If, like me, you watched Thursday’s audience-record-breaking edition of Question Time, you’ll more than like have been as revolted by the odious chubby fascist’s performance as I was. Griffin spluttered implausible denials of his vile politics at points, and at others actually came out with them, for instance in the course of his bigoted comments about homosexuality. All the while he sat sweating, grinning inanely and laughing inappropriately, and generally looking like a man having a terrible time. Meanwhile, as Jim mentions in his previous post, the three mainstream politicians failed to land much of a punch on him, with particular dishonour going to Jack Straw for his impotent flailing when questioned about Labour policy (on immigration, although in reality the Labour Party’s culpability goes wider) and its role in the rise of the BNP. Like Jim, I believe that honours for the night go to Bonnie Greer for her extraordinary dignity, refusal to engage with Griffin on his level, and her forensic destruction of his laughable grasp of history.
There has been a debate within the media and political circles alike, about the rights and wrongs of the BBC’s decision to allow Griffin on to Question Time. The majority on the left and amongst centre-left liberals appear to believe that he should not have been invited in the first place. From liberals one tends to hear various statements to the effect that Griffin should not have been allowed on because of the odiousness of his views and the possibility of their inciting racial hatred. On the left, one hears various recitations of the old mantra, “no platform for fascists”.
But… what do these actually mean? The liberal argument is especially vacuous. Of course Griffin is a foul human being whose views would disgust most Tories, let alone liberals and left-wingers. Of course the vast majority of people from all classes and communities in the UK would refuse to associate themselves with this political gargoyle or anyone with views similar to his. However, there is something more than a little patronising about the idea that white working-class people in the UK would, at the mere sight of the BNP fuhrer grinning and sweating his way through an episode of QT, go out and attack the nearest person from a BME community that they happen to run into. Obviously he wouldn’t have the same hypnotic effect on a Guardian columnist/Comment is Free writer/other liberal pundit, because they’re far too right-on, not like them peasants on the estates. It is patronising and nonsensical – people who were racist before 10:35 pm last Thursday still will be, and people who were not are unlikely to have been persuaded by Griffin’s gibbering under the spotlight.
From the left as I say, it is the “no platform” argument which is heard. This is more serious, albeit in this case often distorted through the prism of calls on the state and the media to do a job which rightly belongs to working class people. The most obvious elephant in the room with the advocates of this form of no platform, is that it doesn’t work. The net result of shunning argument directly with the BNP has been to enable them to fester and grow in parts of the country where people do not follow the conventional political media, feel ignored by the main political parties, and are utterly divorced from mainstream political debate. As a consequence, a fascist party gained hundreds of thousands of votes at the June European elections, and now has 2 elected MEPs. That hardly sounds like a vote for more of the same.
It is only an opinion, but in my view the time has come to shine the light of publicity directly on the BNP. Whilst it is possible (at a decidedly large stretch) that some people may have watched Griffin on Thursday and been persuaded to the cause of fascism, it seems to me more likely that neutrals of all backgrounds will have been horrified. The long-term outcome of the BBC’s decision, it seems to me, will be to galvanise opposition to the BNP beyond its usual redoubts and into the population as a whole.
Ask yourself this: you probably know several people who would describe themselves as “non political”. Some of them probably have at least one opinion that would be seen as a bit off-colour in left-wing circles. Did any of those people come to you with outpourings of praise for Griffin’s performance, and say that they were now persuaded to vote BNP? My guess is that none of them did.
Where BNP candidates win and enter the spotlight, they fail quickly thereafter. It is precisely their shodowy existence and freedom from media scrutiny that allows them to grow on the basis of the perpetuation of myth, rumour and innuendo – and on the basis of the threat of violence as well.
Media lynch mobs attacking the BNP? Bring it on.