Friday, 23 October 2009

Intelligence and Decency Won Last Night on Question Time…but at What Cost?

So the Question Time BNP debacle has now been and gone.  By all accounts, including my own, Nick Griffin was well and truly trounced.  He was shown to be cowardly, evasive, manipulative, disingenuous, grimly unfunny, racist, ignorant, and, surprise surprise, a homophobe as well.

All week long the BNP have, quite rightly, been demonized in the British media.  As speculations grew about exactly what questions might be asked of the racist party leader come Thursday night, the press was filled with reminders of the veritable catalogue of repugnant thoughts, quotes and deeds that might come back to haunt Nick Griffin, exposing him and his views before he’d even stepped foot on the Question Time stage. 

Another leak of the BNP membership data added to the embarrassment, exposing the charlatan methodology the party uses to fix its numbers – as the Nazi Party did before it – in order to create the false appearance of a party much bigger than it really is.

This morning, reflecting on last night’s broadcast, a smorgasbord of offensive and dull-headed sound-bites have played across the media, further exposing the hollowness and toxicity of the BNP and it’s leader: Griffin’s shady use of language in claiming that he was not “convicted” of holocaust denial; his refusal to explain his position on the holocaust on the basis that such talk would be illegal, despite Justice Secretary Jack Straw’s repeated assurance it was legal to do so; his ridiculous cartoon image of “indigenous” British people that had no basis in either history or reality; his outright admission that he was courting the support of former Ku Klux Klan leaders, with the ludicrous added caveat that this particular Klan was a “non-violent” one; his ignorant denunciation of Islam on the basis of selective passages from the Qur’an that have near-identical (and just as explosive) corollaries with passages from the Christian bible; his inability to disavow statements he has made in the past claiming that the only way to get the real agenda of the BNP across would be by first presenting a facade of electability to the British public in order to get voted; and, amongst other obnoxious incidents of evasiveness, idiocy and outright racism, the declaration that homosexuality is “creepy”.

Oh yes…Nick Griffin and his BNP have been well and truly exposed this week, and every single person in the Question Time audience and Question Time panel made sure that the feelings of the majority of the British public were made clear: you are a racist, your party is a racist party, and we reject your views and your politics of hate entirely.


I’m still not sure that Question Time was the right place to do this.

The reason is: last night what I saw on TV was not Question Time.  What it was, was what I said it always should have been: a live television debate about the BNP’s legitimacy and politics, wherein their views were expressed and then routinely exposed and destroyed.

The usual Question Time format went completely out the window – although, ironically, it was only because of the BNP’s appearance on there that it was: Question Time usually spends its hour asking its panel questions about the week’s politics.  As the decision to include Nick Griffin on the panel became news in itself, the story dominated the week’s news, and thus also, logically, dominated the Question Time questions.

The facts are though (and they have been at the root of this controversy since the decision was first announced): including someone as poisonous as Nick Griffin on a show like Question Time, as if his views on the week’s most pressing issues were as valid as anybody else’s, is an incredibly dangerous game.  It absolutely gives his parasitical party of hate – self-admittedly putting on a front of false respectability in order to become electable first, and then enact their true agenda later – the appearance of a legitimacy that they not only do not deserve, but that they simply do not have as a political organization in this country.

Taking previous week’s Question Time questions: do I want to hear an unashamed racist’s opinion on Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton Du Beke calling his fellow dancer a “paki” backstage and the controversy sparked by Bruce Forsythe’s radio comments on the subject; do I want him adding anything to the debate about MPs expenses, from which the BNP have currently benefitted under the false narrative that they are an “outsider” party who can save us from “elite” expenses-swindling politicians; do I want Nick Griffin’s thoughts on how we can best cut public spending in this country and sort out the growing deficit, when I know that the BNP’s position is that “foreigners” are “coming over here” and “stealing” all our money in benefits?

No.  Because it is not adding anything to these debates other than age-old lies and propaganda; lies and propaganda that have long been rejected and dismissed as illegitimate. 

It is not simply another opinion in a wide spectrum of differing opinions, that deserves an equal hearing; it is an intentionally malicious and misleading opinion that remains as disreputable and dangerous now as it was when it was first rejected after the Second World War seventy years ago.

Now, again - and this distinction is important – I am not saying that these opinions should therefore be banned from TV and repressed entirely; I am simply saying that there is no more place for them on a show like Question Time than there is for the opinions of a man with severe brain damage who can answer questions on the politics of the day, only by linking every answer he gives to the imagined betrayals of his wife.

Should a man with weird brain damage who blames his innocent wife for all the world’s evils be allowed on TV?  Yes, of course he should.  But should he be up on the Question Time panel debating the issues of the day with prominent politicians as if he is their equal?  Probably not.

The BBC clearly began to realize this, however, for, as I said, the Question Time that was on last night was not the usual Question Time format.  All the questions were directed at the BNP and its policies, and all four of the other panellists couldn’t help but demolish Griffin and his ignorance.  Even the one “non BNP” question – about Jan Moir’s appalling Daily Mail article about Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s death – was really about exposing more of Nick Griffin’s intolerance and homophobia; continuing the attack that reduced him to a hate-fuelled and preposterous clown rather than a serious political threat.

Now, all of this was to the good, and it made for excellent viewing: but it wasn’t Question Time, it was something else.  So why not call it something else?  Why did the BBC insist on “putting Nick Griffin on Question Time” instead of fulfilling its self-professed commitment to give air-time to all elected officials by airing a one-off special debate about the recent rise of the BNP and what it means for British politics?  The results would have been the same: racism and stupidity simply cannot hold up under scrutiny.  But there would have been none of the bad taste in our mouths about the staining of the Question Time legacy, nor the ready-made spin for Griffin and the BNP this morning where they – almost rightly – claimed that the Question Time appearance was an ambush.  Indeed, I worried as I watched Griffin get pounded time after time with truth and exposure that left him floundering and useless against the sheer force of his four fellow panellists’ denunciations, that some people might even begin to feel sympathy for the man.

With the BNP already positioned as the “outsider” party for “indigenous” (white) Brits who feel alienated by the political establishment; did the appearance of that political establishment, and the BBC, throwing away the usual Question Time format to gang up on their leader not add to that narrative marvellously?

Will it not be used for months, or even years, to come as propagandistic evidence that Griffin is some sort of courageous underdog, standing up to the system that wants to keep “people like him” down?

For someone like me; last night was like pornography.  An idiot racist was getting eviscerated by intelligence and fact in the face of his ignorance, evasion and lies. 

But I could have happily watched that same pornography in another time-slot and left Question Time to be Griffin-free late…discussing things like the postal strikes; bonuses for bankers; why the 10:10 bill was defeated in Parliament; suicide bombers in Iran, etc.  The usual Question Time fodder.

Instead of that, we had a week in which the BNP dominated the news, Question Time, and everything else. 

Sure: for most of us, it just proved what we always knew: the party is racist, disgusting and vile.  For some though, perhaps this week of exposure has been like an ongoing advert for a party they never realized existed.  A party who share their racist views; who are saying the things the other parties aren’t saying; a party who they will choose to vote for next time…

Freedom of speech should never be abandoned, and Question Time, though arguably the wrong venue for this debate, acted admirably and successfully in letting the British National Party have just enough rope to hang itself…  But only time will tell if, by doing so, it has also allowed the party to expand its poisoned message, increase its visibility and legitimacy, and simultaneously generated sympathy for its hideous party leader.

Last night we anti-fascists certainly won the battle, but the war, I fear, is still very far from over…

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