What did the BNP’s appearance on QT mean?

November 12, 2009

I haven’t rewatched the recent appearance by Nick Griffin on Question Time yet on purpose. My previous post was written in the immediate aftermath of the show and was based on my first impression. This one is based on what thoughts and feelings I’m left with after the event. And that’s why I haven’t rewatched it as I wanted to let the thoughts occur naturally and without intense analysis.

So what are my thoughts about the implications of Nick Griffin appearing on Question Time?

The main one is that I don’t think that the show will have really changed anyone’s mind, or at least not enough people to have any statistical relevance. I know that the BNP has made claims that an additional 300,000 people joined following Question Time, but I suspect that that is just clever PR.

From my perspective Griffin didn’t do enough to persuade any floating voters. With the exception of perhaps one soundbite – paraphrased as “we should leave the Middle East and let them sort it out themselves” – he didn’t come across very well in my opinion. And I’m quite pleased about that.

But I’m really not pleased about the fact that the ‘real’ politicians didn’t do enough to convince any floating voters either. I’m pretty sure that is a substantial pot of people who are happy to be branded racists, but feel that the BNP best answers their problems and issues. The real politicians didn’t do anything to attract those people in my opinion.

So what did they do wrong?

Too much time spent defending the fact that they weren’t racist

To be fair to the politicians this wasn’t necessarily their fault. This is the trap almost everyone falls into whenever a discussion of this nature takes place. “Obviously I disagree with what Nick Griffin said …”; “I can’t condone what the BNP stands for …”; is how nearly everyone starts the conversation.

However I do think that Jack Straw was too quick to use the “some of my best friends are black” approach – in his case it was the fact that he represents a very ethnically diverse constituency, something he told us about five times during the course of the programme.

No understanding of the root causes of BNP support

It was easy to shout at him for being a racist, but clearly the BNP policies have got some support. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I don’t believe that everyone that voted BNP is just a racist. Instead I believe that they feel they have genuine concerns that are not being addressed by the major parties.

Generally speaking it’s not racism, but: poverty; lack of opportunity; fear; unemployment; worries about immigration; the fear of terrorism created and promoted by the Government; historical and cultural issues (i.e. immigrants being given the lowest paid and least skilled jobs – therefore treated like an economic underclass); the ghettoisation of some areas/towns; institutional racism (reflected back by some elements of society). And of course some people are just racist too.

But at no time were any of these other issues discussed and addressed.

No understanding of the fact that Griffin has clearly done a good job of raising the support of the BNP

I don’t like the guy and from his appearance on QT he doesn’t even come across as a particularly skilled politician; but he’s done something ‘right’. He’s turned the BNP into an electable party and that’s no mean feat. So while they were busy shouting at him did the rest of the panel actually take the time to think about what it was he might have done and how he might have done it?

If they could understand that maybe they could go some way towards challenging it.

They didn’t pick up on Griffin’s homophobia

Race was the thing they were there to shout at him about. So when he wasn’t discussing race it was as if they switched to standby mode – and in that mode they missed homophobic comments and they were allowed to pass almost unchallenged.

Surely intolerance is what the BNP stands for and that should have been challenged in every guise.

Question Time – a review

October 23, 2009

So, last night’s Question Time on the BBC featured Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP. I’m sure you knew that anyway, there was a huge amount of controversy over whether he should be allowed to appear.

I think he should have been on. Whether we like it or nor his party currently represents two constituencies in the European Parliament and receives significant numbers of votes at elections of every type. But beyond that, restricting the free speech of someone we don’t like is a slippery slope that leads to the sort of politics the BNP peddles.

But once he was there, how did he do?

To be honest I was disappointed with him. Given that he has over the last few years given the BNP electorial credibility I was expecting someone who was a skilled and clever politician. In the end he came across as nervous, evasive and at times scared. The rest of the panel and the bulk of the audience was clearly strongly against him, however they didn’t go for the kill in the way that I thought they might. Yet Griffin showed himself to be ill at ease in the situation while his use of language was clumsy and awkward and he seemed to possess no rhetorical skill.

Instead, he seemed to catch himself out more often than the rest of the panel did and his attempts to laugh off some of his previous quotes, or to join in with a perceived bonhomie on the panel looked very distasteful. There was one incident when he seemed to pat Bonnie Greer on the back that was particularly unnerving.

That said, I was also very unimpressed with Jack Straw on the panel. He seemed to want to attack the BNP rather than offer a real alternative to its voters. He talked a lot without saying anything and on the subject of immigration, which Baroness Warsi rightly said needed an honest debate, he was at his most evasive.

The person that actually came across best on the show was the non-politician and that was Bonnie Greer. She was rightfully dismissive of the BNP’s views without resorting to personal attacks.

But what this all shows to me is that although I find the BNP’s politics completely abhorent, the major parties are not addressing some of the major issues and grievances felt by the electorate. Those people are seeing the BNP as the only real alternative and they will continue to do so until their issues are properly addressed.

You can watch the programme here on iPlayer, or a cut down version here from the Guardian.

Let me know your thoughts.