Any Questions?

Nick Griffin

Eveybody’s Talking At Me

Appointment television is a phrase used to describe those rare instances when it feels like everyone you know pushes aside their usual activities and tunes in to watch an event of some cultural significance. Last night was one such time when the typically under viewed and under-appreciated political chat show, Question Time, managed to triple its audience figures to a whopping 7.8 million, accounting for about 50% of total viewership at the time. The reason, which everyone continues to talk about today, was the first appearance by a member of the British National Party as a panelist.  Soon after the booking was announced, ripples of controversy spread to all corners of the media. By giving Nick Griffin a platform to expound upon his sinister ideals, is the dear old BBC complicit in promoting the kind of bigotry the BNP peddles?  I think not. The BNP was legitimised by the voting public when two of its number successfully ran in the European elections earlier this year, and the impartiality of the BBC would have been tested by not at least acknowledging this. Remember, that come any election in this country, the BNP also get their very own 5-minute Party Political Broadcast.

So, once the booking was confirmed and the BBC had presented their defence, it was almost a cue to spark a protest. Outside Television Centre, a crowd gathered yesterday. Many if not most, I am sure, were there with completely peaceful intent to make their voices heard at the displeasure over the decision. Quite right too, that’s the fragile beauty of democracy… they think the Beeb was wrong, I think they were right, and we can all say what we think without fear or retribution. As seems to be the way of protests of this nature, the spectacle of a few TV and camera lenses trained on them brought out the rentamob crew. Pushing, shoving, scuffles, security breaches all ensue. And the BNP sit there, watching the news reports while spouting their divisive ideology and they see the exact division that they crave. An own goal by the anti-fascists? Perhaps, but the real battle was inside the studio, not outside.

Griffin sat there, squirming in his seat, sweating equally under the glare of the studio lights, the glare of his fellow panelists and the glare of an angry audience. This was never going to be a run-of-the-mill Question Time, the BNP’s presence was the news and this political movement who had never been in the spotlight before had to have their basic principles questioned. Anyone expecting discussion about Afghanistan or the postal strike or the west African famine or the economy were to be disappointed because these questions would have been to ignore the elephant in the room. Holocaust denial, racism, immigration and nationalism were the topics and, despite Dimbleby’s assurances that this was not to be The Nick Griffin Show, that’s precisely what we got. And it was a pretty pathetic sight. He fidgeted uncomfortably throughout and persistently laughed the nervous giggle of a guilty schoolboy banged to rights for smoking in the bike sheds but trying fruitlessly to maintain his cocksuredness. He was denying his own past, pleading that he had been mis-quoted at every turn, trying to play the victim and claiming the party (under his leadership) had moved on from its deeply unpleasant past. No-one asked why, if he was so keen to move away from the party’s policies, did he join them in the first place.

My personal hope, that this exercise would give Mr Griffin and his ilk exactly enough rope to hang themselves, might not come to pass. I sense that these arguments on BBC1 last night might represent the lighting of the blue touch-paper for them to be played out on a far wider stage and might precipitate an increase of racial tension in a country that really does not need it. This battle needs to be fought with words and argument not with sticks and stones – I have my finger’s crossed.

(Picture used under Creative Commons License from Rex Chen)

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