Nick Griffin Caused Controversy? For Real?

>> Friday, October 23, 2009

Nick Griffin, leader of the avowedly non-racist British National Party, appeared on the BBC's Question Time Thursday night. Although currently in the US, I've had it recorded so I look forward to being adequately entertained upon my return.

While I have a lot of time for United Against Fascism (and I'm also in favor of oxygen, my daughter, beer, baseball, and opposed to domestic violence -- I'm really going out on a limb here), their suggestion that Griffin be banned from the BBC is dead wrong. While abhorrent, the BNP were surprisingly successful (by their standards) in the EU Parliamentary elections (receiving nearly one million votes) as well as a smattering of local elections across England. In a democracy, this matters; furthermore, the remit of the BBC requires it to be politically inclusive given that everybody on the island with a (color) TV will be paying £142.50 this year for the privilege. Indeed, as Sholto Byrnes argues in The Independent, Griffin should have perhaps been given more respect, not less. While his fellow panellists "could have given him all the rope he needed to hang himself", they treated him as a pariah, interrupting and shouting him down. This is the behavior we expect out of the teabagging wingnut brigade in the US, for whom reasoned debate is a foreign concept where one's ideas just might be challenged, but not front-bench representatives of the three leading British political parties.

This is an easy, obvious line to take, but there's little chance that Griffin added to his support. If anything, he would have lost potential supporters who were on the fence. Reviews of both Griffin himself and the rest of the panel are mixed. The Times invited several of their writers to share their observations. According to David Aaronovitch, his demeanor would not exactly remind one of "gravitas":
For much of the programme Nick Griffin’s body language was that of a ten-year-old on his birthday. He was nervous and excited, given to exaggerated nodding and head-shaking.

“Nick”, as everyone called him, did quite well during part of the show, but only when he was silent.
However, it appears that Jack Straw did even worse, which is surprising. By most accounts, Bonnie Greer injected some much needed humor into the event, the Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne "was lucid and confident, and spoke cogently, but said little that was distinctive; he didn’t lead; he didn’t take the argument forward", keeping in line with the Lib Dem approach to, well, anything (aside from Vince Cable of course); and it appears that Lady Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the Tory shadow cabinet, won the day. According to Matthew Parris at The Times, she "was cool, she was measured, and spoke with quiet passion. She sounded sincere and avoided fireworks."

If the polls are correct, Lady Warsi is coming soon to a government near you.

The British being, well, British, have to complain. I disagree with the assessment that the BBC erred by making Griffin appear bullied and sympathetic, but I also strongly disagree with some of the lunatic fringe commenting over at the often entertaining Guy Fawkes' Blog. A sampling includes these gems:

"Classic left wing BBC. Which is why I will never buy a TV licence."

"Shame on you all and how do we unplug the BBC>?"

What was it that I said a few months ago about some of the British not appreciating what they have in the BBC? These comments were left by supporters of Griffin (of which there were several who crawled out from under their log to comment, if not eloquently, at least vociferously). Would Griffin's good mate David Duke receive similar exposure on a national network in the United States? For the record, Griffin defended Duke, arguing that Duke was an ex-leader of “a” Ku Klux Klan, one which was “almost totally a non-violent one, incidentally” (clip can be found at the top of this page here), a stance which didn't particularly impress the Chicago born Bonnie Greer, sitting to his left. Predicating your legitimacy on the suggestion that Duke et al. consider you a "sell out" strikes me as a somewhat precarious strategy.

As (presumably) one of the non-indigenous indirectly responsible for ethnically cleansing London by making it a non-British and non-English, or to quote Griffin directly while he was whining about the unfairness of having Question Time in London (where, you know, the studio is and stuff):
"Do it somewhere where there are still significant numbers of English and British people [living], and they haven't been ethnically cleansed from their own country."

He added: "There is not much support for me there [in London], because the place is dominated by ethnic minorities. There is an ethnic minority that supports me: the English. But there's not many of them left."
I feel that this is precisely what the BBC ought to be doing (in addition to East Enders and Strictly Come Dancing, of course). It also resulted in the highest ratings in the 30 year history of Question Time. Furthermore, it offered Griffin a platform to, perhaps unconvincingly for a former holocaust denier, assert that he is not a Nazi.

My favorite line, brought to my attention last night by a good friend who lives just down the street from me in Plymouth, and repeated in most of the coverage I've read, is recounted in this article in The Guardian:
A British Asian man was clapped when he accused Griffin of wanting to hound him out of Britain. "You'd be surprised how many people would have a whip-round to buy you a ticket and your supporters to go to the South Pole. It is a colourless landscape that will suit you fine."


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