BNP media fire, rather than just getting on with the business of taking them apart via proper means.
We shall see how it goes – T-minus one hour.