Question Time with the BNP: cui bono?

There’s been no shortage of strongly argued reactions to the BBC programme Question Time, starring the malodorous British National Party’s leader Nick Griffin.  (You can still watch the whole thing online here.)  We’re forcefully told that the BBC should never have provided this invaluable platform, a place on the BBC’s flagship Question Time panel, to the leader of a racist, fascist, anti-democratic party.  No, they were right to provide an opportunity to expose and discredit this political pariah.  The programme turned out to be a triumph for the BNP.  No, it was a disaster for Nick Griffin and his unsavoury party.  (According to the Guardian, the inimitable Peter Mandelson agrees with both the latter propositions, artfully hedging his bets:

Mandelson said Griffin, who was pilloried during the programme when he struggled to explain his denials of the Holocaust, would suffer in the end. “When the content and the meaning of what he said sinks in for people, most of them will recoil from what they heard,” Mandelson said. “In the short term, he may have done himself a favour. But in the long term he has done himself no good at all.”)

There have been other contradictory verdicts.  The panel and the audience exposed Nick Griffin’s ugly ideology and repeatedly hit him for six.  No, the whole programme was a farce, amounting to a public lynching that could only evoke reluctant sympathy for the beleaguered victim.  Question Time was right to depart from its usual format and concentrate almost the whole of its allotted hour to denunciation and exposure of the BNP.  No, the paucity and ugliness of BNP policies would have been much more effectively exposed if we had been allowed to hear Griffin and his fellow-panellists answering questions on, for example, the postal strike, Afghanistan, the recession and the banking crisis, unemployment, and the Pope’s bid to poach reactionary parsons from the Church of England — all topics that would undoubtedly have been debated in a routine Question Time programme. And so the argument has continued across the media and the blogosphere.

No less a person than the Editor of the admirable blog, LabourList, is in no doubt where he stands:

Nick Griffin’s smug, sneering performance on Question Time was met with near unanimous mockery in the BBC studio, from the other panellists and now from the media and political blogosphere.
The BNP leader sweated, ticked and fumbled his way through the show from the start and was clearly out of his comfort zone and out of his depth. He also betrayed his true bigotry in a flurry of ill-considered outbursts…
(Alex Smith,

But he quotes Matthew Parris in the Times:

Nobody dared try what, if it could have been done, would have been the most devastating tactic of all, and perhaps the only tactic that would have done Mr Griffin any real harm: to brush him aside as a small man, enlarged by the anger of his enemies.

Can all these commentators have been watching the same programme?

Not usually one to shirk sticking my neck out, I venture to disagree with most of the above.  The following propositions seem to me virtually self-evident, anyway to any democrat who watched the programme:

1.  The BBC was right to invite the BNP to take part in Question Time.  The BNP won around 6% of the votes at the latest European Parliamentary elections and gained two seats.  It is winning seats in local government elections.  It’s not for the managers of the BBC to decide which electorally significant political parties should be permitted a chance to explain their policies and principles in a programme which has acquired an institutional status as a kind of political hustings open to every legal party which commands perceptible public support.  If the BNP is to be excluded by the BBC as politically objectionable, which other party will be next?

2. The BBC was however wrong to represent the inclusion of a BNP representative in the programme as some kind of colossal media and political earthquake, trailing it for many days in advance and afterwards as a broadcasting landmark, instead of what it should have been:  another routine current affairs programme in which another small minority party would be taking part, just as the Greens and UKIP occasionally do.  In its greed for ratings, the BBC dug a deep hole and promptly fell into it.

