Griffin appearance: Reaction

Opinion was intensely polarised when Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP, took his seat on the show’s panel. Today, it remains exactly the same.

By Ian Dunt

One thing almost everyone agrees on is that Griffin delivered a poor performance yesterday on Question Time. Nervous, contradictory and evasive, he did not come across well. But that doesn’t appear to have changed the minds of many who opposed his appearance.

Peter Hain, secretary of state for Wales and the man who insisted to the BBC that allowing him on the debate was illegal, still insistsed the appearance was a moral mistake.

“The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favour in its grubby history,” he said. “Our black, Muslim and Jewish citizens will sleep much less easily now the BBC has legitimised the BNP by treating its racist poison as the views of just another mainstream political party when it is so uniquely evil and dangerous.” Those views were supported by Labour MP Diane Abbott, whose career as Westminster’s first black MP was thanks, in no small part, to an impressive Question Time appearance, agreed. “It’s all very well in the morning to say ‘oh well, he got smashed,” she told the Times. “But in the long run people who are attracted to the BNP will come away saying ‘he was a victim’. When you put the BNP into the mainstream like that they drag people onto their agenda. Everyone is talking about Nick Griffin. The programme has given him unnecessary exposure, unnecessary credibility, and giving more credibility to a fascist party in the middle of a recession is a very dangerous thing.”

Meanwhile, BBC deputy director general Mark Byford took the airwaves after filming to insist on the success of the evening. “Members of the audience asked the kind of tough questions that mark Question Time out as the premier television programme where the public put the panellists on the spot. We remain firmly of the view that it was appropriate to invite Nick Griffin on to the Question Time panel this evening in the context of the BBC meeting its obligation of due impartiality.”

The BNP itself was less impressed. Party spokesman John Walker was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, insisting the programme was a sabotage effort. “This wasn’t really Question Time, was it? They changed the whole format of the programme into a complete, 100-per cent attack on Nick. Anyone who was opposed to the BNP would probably feel very smug and pleased with themselves this morning. But I don’t think it makes much different to the people in white working class areas that have been betrayed by the mainstream politicians. If anything, a lot of their concerns were confirmed last night about the mainstream.”

But the final word should go to Mr Griffin himself, who said the event went very much as he expected. “It will polarise normal opinion. People who have always been against the BNP will say that I couldn’t answer some things. But a huge swath of British people will remember some of the things I said and say to themselves they’ve never heard anyone on Question Time say that before and millions of people will think that man speaks what I feel.

“I think people will see the extraordinary hostility shown to me from the people representing the three old parties,” he continued. “It’s still a matter of the main political parties being against the outsider and that is what it is about. I would say it was a hard fought match and I’m perfectly happy that I have done my best. I can see that millions of people who don’t usually watch Question Time will remember what I’ve said and think that’s how they feel and I’m perfectly happy with that.”

He insisted it would not be the last time he appeared on Question Time. “We are on the same political footing as the Greens and Ukip in terms of representation so they will have to have us on again and I hope that when they do they have us on in a part of the country that is one of our strongholds. They put us on in London where the indigenous population is in the minority so we don’t have much sympathy or support. I would hope they put us on next time in an area where we have councillors elected or in my constituency where there will be a lot of sympathy amongst the audience.”