Last night the BBC chose to include Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National party, in it's weekly politics panel discussion “Question Time”.
I guess it's the watercooler subject today, and I wanted to comment on it too.
I thought Griffin did pretty much what any of us might have expected, he dodged difficult questions, smirked, and gave a far less than impressive performance. If the problem were him alone we'd have little to worry about. A man who can make amazing statements, like the one about the leader of a Ku Klux Klan group that was “an almost totally non-violent”is a joke. Isn't that like “Almost a virgin”, or “almost sterile”?
After the show, on the “This Week” programme Kelvin Mackenzie said "I've never seen a television show in which you felt your stomach turning over. The guy was basically lying his head off to create an image that he was basically a conservative who just had very strong views about immigration."
Given the circumstances Chris Huhne and Jack Straw were particularly impressive, Baroness Warsi was on the money when she said his understanding of Islam was as much a perversion as his claim to be Christian, Bonnie Grier was a somewhat strange choice I thought, and seemed a bit at a loss.
And here for me lies the bigger problem, the way the whole thing was set up, pushed in the media as a story, and ultimately handing Griffin and the BNP what they most wanted, a chance to sit alongside serious politicians in a serious political show. I think the BBC would be right to find some way of having Griffin answer his questioners, but not this. Ultimately the show became about Griffin, rather than the questions of the day, and about the BNP. In a small way this was good, it gave at least one forum to push him to answer, which he simply refused to do, but this wasn't the right place, the right show, or the right time.
The BNP are marginal, and by publicly vilifying them in this way they become the de-facto protest vote. Griffin leaves the show, not giving a good performance, not answering questions, but with a sense that he's been included in the mainstream of political life.
Matthew Paris in today's Times has it right when he states , “that "nobody dared try what, if it could have been done, would have been the most devastating tactic of all [...]: to brush him aside as a small man, enlarged by the anger of his enemies"