3.  The BBC made another disastrous mistake in choosing to abandon the programme’s normal format, deliberately turning it into a public trial of Griffin — indeed, more a lynching than a trial, for some degree of fairness is required in a trial, including the right of the accused to defend himself without bullying interruptions.  Not only were all the other panellists and apparently the large audience hand-picked to give Griffin a hard time:  David Dimbleby, as chairman, abandoned all pretence of impartiality and instead appointed himself Grand Inquisitor-in-Chief.  Griffin’s attempts, however ham-fisted and objectionable, to explain his and the BNP’s beliefs and policies and to defend himself against the unremitting assault were constantly interrupted by shouting and hectoring from Dimbleby, Jack Straw and Chris Huhne, and by the audience lynch mob.  Only the women panellists, the Conservative shadow communities minister Baroness Warsi,  and playwright and critic Bonnie Greer, spoke coolly, rationally and even reasonably courteously, thereby inflicting much more damage on Griffin than the over-excited bawling of the males.

In the programme that followed Question Time, ‘This Week‘, Andrew Neil observed that:

The danger tonight was that the British people, famous for their fair-mindedness, saw one man being beaten up by five other people on the panel, including the presenter, and by an audience that was overwhelmingly hostile to him.

That seems exactly right.  When a programme is so arranged that decent people begin to feel a hint of sympathy for a horrible, mendacious, dangerous fascist like Nick Griffin, someone somewhere has badly blundered.

4.  The principal benefit of BNP participation in the programme should have been to give us all an insight into the reasons for the BNP’s qualified success in attracting around a million votes at the last EP and local government elections:  to help us identify what it is about BNP utterances that attracts so many people, and what needs to be done to counter that attraction so as to return its adherents to support for the democratic parties.  Regrettably, this BBC-organised shouting match provided little if any such benefit.  Griffin gave a number of clues between the interruptions to what it is that has started to attract more support for his party , but sadly few of them were followed up by the panel or the audience:

  • It’s always been clear that unease over immigration, especially among Britain’s white working class, has driven substantial numbers of voters, few of them convinced fascists or even in most cases bigots, to support the BNP, feeling that none of the mainstream parties either acknowledges the resentments they feel and problems they face, or proposes any concrete action to address them.  Some of the things Griffin said about immigration were potentially interesting.  A black member of the audience spoke movingly about Britain being his home, and the country he loved, asking the highly pertinent question:  Where would you want me to go?  Griffin replied, strikingly, that the questioner would be able to stay:  those whom the BNP wanted to send home were those who were in the country illegally.  This seemed to contradict his other remarks about giving the country back to its “indigenous” inhabitants, but this remarkable contradiction was never followed up, the panellists and most of the audience preferring to compete with each other in establishing their anti-fascist credentials.  So we never got to the bottom of BNP policy on the repatriation of immigrants.  Jack Straw, whose whole performance I thought lamentable, even seemed to be denying that the government’s policies and actions on immigration were a source of anger and resentment that benefited the BNP.  Baroness Warsi, by contrast, was commendably frank on this neuralgic issue[1].
  • Griffin’s concise list of Islamic beliefs and practices which he described as incompatible with traditional British values will have struck a chord with many viewers.  A reasonably impartial chair would have invited a rebuttal, perhaps from one of the Muslims in the audience.  Instead, Griffin’s charge went unanswered.  Another couple of thousand votes for the BNP next time as a result, perhaps?
  • Jack Straw opened the programme with an interminable, if well-intentioned, lecture about the part played in the second world war by Asian and African soldiers fighting and in many cases dying in the battle against racist fascism of the kind represented by the BNP.  Griffin replied denying that he was now or had ever been a Nazi, adding that his father had fought in the RAF during the war while Jack Straw’s father had been in prison “for refusing to fight Adolf Hitler” — irrelevant, of course, to Straw’s actual accusation, but effectively deflating Straw, with the result that Griffin appeared to have won this first round.   (The colourful descriptions by some commentators of Griffin as looking scared, sweating and shaking, anxiously licking his lips and failing to measure up to the challenge, seem to me unduly coloured by wishful thinking.  Griffin’s unattractive and inappropriate half-smile no doubt revealed his nervousness:  but the fox can be forgiven a degree of nervousness as the huntsmen and the hounds encircle him, baying enthusiastically for his blood.  In general, given the grossly uneven nature of the contest, he actually acquitted himself pretty well.  Straw seemed to me much more nervous, or perhaps more excited than nervous:  and he was plainly there as Master of the Hunt, with precious little to be either nervous or excited about.)
  • Griffin said he felt there was something ‘creepy’ about public displays of affection between gay men.  That’s clearly a reflection of unacceptable homophobia, to be unreservedly condemned.  But we kid ourselves if we fail to recognise that to numerous viewers his remark would have sounded like a rare and welcome defiance of ‘political correctness’, articulating what many otherwise perfectly decent people feel but are afraid to say.
  • Griffin’s robust demand for the abandonment of the pointless war in Afghanistan and his indictment of Jack Straw for his part in initiating the disastrous war in Iraq ticked many boxes.  There are certainly other politicians belonging to more reputable parties who take the same line, but neither of the major parties condemns both wars outright or demands the immediate withdrawal of our soldiers from Afghanistan.  Several Brownie points to Griffin here: the unspeakable saying the unsayable.
  • Griffin was notably shifty on several matters, most of all about the holocaust.  Dimbleby tried to press him on this, but all he would say was that he had never been convicted of holocaust denial.  Neither the panel nor the audience managed to get a conviction on this, either;  so some viewers would have concluded that the charge was ‘not proven’ — which, at any rate under English law, means an acquittal, however undeserved.

