Hypocrisy, Caricature, and Abuse: How Treating Nick Griffin Badly Failed, Badly

I haven’t gotten much response in the past when I said anything about the British National Party, but lack of response has never stopped me before.  Considering that the BNP has been the only topic in the news media for the last few days, I thought I’d add my tuppence.

The national news papers on Friday all carried giant headlines about Nick Griffin’s appearance on the BBC current affairs panel show Question Time. It was a huge, big, giant deal when the BBC invited the leader of the BNP as one of the panellists. It was in line with the BBC policy of including parties that have reached the electoral threshold of 5% and have leaders elected on a national level. Griffin is now one of the Euro MPs for Northwest England.

The show was stage managed so that rather than talking about the issues of the week, everything was about Griffin and the BNP. It was a set-up job, really. Half the debate, both before and after, was whether this was a good thing or bad thing for the BNP. No one wanted to give them time to air their views, but everyone wanted to get have a chance to get in a shot at them. Every panelist and every audience member given air time went to extraordinary lengths to declare their revulsion toward Griffin and the BNP. The papers Friday then took every possible sound bite out of context and ripped into Griffin and the BNP again.

Now let me state clearly that I do not support the BNP. But neither do I support hatchet jobs justified because the policies of the BNP are so repugnant to so many. I wish I could say it has amazed me, but it is really what can be expected from what passes for British journalism these days.

For example, Griffin claims to have changed views he’s held in the past. No one believes him. He was a member of the neo-Nazi National Front when he was in and just out of Cambridge and when it comes to neo-Nazis, the leopard never changes his spots. The Nazis, after all, killed millions of Jews, which makes them evil.

At the same time many members of the Labour Party were part of neo-Communist groups such as Militant, but that’s apparently okay. The Communists killed millions of Jews, Christians, and all sorts – millions upon millions more than the Nazis ever could have and over many more years – but being a former – or still borderline – Marxist is perfectly okay. No one gets the hypocrisy.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw was on the Question Time panel. No one brought up (or would have even cared) that when he was elected chair of the Leeds University Labour Society, he had the name changed to elected chair of the Leeds University Socialist Society and withdrew support from the Labour Party for not being left-wing enough. No one brought up (or would have even cared ) that when he was elected president of Leeds University Union, it was with the support of the Communist Society.

The biggest headlines I saw as I walked by news stands in the aftermath of Question Time were about Griffin’s support for the KKK. He was questioned by David Dimbleby about having appeared at a public gathering with David Duke and the KKK and before his answer was cut off, he said that it was a non-violent KKK group. Neither Chicago-born panelist Bonnie Greer nor the tabloids were having any of it, though even the (former?) Communist David Aaronovitch in The Times acknowledged that it was true. But the caricature of KKK sells more newspapers than trying to explain the complexities of racist politics in American history, so even suggesting that there are racists who are not going around lynching every black man in sight is tantamount to showing support for them.

When Griffin attempted to explain any of his views, he was excoriated as being a weasel and a liar. Either he accepted the facile comments that were thrown at him from audience and panelists alike and admitted that he was the vile person they insisted he was, or he rejected their accusations and thus proved he was the vile person they insisted he was. It was a lose-lose situation.

Not everyone bought the dinner of bile and vitriol being served up. There were about 300 complaints to the BBC about the programme. about 75% were complaining about the way Griffin was treated. But the telling indicator was the YouGov poll taken hours after Question Time. It showed that 22% of voters would consider voting BNP. This is not because the BBC agreed to have Griffin on the panel. It is because everyone on the panel made it the Nick Griffin Show and neither they nor the audience, nor David Dimbleby for all his protestations to the contrary, could restrain themselves. They gave the BNP the credibility it gained.

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