On Thursday night, October 22, Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party (BNP) was invited by the BBC to appear on Question Time. This is the most important political discussion programme in Britain. Its format is typically a panel—Government ministers and senior representatives of the main political parties—that takes questions from an audience of the general public. It is watched every week by millions, and it has considerable influence as a shaper and as a mirror of public opinion.
Inviting Mr Griffin onto the panel was both acceptance that he and his party must be recognised as part of the political spectrum within Britain, and was a first-class opportunity for him to put his opinions directly to the largest audience he has ever faced.
Now, in reviewing his performance, I must confess that I do not support Griffin or his party. I am a libertarian, not a white nationalist. If I am inclined to vote for any political party in Britain, it is for the UK Independence Party, which campaigns specifically for withdrawal from the European Union, and is generally a sort of Conservative Party in exile.
This is not a disclaimer made out of fear that I shall somehow be smeared myself as a white nationalist, but out of honesty. I will try to be fair to Mr Griffin. Indeed, I will avoid commenting on his opinions, and stay so far as I can to the technical aspects of his performance.
Mr Griffin and many of his supporters have spent the time since the broadcast claiming that the BBC showed an open and disgraceful bias against Mr Griffin. They are right. There is no doubt that it was intended that he should be treated unfairly. The other panellists were Jack Straw, Minister of Justice, Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative politician, Chris Huhne, a senior Liberal Democrat, and Bonnie Greer, a black American woman who has somehow been made a Trustee of the British Museum. The programme was filmed in London, which is now perhaps the most racially diverse city in Europe.
From the opening minutes, it was plain that this would not be—nor was planned to be—a normal episode of Question Time. The other panellists had conferred and brought along set speeches of denunciation, which the Presenter, David Dimbleby, both allowed and encouraged. Indeed, he joined in with hostile questions of his own.
It is unlikely that the audience had been fed questions to put. It was hardly necessary, bearing in mind the demographic profile—quite unlike Mr Griffin's own electoral base. The questions were universally hostile. So were most of the audience comments.
Rather than Question Time, this was an hour in which Nick Griffin was put on trial before the nation, following the sort of process that a Communist police state might have envied. It was all set up to be grossly unfair.
I believe that Mr Griffin is planning a formal complaint to the BBC about bias. Sadly, he is missing the point. Whatever unfairness was meant, he was given the opportunity of a lifetime to do two things—first, to show the world that he was not a sinister crank; second, to tell the world directly and in brief what he was in politics to achieve. Judged in terms of this opportunity, his performance was an embarrassing failure.
He did make two points very well. The first was to defend his claim that Islam was a "wicked and vicious" religion. This is a claim that, astonishingly, got him into court a few years ago, and for which he might, had he been found guilty, have gone to prison for seven years. He explained himself with great authority, and the Moslems in the audience were reduced to the defence made by every religious enthusiast—that their holy book had been misquoted or misunderstood.
His second good point was to remind the world that Jack Straw might be uttering sanctimonious platitudes about "fascism" and "Islamophobia", but was also a member of a government that had helped murder not far off a million Iraqis in a war of military aggression.
But that was it. Otherwise, Griffin squirmed and fidgeted his way through several questions and accusations that he could easily have turned in his own favour.
The most important of these came when Mr Dimbleby accused him of having denied the Holocaust. Griffin's answer at first was that he had never been convicted of Holocaust Denial. He then claimed that he had changed his mind on the basis of some radio intercepts, and added that he was unable to elaborate because of "European law".
When Mr Straw pointed out that there was no law in this country against denying any historical claim, and promised, as Minister of Justice, to shield him against any extradition request from elsewhere in the European Union, Griffin had no answer.
This came right at the beginning of the programme, and it told me beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Griffin either had done nothing to prepare himself for the ordeal, or had been prepared with crass incompetence. Since I would not accept the post, it is no loss for me that I am unlikely ever to be invited to advise him on handling the media. But if I had been his adviser, I would have given him the following response to the absolutely predicable question about the Holocaust:
"I came into the nationalist movement thirty five years ago. I was drawn in because I believed that it answered the question of why this country had been dragged into the sewer. I still believe broadly in that answer. However, I have now realised that how much falsehood is mingled in with that truth. I denied the holocaust without examination as part of a package. I have now looked at the evidence and have changed my mind. You can think what you like of me. But I bet I'm the only politician you have seen here in a long time who admits to having looked at facts and changed his mind on their basis."