I conclude that most of those who saw Griffin as discredited and demolished by the programme are people who would never in a million years be tempted to vote for or support the BNP:  people who were already well aware of Griffin’s disgraceful record of extremist and undemocratic utterances, of a degree of racism that unquestionably amounts to fascism.  But these are not the people whose responses to the programme are important or interesting.  What was the response of those who are by no means fascists or racists but who feel increasingly neglected by all the mainstream political parties — especially perhaps by the Labour Party, which under New Labour has seemed less and less like the champion of or spokesman for the working class, the poor and vulnerable, those at or near the bottom of the heap?  Perhaps the answer to that disturbing question lies in the evidence of the first opinion poll and other worrying statistics: a YouGov poll in the Daily Telegraph says that 22% of the people questioned would “seriously consider” voting BNP, more than 240 complainants to the BBC felt the show was biased against the BNP (while only around 100 complaints were about Mr Griffin being allowed to appear on Question Time), and the BNP claims that 3,000 people registered to join the party during and after the broadcast — no doubt a wild exaggeration, but….

So there’s a strong likelihood that the BNP was a net beneficiary of the evening’s antics.  Does this mean that the BBC was wrong to have Griffin on the programme?  No, but it was wrong to allow him to appear as the victim of a manifestly unfair contest;  wrong to adopt a format which prevented viewers from seeing and hearing about BNP attitudes to a range of current issues and which made it impossible for anyone to follow up Griffin’s remarks in a calm, forensic way in the course of a sensible and well regulated discussion;  wrong to have built up the programme, before and after it, as a great national event comparable with the FA cup final (or whatever that’s called now) or the Grand National.  The BNP has won, probably, some sympathy and support; while the rest of us have been denied any fresh insights into the reasons for the party’s growing support or any clues to how it can best be reversed.  As a result of a series of bad miscalculations by the BBC, we have got the worst of both worlds.

[1] “David Dimbleby: (To Jack Straw) The rise of the BNP, and the reason that Mr Griffin is on this panel tonight, is because of their success in the European Parliament, because as you well know, they got two seats in Europe. Is that because of failings by your government over the last 12 years to reassure people about the scale of immigration?

Jack Straw: I don’t believe it is… If you want to know why the BNP won in the North West and in Yorkshire in June, it was a lot to do with discontent with all the political parties, particularly over the issue of expenses.

