Daytime TV: Minority views

Nick Griffin's recent appearance on Question Time gives Gary Day plenty of food for thought

October 29, 2009

Saw Question Time last Thursday (BBC One, 10.35pm). I must say I was quite taken with David Dimbleby's tie. Bright green jungle with a splash of pink. I half expected David Attenborough to pop up and talk about it.

My, there was a lot of fuss about this programme. Should the leader of the British National Party have been invited on to the panel? Even the Cabinet couldn't agree, which must be a first.

For years, new Labour has been programming its MPs to repeat whatever the leader says. Not this time. Nick Griffin has exposed a division in the ranks on the issue of free speech. It's an issue that's been rumbling on for some time now.

The most dramatic case recently concerned the cartoons published in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Muslims were deeply offended by the depiction of the Prophet and in deference to their sensibilities, the cartoons were not published in this country. But such courtesy was not forthcoming this time. Griffin, whose views on Islam are well known, was allowed to repeat them on television. The reason? Because if people could hear what Mr Griffin had to say, then he and his party would shrivel in the glare of the sunshine of reason.

Er, not quite. The day after the programme there was an flurry of applications to join the BNP. How do we explain this? No idea. Perhaps there is a significant section of the British population that feels that here, at last, is someone who speaks for them. Or perhaps they felt sorry for the way Griffin was treated on the programme and wanted to stick two fingers up at the political and intellectual establishment. For he was barely allowed to open his mouth.

Bonnie Greer sat with her back to him throughout. Yes, the man has odious opinions on race, but think how much she would have risen in our esteem and how much he would have fallen had she been polite to him.

Along with the others on the panel, Jack Straw, Baroness Warsi and Chris Huhne, she squandered the moral high ground by turning on him in the way that his supporters turn on members of minorities. They barracked, they bullied, and they put the metaphorical boot in as often as Dimbleby allowed.

For the first time, Dimbleby more or less abandoned his role as chair and, in his own assault on Griffin, gave the rest of the panel carte blanche to join in. My, how they tried to outdo each other in their commitment to freedom and multiculturalism.

Jack Straw was the most vociferous. New Labour is "based on the cultural and philosophical values of Western Europe". What would those be, then? Not freedom, the right to privacy or to protest. All have been severely curtailed since new Labour came to power - a process in which Straw has taken an active part.

His latest wheeze is to undermine the principle of trial by jury even further by the introduction of secret inquests. But looking on the bright side, at least he's not racist. Why, he shook hands with Robert Mugabe. But that turned out to be a bit of a mistake, so Straw said he did it only because it was dark and he hadn't recognised him. Ponder the implications of that. And yes he did say of gypsies that these "so-called travellers think that it's perfectly OK to go burgling, thieving, breaking into vehicles, (even) defecating in the doorways of firms and so on". But he was careful to distinguish such people from true Romanies. So no, Straw is no racist.

Nor is Baroness Warsi. But she, too, could have been made to squirm if Dimbleby had interrogated her as he did Griffin. She got into a spot of bother at the last election for some homophobic comments. The Baroness is also reported as saying that people who vote for the British National Party "have some very legitimate views". All of which made me wonder why she wasn't more civil to Griffin. She certainly seemed to agree with him that immigration was "an issue".

By the time the credits rolled, I still wasn't sure why Griffin had appeared on the programme. Was it because the BBC has an obligation to give all political parties airtime? Or because it sensed an opportunity to boost its ratings? Viewing figures were up 300 per cent. Or was it that Griffin's presence made all the others seem liberal and committed to diversity when compared with him?

Yes, that's it. He was there to make them look good. And boy, do they need it. Politicians have presided over a society where the division between rich and poor has grown over recent years and where women, the working class and ethnic minorities face poverty, violence and discrimination. In confronting Griffin, they were confronting themselves and the consequences of the free market. No wonder they didn't let him speak.

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