Last night saw one of the most horrible sights ever to appear on British TV, one that made me recoil each time it appeared on screen. I am, of course, talking about David Dimbleby’s tie.
There was also the equally horrible sight of an unreformed racist and general throwback to the 1930s appearing on the BBC’s flagship political programme. Overall, I thought that the BBC had no choice but to give the BNP an opportunity to appear on the show and it can only be right for any party that achieves electoral representation to get a chance to put their case, however abhorrent or stupid their views. But I feared that after 10 minutes ritual denunciation Griffin might be able to spend the rest of the show spouting “man on the street” Daily Express style “common sense”. That said, while I think it was great that there were protests against the BNP at Television Centre if they had prevented him from appearing that would have been (to borrow Peter Hain’s phrase) a real Christmas present to the BNP, pandering to their conspiracy theories and paranoia and enhancing their appeal to those who want to register disgust at the political spectrum. It might have been better for him not to have been invited, once he was the only hope was that he appeared and made a fool of himself.
Which is just what he did. He came across appallingly, not just the racist and extremist ideology but just generally a deranged idiot with terrible social skills. Of course, I’m not the target audience he was aiming at, but I can’t imagine anyone being won over by that performance. He did manage to get out a couple of policies that did sound like they might appeal to more than minority prejudice and it was difficult to say whether there was any approval for that. Anything on race received silence or derision but there were a couple of moments when he did get a smattering of applause – and perhaps he might have got more had the overall atmosphere not been so hostile, with heads turning to see who had dared clap.
The rest of the panel was OK. Bonnie Greer was excellent (and Griffin clearly had no idea how to respond to her), Huhne was good but lacked any sort of killer punch. Straw had the best material of any of the politicians but was let down by dreadful delivery. Warsi was OK though had a terrible moment when she challenged Griffin on the definition of genocide, realised that he (unsurprisingly!) knew more about the term than she did and had to shout over him to cover it.
One disappointing moment when after Griffin reeled off some of the more appalling ideas that appear in the Koran, a Muslim in the audience responded that the Bible has some pretty appalling ideas too. I was hoping for some of the wackier stuff from Leviticus or even Elisha and the bears, but he stuttered out some mild waffle from Revelations.
I don’t see that last nights appearance in itself will have helped the BNP but I do worry that it may have set a precedent for their being allowed to appear on the media, and further appearances may not be the orchestrated “expose the fascist” ones that Question Time was. In the meantime, 5Live will doubtless continue to feature texts and callers offering views just as extreme as Griffin made last night without any challenge beyond Victoria Derbyshire going “Hmm”.