Baroness Warsi: I think, Jack, there’s certain things that mainstream political parties have to be honest about. And I think that answer is not an honest answer… There are real issues around poverty, around deprivation, around lack of social mobility and immigration. It is an issue. There are many people who feel that the pace of change in their communities has been too fast.”

Lady Warsi, you’re in the wrong party.


11 Responses

  1. robin says:

    As one would have expected, a sane, rational, and well-argued comment, with which I agree. But I’m not sure that we should be wasting the vast amount of paper and ink that we already have on this sad individual. (See page after page in The Times to-day.) Immigration policy, poverty, crime, racism, Islamophobia are difficult subjects enough without having to look at them through the distorting spectacles of this crazy obsessive. Can we now get back to the business of trying to deal with the real issues?

    N.B. “Not proven” is a verdict in Scottish law.

    Brian writes: Thanks for this, Robin. It’s chiefly because of the huge amount of coverage of this misbegotten programme in the print media, on radio and television, and in the blogosphere, that I thought it worth adding my own two-penn’orth on this blog. I agree entirely that this disproportionate interest has given wholly undeserved publicity to this unpleasant little man and his obnoxious party and that it’s now time to return to the real world. But if what should have been an unremarkable television programme, but wasn’t, has really given a fillip to the BNP, already on a roll, that can’t be entirely insignificant. (BTW, it’s precisely because I know that ‘Not Proven’ is a permissible verdict in Scottish law that I expressly referred to “English” law as equating ‘Not proven’ with acquittal.)

  2. Barrie England says:

    Master Griffin would be a liability to any party to which he chose to offer his dubious talents. Do we have much to fear from the BNP so long as he is its leader?

    Brian writes: There’s always some danger from a politician of the far right who strikes the victims of economic depression and a grossly unequal society as someone who understands and shares their anger and who appears to articulate their grievances when they feel themselves abandoned, misunderstood and ignored by mainstream political leaders and their parties. Xenophobia and intense resentment of change after a period of mass immigration may be more widespread than we think and are there waiting to be exploited; yet the leaders of our mainstream parties have preferred to defer to them instead of showing some courageous leadership by demonstrating the benefits of immigration while taking practical (if expensive) action to allay ordinary people’s perfectly rational fears about its effects on local housing, schools, public transport, social services and the general civility in society that used to be taken for granted. Griffin’s revelations, quoted in Question Time, about his strategy of gaining respectability and acceptance for the BNP by soft-pedalling its real long-term objectives and clothing them in euphemism (“identity” instead of “race”, etc.) suggest quite sophisticated skills which are indeed already bearing fruit. Blairite New Labourism which has largely severed Labour’s identification with the working class leaves a vacuum which risks sucking in the BNP. Comfortable middle-class Germans (and others) underrated the appeal of a fanatical out-of-work Austrian painter who exploited popular discontents and grievances in a collapsed economy, until they woke up to the threat he posed, and by then it was too late. I doubt if Griffin has the populist appeal of a Hitler or even an Oswald Mosley, but who knows what rival may be there in the recesses of the BNP awaiting his moment to strike him down and take his place? There’s no need to be alarmist, but it’s risky to be unduly complacent.

  3. Paul says:

    Racism begins with our families, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, people we admire, respect and love.

    However, as we grow and mature we come to the realization that what we were told by our family when we were children were slanted lies base on their prejudices. We realize that most people are like ourselves and not so different and want the same things, like a home, steady work, a Medicare plan and schools for our children (if you travel you will see this). We realize that most people are of good hearts and goodwill.

    This reminds me of a parable from the good book where a Levite and Priest come upon a man who fell among thieves and they both individually passed by and didn’t stop to help him.

    Finally a man of another race came by, he got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy and got down with the injured man, administered first aid, and helped the man in need.

    Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his fellow man.

    You see, the Levite and the Priest were afraid, they asked themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

    But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

    That’s the question before us. The question is not, “If I stop to help the immigrant in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the immigrant, what will happen to him or her?” That’s the question.

