Analysis: Will the BNP thank Auntie?

Nick Griffin got exposed, but he also got exposure.

By Alex Stevenson

All those who watched Question Time will see an exposed, discredited monster. That might not be enough to lower the BNP’s support.

We will never know the true extent to which today’s programme will reduce, or increase, the number of British National party (BNP) voters. Once the decision had been made to give its leader Nick Griffin this unprecedented exposure, all those opposed to extremism became obsessed with a single concern: how would he perform?

A key test for far-right politicians is their ability to hide their real views. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the fascist who shocked France by giving Jacques Chirac a run for his money in the race for the Elysee Palace, was an expert at talking for an hour without saying anything offensive. Griffin has always tried to imitate this approach, insisting he has reformed his party beyond its anti-Semitic past. But tonight it didn’t work.

The fears of many were not realised. Repeatedly confronted with his past, Griffin’s basic beliefs were revealed for all to see. Somewhere deep inside he realised what was happening to him. His failure to deny he was a holocaust denier was condemnation enough. His claim that “we are the aborigines here” clearly highlighted his party’s interest in ethnicity-based politics. He made a shocking joke about not recognising a Ku Klux Klan chief because he was wearing a hood. It summed up his agonising performance.

What he might have hoped could have been an opportunity to explain away his embarrassing past turned into an expose of his views. In response he appeared embattled, overwhelmed, out of his depth. “I never called the BBC Auntie,” Griffin said at one stage, frustrated and weakened. The reflex denial was hugely telling. The BNP did not succeed in boosting its credibility tonight.

That doesn’t mean the Question Time episode won’t have a bigger impact. The wider story is one of angry anti-fascist campaigners storming the gates of Television Centre and the BBC defending its decision to offer Griffin a platform. Press coverage has been intense, embedding awareness of the party in countless more people’s conceptions of political Britain. If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, BNP supporters have had a good night.