This article was published on the Guardian's Comment website
The BBC's disgraceful BNP stunt
The BBC's disgraceful BNP stunt
8 September 2009
The BBC should not provide a platform for fascism. If Nick Griffin appears on Question Time the only winner will be the BNP.
The BBC, whose lavish salaries and expenses paid for by the poorest of the land, are obsessed with media stunts as they watch ratings slump. Last week, it was Adam Boulton announcing he would "empty chair" Gordon Brown if he refused Sky's pompous demand to debate on Boulton's terms with other party leaders. Now it is the BBC that has staged its publicity coup by inviting Holocaust denier Nick Griffin on to its flagship Question Time Programme.
Is there outrage? No, the liberal world slumps deeper into its armchair having a little moan about how nasty the BNP is, while the mainstream parties meekly agree to appear with Griffin.
Inviting the BNP's Nick Griffin as if he were the same as a senior politician from a democratic party is a stunt too far. The only full-length written work by Griffin – Who are the Mindbenders? – plays on old Nazi propaganda that Jews are the secret controllers of the media. As with Griffin's denial of the Holocaust and the BNP's ideology of hate against Muslim citizens, the core ideas are directly descended from the pre-war fascist era.
Yes, they get votes in low turnout elections from folk concerned about immigration. But not one in 10,000 voters knows Griffin's record. The argument advanced by Peter Preston in the Guardian and Matthew Seyd in the Times , as well as the Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander in the Daily Mirror, is that debating with Griffin somehow exposes him and his loathsome ideology.
If only. Question Time is not about rational debate but a ping-pong of point-scoring and gimmicks for cheap applause. Some of the audience will snarl at Griffin, some will cheer, when he denounces the number of foreigners in Britain or damns the EU. Sunny Hundal has advanced cogent arguments demolishing the myth that this is about a free exchange of views from which the BNP will emerge the loser.
In fact, the only winner will be the BNP vote-bank. French TV journalists went through the same arguments as Jean-Marie Le Pen rose in the 1980s. He and other National Front politicians were elected to Strasbourg, the French national assembly and local town hall. They had MEPs, deputies and mayors. Like Griffin, Le Pen was obsessed with Jewish questions though his main focus was Muslims, other immigrants and pulling out of the EU. But each time he appeared on the French equivalent of Question Time, his votes went up and the other party leaders spent their hour abusing each other as Le Pen just smiled at their political antics.
Today, French TV journalism is wiser. Yes, as an elected politician leading a legal party, Le Pen is reported and awarded a share of time on the election news, just as Griffin has the right to. But given the undemocratic core of his views on Jews, Muslims and immigrants, French TV does not treat Le Pen and the National Front as just another party. British broadcasters should follow suit.
If the argument is made that an electoral mandate confers the right to be boosted by the BBC on Question Time, why not the hundreds of independent councillors, or the other small parties who win seats?
This is not about democracy but about the BBC losing its sense of moral balance and editorial integrity. The BBC, rather than the Daily Mirror and Searchlight, should be exposing Griffin – not boosting his insatiable ego. As he enters his eighth decade (old enough to have been born during Hitler's Reich), David Dimbleby should refuse to provide a platform for British fascism.
Gordon Brown should make clear that no Labour minister or MP will appear on Question Time to validate this disgraceful BBC stunt. Alan Johnson has spoken for most, if not all, Labour MPs and activists by making clear he will not help Griffin up the political status scale by appearing with him. Labour MPs will discuss this at the party conference and Labour's high command should listen to those who fight hand-to-hand with the BNP on the doorstep before caving in to the BBC.
David Cameron, too, should remember that when Enoch Powell made a racist speech in 1968, the Tory leader Ted Heath ended Powell's career as a front-rank Tory MP. Heath went on to become prime minister. Cameron and Nick Clegg should be as brave today. All democratic parties should make clear that if Griffin appears on Question Time, David Dimbleby can have him to himself.