    This current climate of blaming others for our woes is not new. We have had this before and we have conquered it.

    Remember “Evil flourishes when good men (and women) do nothing”. Raise your voices with those of us who believe we are equal and we can win this battle again.

    Brian writes: Any comment from me after this would be superfluous! Thanks, anyway.

  4. Barrie England says:

    Maybe, but the cause, I suggest, is as much the political apathy that has blighted the country for years, as Labour’s neglect of its core vote.

    Brian writes: A bit of both, probably. But in some ways political apathy may be a sign of relative contentment, for example when — as has been the case for ten of Labour’s 12 years in office — the economy is growing steadily, unemployment and inflation are low, public services are being improved, and even if civil rights are being eroded, few people are directly affected by it most of the time. However at the same time the most under-privileged in society may well be silently seething (for example over the real or perceived injustices and deterioration in their well-being associated with immigration) about matters which none of the mainstream parties appear to be concerned with. And then along comes the BNP….

  5. Clive Willis says:

    As ever, your analysis is magisterial, and I agree wholeheartedly with it. I must add a comment or two from the Blackburn perspective. Since Thursday evening an unusually active social life has brought me into contact with many ‘indigenous’ Blackburnians. Their reaction, virtually unanimous, was dismay at Dimbleby’s failure to ensure ‘British fair play’ and their outrage at the performance of the Man of Straw. They point to his repeated evasion of  the issues regarding immigration and they deride his assertion that the population of Blackburn is 30 per cent of Asian origin; rather, they allege that that was the figure a decade ago and that now it’s ‘even Stephen’. Whatever the case, they point to the huge ‘Asian majority’ in the borough’s schools and are plainly fearful of what the future might bring: they allege an often hostile attitude from Muslims and a potentially sinister agenda when once the ‘indigenous’ population becomes an ethnic minority in its ‘own’ town. They also allege that the mainstream political parties (as demonstrated by Straw) won’t grasp the immigration nettle and state that, though they aren’t ready to vote BNP as of now, they may find themselves having to take a grim decision in the future. We may well dismiss all this as a too simplistic and craven reaction to the march of progress, but the simple fact is that that is what so many people feel in many of the northern former industrial towns in which Asian immigrants have chosen to settle. We can’t just ignore the ‘indigenous’ reaction and haughtily dismiss the BNP as ‘completely disgusting’ if we’re not prepared to confront these issues head-on. We need a government with a policy that makes sense in these matters – I see little from any mainstream party that addresses them at present.

    Brian writes: Many thanks for this insightful comment — of special interest since Blackburn is of course Jack Straw’s constituency. I entirely agree that if the Labour party continues to bury its head in the sand and ignore the genuine discontents which people reckon (sometimes rightly, sometimes not) stem from the problems and injustices caused by large-scale immigration, the haemorrhage of support from Labour to the BNP may eventually prove fatal. Labour leaders should be tirelessly preaching the huge benefits that immigrants bring to our society (instead of confining themselves to negative promises to control and reduce it, as Gordon Brown did at the party conference), and exposing the myths about immigration propagated by the Daily Mail and other organs, but at the same time they need to recognise and actually tackle the problems in housing, education and social services which concentrations of immigrants inevitably aggravate in many places. Unfortunately it’s a bit late for this.

  6. Peter Inness says:

    Re your description of Griffin as fascist, George Orwell said the word fascist was meaningless. Prof. Timothy Garton Ash said in an article in The Guardian recently that the word has been “hollowed out to mean little more than something the left hates at the moment”.
    Are you using the word in the Orwell sense, i.e. “totally meaningless”, or in the Garton Ash sense: almost meaningless?
    Or perhaps you are using the word as per Chambers Dictonary. This defines fascism as being composed of different characteristics including militarism. Now Labour plus Tories took the British military to Iraq which resulted in the death of a million Muslims and Kurds. Whereas the BNP always opposed the invasion. Well it’s clear who the fascists are, or is it?

