Bloody Nice Programme (24.10.09)
There is controversy in the UK at the moment about the BBC's decision to invite British National Party leader Nick Griffin to contribute to the panel discussion on its long-running political debating programme Question Time. One of the most vociferous critics of the BBC's decision has the been Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain. He bases his anger at the decision on the fact that there has been an overnight rise from 2% to 3% support in a YouGov poll of voter intentions. But such a rise is as spurious as the spike every mainstream party gets in polls after a conference. It will not last, and it will not translate into domestic electoral success.
I sympathise with his anger, but it should be directed at the BNP's poisonous political ideas, not at the BBC's decision to give them a platform. For a start, there is no constitutional justification for arbitrarily excluding from broadcast media what is, after all, a legal political party with two sitting Members of the European Parliament. More importantly, inviting people like Mr Griffin to participate in shows like Question Time is an ideal opportunity for his many opponents to lay into him in front of the whole electorate. And this is exactly what happened last night, and he looked thoroughly like the misguided fool that he is.
Mr Hain's mode of opposition to the BNP, while no doubt sincere, is nevertheless misguided. Whatever small social benefits are yielded by denying the BNP a platform are few compared to the costs. To allow Mr Griffin to show himself publicly for what he is, and to allow him to be openly challenged on live television, is preferable to suppressing him, which just panders to the party's victim mentality (which is its historic identity, and the basis of its entire political message's threadbare legitimacy). Look: shaken by the fact he was challenged, he even plays the victim after being given this platform. What is more, when these arguments are had publicly amongst politicians, those in wider society who hold the same views are also challenged. There is a taboo in the UK about confronting racist views when we encounter them in day-to-day life. Seeing them confronted on the BBC may help to shake us out of our unseemly acquiescence to these views as individuals.
Even if the BBC's approach does result in short-term electoral gains for the BNP, that is probably just the price we pay for free speech. So long as Mr Griffin and his idiotic followers do not incite violence, I say bring it on. We will witness their demise soon enough.