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Should BNP be on Question Time?
On Thursday night, BNP leader Nick Griffin will appear on the BBC’s leading current affairs programme “Question Time”, an appearance that has provoked much anger and debate.
Griffin is no stranger to the airwaves or TV screens, regularly appearing this week alone after four leading former generals attacked his party for using military imagery as part of its campaigning
But to some politicians, including Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Cabinet minister Peter Hain, the BBC’s decision to allow him on Question Time was totally wrong, giving a much higher profile platform to Griffin and his far-right views.
They also say that a recent court decision to order the BNP to open up its membership to non-whites meant the party broke race relations laws and was therefore unlawful.
One academic has said that a similar TV appearance by French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 1980s led to a huge increase in support for his Front National party, generating concern that Question Time will do the same for Griffin.
There is no doubt that support for the far-right is growing in Britain at the moment, although it remains very much at the fringes of mainstream politics. The BNP has dozens of councillors across the country, a seat in the London Assembly and most notably won two seats in European Parliamentary elections earlier this year.
BBC bosses argue that for that reason it is only right that Griffin is invited onto the flagship politcal show to answer questions about his party. They say it is for parliament and not for the broadcaster to censor political parties.
However former London mayor Ken Livingstone has warned that the BBC would bear moral responsibility for any rise in racial attacks, saying the presence of the BNP always led to a rise in such incidents.
Community relations experts have also expressed fear about the impact a rising far-right will have, especially in the run-up to what is predicted to be a tense election. However many say that trying to muzzle the BNP was counter-productive, and that the group should be challenged head on.
“I think we’ve got to have a more sophisticated approach to the far right where we do use reasoned arguments to defeat them because there’s no doubt in my mind that those reasoned arguments will work,” said Ted Cantle, who led the government’s review into the 2001 race riots for which the far-right was held partly responsible.
“I do feel they have to be taken on and defeated in the public eye. For the most part, their arguments are completely ridiculous and people have to see them for what they are,” he told Reuters. He said the unwelcome truth for mainstream politicians was that there was a “grain of truth” in some of the things the BNP said, and censoring them gave the impression this was being covered up.
However the Unite Against Fascism group said the BNP should not be treated like any ordinary political party because its views were racist (it campaigns for a halt to immigration, voluntary repatriation of immigrants and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union).
“Griffin isn’t interested in impressing people with his arguments – he just wants to build the BNP by using Question Time as a platform to whip up race hatred and bigotry,” the group says.
Griffin himself says the “hysterical” furore over his appearance has already been a shot in the arm to his party. “I thank the political class and their allies for being so stupid,” he told the Times. “Thank you, Auntie.”
Reuters UK will be live blogging Griffin’s appearance on Question Time at 22.35 BST.