    Brian writes: I doubt whether either Orwell or Tim Garton Ash would accept your implied proposition that any person or party that has been involved in starting, supporting or advocating military action, whether justifiably or not, can meaningfully be described as fascist. I agree with both of them that the word is often misused in the way that Orwell describes. But just because a word is often misused can’t mean that it shouldn’t be used at all. It would not be hard to list the characteristics of the BNP and its leader, Mr Griffin, which justify the label ‘fascist’, just as many of the same characteristics of the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930s and early 1940s, of Mussolini’s Fascisti in Italy, and of Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in the same period, similarly warrant the same label, which has a pretty clear meaning to most of us — especially perhaps to those of us who were alive at the time (a dwindling band, inevitably!).

  7. Michael Hornsby says:

    Brian,  An admirably sane and clear-eyed assessment,  if I may say so, which of course means that I agree with pretty well all of it!  Your criticisms of the way the Beeb trailed the programme, and of the bear-baiting manner in which the discussion itself was conducted,  seem to me unanswerable. I would only say that some degree of hullabaloo was probably unavoidable, even if the Beeb had adopted the more low-key and balanced approach you recommend, because of the hysterical reaction from sections of the left to the mere offer of a public platform to Mr Griffin and the BNP, a legal party, with a small but not negligible following, which has sent properly  elected representatives to the European Parliament and some local councils. Democracy is “a rough old game”, as Alan Watkins was wont to remark, and the right to free speech is its indispensable oxygen supply. Peter Hain’s notion of a sanitised right of free speech, to be enjoyed only by those individuals and organisations holding views that fall within a sweet-smelling spectrum deemed acceptable by bien pensant liberals and lefties like himself,  is such a self-evident oxymoron that it is extraordinary how any intelligent person could seriously propose it. The right to give offence – and conversely and crucially the non-recognition of any right not to be offended – is a  sine qua non of any concept of free speech worth the name. The price of freedom may be eternal vigilance, but a thick skin also helps.  Free speech, like any other freedom, will of course be abused by some,  just as, in a democracy, voters will not always make the decision that you or I would consider the right one. But we both have to live with that. It was significant that only the two non-white members of the Any Questions panel,  Baroness Warsi and Bonnie Greer, seemed at all comfortable with this notion. It was left to Baroness Warsi to acknowledge that at least some of the BNP’s electoral support reflects genuine and legitimate public concern about aspects of immigration, Islamic extremism and other issues that mainstream white politicians are afraid to address for fear of being called racists and fomenters of religious hatred or whatever. David Dimbleby and Jack Straw were almost comic in their parade of nose-holding  distaste at having to share a platform with the maladorous Mr G, their bodylanguage suggesting that he was something nasty the studio cat had brought in and left behind the previous night.  They could not, I noticed, even when addressing remarks to him, bring themselves to look directly at him, preferring instead to stare fixedly ahead.  The cool and humorous Ms Greer, by contrast, betrayed no unease at being seated next to Mr G, acknowledged his presence quite naturally and treated his more ridiculous and repellent views with gentle mockery.  On balance, I thought the programme, for all its faults, deserved two cheers as a small victory for free speech. Whatever benefits Mr G will have gained by appearing,  he will not, I think, have persuaded many people not already converted to his unsavoury cause that he is anything else but a deeply unpleasant and mentally unhinged individual. If the BNP is gaining ground with the electorate, it has much more to do with the laziness, dishonesty and cowardice of the mainstream parties in refusing either to recognise or address some perfectly genuine popular grievances, a failure that the BNP is only too happy to exploit for its own dishonourable ends.

