Nick Griffin, leader of Britain’s fascist party, had his one-hour of fame last night (Thursday) when he appeared as a guest on BBC1’s prestigious Question Time program chaired by David Dimbleby.
Before the show was pre-recorded, more than 300 police held back angry, placard-waving protesters from the Unite Against Fascism group who had descended on the BBC’s Television Centre in west London.
The screening went ahead despite an appeal to the BBC Board of Governors by Cabinet minister Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary and former anti-aparthied campaigner who led the 1970s protests against the Springboks.
His approach was rejected on the grounds that the BBC had “a charter responsibility” to allow the voices of elected representatives. The BNP had two candidates elected to the European Parliament earlier this year, including Griffin.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
The great TV debate was a miserable catastrophe for Griffin who, capitalising on the publicity, was supposed to deliver a coherent, engaging and acceptable version of his sometimes questionable, highly xenophobic, platform.
Instead, Question Time presented the British public with a reborn Alf Garnett with none of the comic satire of Warren Mitchell.
Instead of inspiring an anti-immigrant pogrom from his followers in the whites-only taverns of Essex, the Cambridge University law graduate tried to placate his critics with all kinds of bromides about respect and tolerance. You were left with the distinct feeling that Griffin is a chancer, a mountebank who is riding the anti-immigration public opinion polls.
His presentation is so lightweight it’s difficult to see him emerging as the leader of a major neo-Nazi force, which is what the political hysterics are predicting.
Dominic Carman, author of a forthcoming unauthorised biography who has spent weeks with the BNP leader and recorded 20 hours of interviews, told the Daily Mail that Griffin was “dangerous and deranged”. He was a man “whose personal Utopia is for every white Briton to embrace national socialism, Griffin-style, and for every non-white Briton to leave these islands”.
He has described himself as a “Strasserist” basing himself on one of Hitler’s earliest lieutenants, Gregor Strasser, and also saying: “There is a strong direct link from Oswald Mosley to me.”
Mosley, whose political adventurism carried him from the Tory Party to the Labour Party and then to the leadership of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s, was interned during World War Two for his pro-Hitler sympathies. Now Griffin is draping himself in the imagery of Winston Churchill, using his photographs and wartime speeches to implant himself in the political consciousness of disillusioned and depressed Brits.
Griffin, who was delighted by the BBC’s decision to give him free time on national television telling Rupert Murdoch’s Times “Thank you Auntie”, evaded questions about the Holocaust on Question Time last night, but we know from his unofficial biographer Carman that he believes, “Yes, Adolf went a bit too far.”
With a British general election scheduled within the next six months the electorate is being softened up to accept that one of the new voices on the hustings will be Griffin’s BNP, a party that raised one million votes in the European elections.
After three terms of New Labour, it’s salutary to recognise its legacy: a society with ever-widening divisions between the richest and the poorest, an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, the traumatic, costly and failed invasion of Iraq and a buoyant homegrown fascist movement. Thank you Mr Blair. God bless you.
With an eye on Google, Crikey intern Aaron Flanagan reports:
Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, said he would not stop Griffin’s appearance on Question Time.
“If there is a case for censorship, it should be debated and decided in Parliament,” he said. “Political censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC or anyone else.”
Griffin sat on a panel that included Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, Baroness Warsi, the Tory spokesman on community cohesion, Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, and Bonnie Greer, a black American playwright.
The Guardian dubbed Griffin as the Dr Stangelove of British politics due to his adoption of Winston Churchill as a model for personal comparison and described the panel discussion as “passionate”.
The Daily Telegraph led its coverage with accusations from his critics describing him as a Nazi who had shared public forum platforms with the Ku Klux Klan.
The Independent’s editorial said that his performance on the influential program exposed his Holocaust denial and his links with Ku Klux Klan.
The Sun, pulled no punches and editorialised Griffin as “racist BNP leader Nick Griffin” and described his views as “‘vile and bigoted”. It invited readers to comment about his performance on the program.