He could then have brought in the point he made elsewhere in the programme—his support for Israel. I suspect this would have shut down that whole line of attack. Someone might have accused him of lying about his present beliefs. But that is always a weak argument.
The second idiotic answer came near the end of the programme. Some popular singer had recently been found dead in a Spanish hotel bedroom—I understand it was drink or drugs. Some journalist had then written an article for The Daily Mail, claiming that this was proof that the homosexual lifestyle was morally corrupt.
Everyone on the panel—as is required—joined in the condemnations of the journalist. Mr Griffin began in the same tone, and then announced that many people in this country found something "creepy" in the sight of two men kissing.
Of course, this is probably correct. It is not a feeling shared by the liberal establishment—and I am, for what it may be worth, a semi-detached member of that establishment. But not everyone shares our state of "enlightenment". Nevertheless, my mouth fell open at what Mr Griffin said.
Again, had I been advising him, this is what he might have said:
"I share the condemnation of this article. I uphold the right of The Daily Mail to publish it, but despise the idea of attacking the dead.
"But I would say that, wouldn't I? After all, I know all about The Daily Mail's idea of fairness. If many of the people here tonight think I am the most evil man alive in Britain, it is probably because of some smear against me published in that 'newspaper'."
He could then have joined to this the subsequent point he made: that BNP policy was to leave people alone in their private actions, but to forbid the preaching of homosexuality to schoolchildren.
Griffin ended by adding that he had been responsible for moving BNP policy to this from a promise to make all homosexual relations illegal again.
By then, however, the harm was done. All the predictable condemnations were washing over him even as he was insisting on his own tolerance. He could have turned his answer to an attack on one of his enemies and flattened claims that he was a sexual bigot. He did not.
Though I am not a supporter of Mr Griffin's party, I do have much personal sympathy for him. Now that he has dropped National Socialism, he is normally an effective and indeed eloquent spokesman for millions of people in this country who feel, quite rightly, that they have been deliberately ground into the dirt by both Conservative and Labour Governments.
For being this voice, Griffin has faced the sort of persecution I would once not have thought possible in England. He has been smeared. He has been physically attacked. It was only because a jury disagreed with the State that he was not sent to prison for saying about Islam what may or may not be true, but that had always so far been classed as fair comment. And still he continues to state his opinions. For this, he deserves both sympathy and admiration.
But this does not cancel the fact that he was presented with an enviable opportunity by the BBC and failed to take advantage of it.
It may be that the sheer awfulness of his performance will encourage the BBC to invite him back. After all, the BBC is the public relations wing of the Establishment, and its job is to destroy people like Mr Griffin. It may now think that another few performances like this will see off the whole BNP threat.
Perhaps it would. I have no doubt there are people in the north of England who would vote BNP even had Mr Griffin called for the slaughter of the first born. But he is unlikely to gather in many middle class votes on account of His Question Time appearance.
On the other hand, he might do better on his next airing. Everyone has the occasional bad night, and he almost certainly has the ability to do better.
In closing, I will simply repeat what I have said in my other articles about the BNP. This is that, while the party is no longer national socialist in any meaningful sense, it is far from being a good vehicle for the opinions that it now claims to hold.
This is not because of any possibility that its leaders are hoping to lie their way into power, and then pull off the mask of reasonableness. It is simply because of what its leaders used to be and used to say. Any party that wants to roll back the Politically Correct police state now imposed on my country will face inevitable demonization. The BNP is just too ideal a target for demonization.
However much he may have brought it on himself, Mr Griffin was treated unfairly by the BBC.
On the other hand, anything that depresses his chances of replacing the Conservatives after their inevitable future collapse, increases the chance that their replacement will be UKIP—for all its faults a more trustworthy and more electable choice.
[VDARE.COM note: the London Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that its post-programme polling showed an increase in BNP support—22% would now consider voting for the BNP, and more than half felt the BNP "had a point". One in five 'would consider voting BNP' after Nick Griffin Question Time appearance, by Rosa Prince, October 23, 2009]
Dr. Sean Gabb [Email him] is a writer, academic, broadcaster and Director of the Libertarian Alliance in England. His monograph Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back is downloadable here. For his account of the Property and Freedom Society's 2008 conference in Bodrum, Turkey, click here. For his address to the 2009 PFS conference, "What is the Ruling Class?", click here; for videos of the other presentations, click here.