    Brian writes: Thanks for this, Michael. I agree with you on all points (obviously!), except that I thought Bonnie Greer’s body language was quite hostile to Griffin — as she evidently intended it to be: see the interesting interview that she gave the London Evening Standard afterwards, at It was indeed striking, as you say, that the only people who really came well out of the whole hour-long programme were the two non-white panel members — who also happened to be the only women on the panel. Machismo is a poor recipe for rational discussion.

    There are some interesting comments on the same article by me over at Labour List: see

  8. John Miles says:

    Sad to say, Mr Griffin made what was probably the truest remark of the entire evening.
    When Mr Dimbleby asked him how anyone could trust him when he kept shifting his ground, his answer was that no one ever trusts politicians anyway.
    Or words to that effect.

    Brian writes: Alas, you’re right. It was quite a shrewd reply. Altogether I thought he was often shrewder than most of the commentariat has given him credit for. Even very nasty people can sometimes be shrewd!

  9. Road_Hog says:

    Hi Brian,

    Just a follow up from your post on LL, once again, thanks for a superb article and I’ll keep a an eye on your blog/website from now on.



    Brian writes: Many thanks for this. I’ll reciprocate by keeping an eye on your blog, too, not least for its splendid illustrations and video clips, even though you and i don’t always agree!

  10. Michael Hornsby says:

    I read Bonnie Greer’s post-Any Questions interview with the Evening  Standard with interest.  It would appear that my ability to read body language is not as good as I thought it was. She says that Mr G was “shaking like a leaf”. I failed to pick up on that as well, if true, though it was obvious he was nervous, which was hardly surprising.  There are not many redeeming virtues one can claim for malodorous Mr G, but I suppose it must be conceded that it required some courage for him to appear on this programme, knowing he was going to be the central participant in a bear-baiting spectacle. The converse,  I guess, would have been for the formidable Bonnie Greer to address the annual conference of the Klu Klux Klan.

    Brian writes: Thanks. I agree: I didn’t see Mr Griffin ‘shaking like a leaf’, or indeed shaking at all. He licked his lips occasionally, and that rather disagreeable half-smile (described by the pundits as a smirk, inevitably) was obviously a sign of nervousness, too. As you say, who wouldn’t have been nervous when subjected to the attentions of what amounted to a kangaroo court, stacked against him?

  11. Bob says:

    Brian, I read your comprehensive assessment of this topic on Oct 24th and couldn’t see what I could usefully add. You simply hadn’t left any inviting gaps for hecklers…. (Aren’t bloggers supposed to do that?) But returning to it now, it strikes me that none of your admirable commentators nor any other media voices I’ve heard during the week seem to have been struck, as I was, by the possibility that the whole business was so unsavoury because it embodied a shameful loss of nerve by the Beeb. I suspect that in the week leading up to Question Time they began strongly to regret ever having invited Nick Griffin on to it, as Peter Hain and others lobbied and harried, pointing out inter alia that QT was partly a celebrity show, not an election broadcast to which the BNP has some legitimate right. And as the politically correct pressure on them grew, and it got too late to cancel, the Beeb lost its nerve – and devised an ugly compromise to save face with the bien pensants: They deprived Griffin of the usual programme format and the chance to answer ‘normal’ questions; they stacked the ‘representative’ audience heavily against him; they ensured that Man of Straw would give him a good tongue-lashing from a safe distance, and, most shamefully of all, they detailed or at least licensed the neutral chairman to join in the bullying. What an exhibition of Le fair play for foreigners watching! It’s only my theory, but how else to explain such a disspiriting pantomime?

    Brian writes: Bob, this seems to me a highly plausible explanation. I am convinced that the BBC was right not to exclude the BNP permanently from Question Time once the party had won around a million votes, and seats in both the European Parliament and local government, since Question Time has effectively acquired the status of a national electoral forum and the BBC has a Charter obligation to be impartial as between parties: but it seems all too likely that the decision to distort the format of the programme and turn it into a show trial in a kangaroo court was a cowardly response to the misguided, Hain-led protests at the decision to have the BNP on the programme at all.