Since I know readers will be clamouring here to find out my opinion of Nick Griffin on Question Time this evening, here it is:
First off, I should clarify how I feel about the BNP, it's leader, activists, members and supporters. At best (and the charitable part of me wants to believe this applies to the majority of their voters) they are tragically misinformed and/or stupid. At worst (and this certainly applies to Mr Griffin and his cohorts in the party hierarchy) they are a vile and repugnant bunch of racists in suits, pedalling a thinly-disguised manifesto of jingoistic, hate-fuelled nonsense.
Do you feel a however coming on? Well there sort of is. What annoys me is the attack the mainstream parties have made on the BBC over this. I'm annoyed for a couple of reasons;
1. Ludicrous at it may seem, as it stands the BNP is a legitimate political party with elected representatives and, under our system of law, a right to be heard. Mark Thompson has correctly pointed out today that it is up to those elected to debate and introduce laws in this country to silence those it believes have forfeited their right to be heard, as happened with Sinn Fein in the 1980's. Growing up I thought Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were highly accomplished ventriloquists. The point is it's not for the BBC to decide who the public should or should not be exposed to, and frankly if raising the issue as this whole episode has done leads to legislation banning the BNP from appearing on our screens in any official capacity, the BBC will have done us all a great service. Until that time the BBC has an obligation to give proportionate exposure to all political parties, and a single appearance on a topical questions and answers show after 30 years of broadcasting seems to me, if anything, rather like under-representation.
2. There is a very strong argument to be made that giving Mr Griffin a platform like this allows his co-panellists, the audience and the public at large the opportunity to see him and his party for what they are (see above for my opinion on that). I find it incredibly patronising that high profile MPs seem to believe that large sections of the electorate are gullible enough to be charmed by this utterly charmless individual. Or do they really have so little confidence in their own ability to offer reasoned and logical arguments against the type of measure that the BNP would introduce? I find it hard to believe that this evening will be the start of an explosion in the membership ranks of the BNP. Think about it: most people aren't that stupid; most people aren't that unpleasant; those that are probably don't watch Question Time; even if they did they wouldn't understand it.
I don't think I'm being over-optimistic or complacent when I say that no amount of publicity will bring the BNP greater influence or support. They could have their own prime time show seven nights a week and still receive a relative handful of votes in the General Election next year. The fact is the vast majority of people know exactly what the BNP stands for, and the vast majority will never vote for them, no matter what.