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.

Guilty Without Association

I don’t like the views of the British National Party. In fact, I find many of their views reprehensible.

In fact, the only thing as bad as the BNP is the persecution of BNP members.

There has been a leak of the BNP’s membership list and it has been published online. It included names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, and in some cases employment. This will put jobs at risk due to political affiliation.

The place of the BNP in British politics is a bit like that of Communists in 1950s America. It is the forbidden party. Because of that, witch hunts are allowed.

Police officers who are members of the party can be sacked from their jobs.  As revealed by the Daily Mail, they can commit crimes while employed by the police (including benefit fraud, gun crimes, drug crimes, assault and theft) and keep their jobs. This is not seen as being incompatable with their job. They are protected by Government rules called Police and Misconduct Regulations which treats them differently form the general public. However, being a member of the BNP conflicts with the force’s duty to promote race equality and that means they can be summarily dismissed.

Stuart Janaway was with the Greater Manchester Police for 14 years, until last month. There’s no indication he was anything but a good cop. That was until he was accused of wearing a BNP badge at an England football match. Well, it wasn’t actually a BNP badge, but it was also worn by BNP members.

Janaway is not and has never been a member of the BNP, but that doesn’t matter. In fact, the BBC, the Mirror, nor Manchester Evening News’ main outlet bothered to mention that bit. Some outlets ran the story with a picture of an actual BNP candidate badge (every candidate for Parliament wears a party badge during the announcing of the election results), implying that this is what Janaway was wearing. To find out that Janaway isn’t a member of the BNP, you actually have to go to the MEN-published Asian News. In a surprisingly sympathetic approach, the Asian News noted:

A police spokesman said there was no evidence that he was a member of the BNP.

Acting Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney, head of the Professional Standards Branch, said: “The Chief Constable’s Order of 2004 makes it clear officers are banned from being members of the BNP. This requirement extends into the private lives of officers.

“All officers and staff are aware that non-compliance will likely result in dismissal. The officer failed to live up to the high standards we demand.”

One source said: “The swiftness with which this matter was dealt with indicates that GMP will not tolerate such breach of police regulations.”

In 1998 Mr Janaway hit the headlines when he helped treat a shooting victim. He also saved a number people intent on committing suicide.

That’s right, the police said both that there was no evidence he was a member of the BNP, but that since officers are banned from being members of the BNP, being off-duty and wearing an emblem sometimes also worn by members of the BNP resulted in his swift dismissal and the loss of his pension.

In fact, it wasn’t even a police officer who reported seeing Janaway wearing the badge. It was a member of the public who had a grudge against him. Something even scarier? As another police officer noted, how did the police get a search warrant for Janaway’s house because of something that did not constitute a criminal offence?

Is it any surprise that the BNP are a little angry the personal information of their members has been published?