Friday, 23 October 2009

Where were you when that Creep got on TV?

Historic TV isn’t necessarily outstanding TV. Yesterday a little bit of history was made when the BBC invited Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party and recently elected Member of the European Parliament, on to its prestigious Question Time programme. It wasn’t great TV, but it is going to become one of those ‘where were you when…’ moments. The assassination of JFK it wasn't, but it had its significance all the same.

The BBC came in for a lot of criticism for inviting Griffin at all. This is a Party that doesn’t allow non-white members (though as a result of a court decision last week, it will be forced to amend its constitution shortly) and many of its members have a frankly fascist past (it’s hard to judge the present: they’re careful what they say).

Griffin’s a pretty loathsome individual, but banning an elected MEP from the BBC strikes me as a bizarre way of asserting democratic values. After all, it’s easy to favour freedom of speech if we’re only going to grant it to people who express palatable views – what dictator doesn’t allow people freely to express views he likes? The real test is whether we allow the people whose views repel us to speak out – whether it’s Griffin or some fundamentalist supporter of the Taliban.

In any case, it’s not for the BBC to decide who should and who should not be entitled to appear on publicly owned TV. I’d hate the idea that some committee of BBC grandees was taking that kind of decision. A properly run Democracy has to limit free speech, by banning incitement, conspiracy and libel (though in this country we’re much too tough in our definition of libel), but those limitation are stated in law made by elected legislators. That’s the right way to deal with those things. The BBC just has to make rules to ensure impartiality and apply them even-handedly, and when they invited Griffin, that’s what they were doing.

So much for the principle. The practical argument is just as strong. Because what Griffin did last night was squirm in the very spotlight into which he’d worked so hard to crawl. Did he deny the Holocaust? He couldn’t say – he’d changed his mind but couldn’t say why, what from or what to. Why did he attend a meeting with David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan? Duke is non-violent, claimed Griffin to general hilarity (a gentle Klansman? That was probably Griffin's most amusing idea of the evening).

He won’t have lost any of his core support – those guys aren’t open to rational persuasion. But people vaguely attracted by his party, perhaps as a protest vote, saw a sight that must have made them think again: he was evasive, disoriented, intellectually far weaker than the other panellists. Given the choice on offer of representatives of Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, all simply and obviously far more competent than Griffin, such voters must have been left wondering whether choosing him could be a solution to any kind of problem worth tackling.

If that’s as good as he gets, and I suspect it’s as good as he is, I think Griffin should be trotted out every few months to amaze everyone as he cuts the ground from under his own feet.


Anonymous said...

his appearance SHOULD have made people who voted for him as a protest vote think twice, but apparently they did not, to judge by the record number of new recruits to his party since the broadcast!


Awoogamuffin said...

San, that's according to the BNP - who's to say they're telling the truth?

David Beeson said...

Funnily enough, Michael has picked up on exactly the point I was going to make: claiming 3000 new members so completely suits the BNP's purpose so much that I find it much too pat.

In any case, what really matters is what the undecided millions thought. I think in Griffin they saw a weak and shifty man. The far-right always needs a strong man as its leader - I don't believe Griffin will have inspired many to think he fits the bill.

I know a lot of people in the media are proclaiming the event as a triumph for him - but I think there's a feeding frenzy in the rest of the media against the BBC at the moment. Let's wait until the dust has settled - I don't think the BNP will have emerged strengthened by this experience.