The wrong questions at the wrong time

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"


Anonymous said…
I think the editor of the programme made some poor decisions, but the decision to include Mr Griffin was sound. I do think the issues debated should have been wider than immigration, race and the BNP (+five mins on Stephen Gately). Of course there are times when one issue attracts attention more than others, and QT needs to reflect that, but I don't believe the time to do that is when one of the panellists IS the story. It has the effect of drawing the focus to him (unfairly) and denying him the opportunity to discuss anything other than media steroetypes about the BNP (also unfairly). The other panellists and the audience could easily have tied the man in knots on all sorts of issues and I'd like to have seen more of that. Listening to Nick Griffin is unpalatable, but he is an MEP, he is entitled to his opinions, voters are entitled to vote for him and those who didn't are entitled to hear from him.
Jason D Jawando said…
I think that on this issue, as on many others, the BBC is going to come in for criticism whichever option they take. It has been suggested that senior managers at the corporation felt obliged to include him for fear of the BNP winning a court order forcing them to do so. Even if the court order had not materialised, they risked making Griffin look like a martyr by excluding him. By the same token, having decided to include him, they were going to be criticised for whichever approach they took to the programme. Had they allowed Griffin to answer a range of questions, they ran the risk of legitimising him further.

To an extent, I feel the whole thing is an irrelevance. Despite the party's claims to a surge in membership enquiries, I'm not convinced that many people are more (or less) likely to join, or vote for, the BNP because of an appearance on Question Time. Similarly, I was never convinced that having to answer tough questions would expose what Griffin and the party realy believe - he hasn't done that good a job of hiding this.

The more pressing issue is why almost a million people voted BNP at the European elections, making the apearance almost inevitable. Obviously there is the disgust many people feel at mainstream politics, but in the West Midlands - and the region was not atypical in this respect - there were nine parties on the ballot paper. I think as a society we need to ask why so many people see a vote for thinly-disguised racism is an acceptable protest.

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