The Political Show Trial the BBC Just Couldn't Resist
By Steve Regan, the King of Hull
Shame on the BBC for giving a platform to people prepared to deny the dignity and worth of fellow human beings.
Yes, the bullying approach adopted by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Tory Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Liberal-Democrat MP Chris Huhne and the American writer Bonnie Greer on last night's Question Time was an affront to decency.
And the BBC top brass should not have allowed the show's usual format to be hijacked and used as a nasty and counter-productive show trial of BNP chairman Nick Griffin.
I don't much like Nick Griffin, frankly, and I don't at all care for his politics, but if he is to be invited on Question Time (and I think it right that he was, as a democratically elected politician) then at least he should have been allowed to properly answer the questions put to him.
It was clear from the start that the BBC intended this show to give Nick Griffin a tough time. That's fine by me. Everyone who sets themselves up as a politician or a public commentator deserves a tough time.
But the BBC should not have abandoned Question Time's usual format (of taking questions on various current affairs) and turn it into a bear pit in which Griffin was set up to have his credibility destroyed by a relentless series of sneering comments from both the other panelists and the largely hostile metropolitan audience.
Yes, Nick Griffin has a most murky past. We should not be surprised by that. Almost everyone involved in the queasy politics of British nationalism is tainted by association let alone direct involvement.
But if you refuse to allow such views to be even discussed, or if you shout them down, then you are trampling on freedom far more effectively than any fascist can manage.
Paradoxically, of all the panelists in last night show, Griffin was the only one who showed a semblance of humility.
And when attacked with vitriol and - seemingly at times, hatred - by members of the studio audience, he reacted with humour and tolerance, even though such personal abuse usually attracts censure when directed at mainstream politicians.
An Asian man in the audience proclaimed passionately that he loved Britain, was born and educated here. It was a genuinely moving part of the programme. So, the man asked Griffin: 'Where to you want me to go?'
The Asian man suggested that Griffin and his supporters should go to the South Pole, adding: 'It's a colourless landscape, it will suit you.'
The BNP leader didn't let the insult rile him. He told the Asian guy calmly: 'I'm very happy for you to stay here.'
Elsewhere in the programme Griffin was told he was disgusting, and even that he had 'slimy arms'.
There was a lot of such childish name-calling, but Griffin didn't let it get to him. He stayed calm under fire. He kept smiling. Given the scale of the hostility shown him, his calmness was remarkable.
That is not to say I agree with Griffin. He did appear shifty and evasive when asked about the Holocaust, about his association with the Klu Klux Klan, and was curiously old-fashioned about homosexuality.
But other things he said - counter-cultural things about the left-wing bias of the BBC, for instance - will have stuck chords with many viewers.
All the questions on the show (apart from the last one) were used as a hammer to batter Griffin - and that made me every bit as uncomfortable as hearing the man's views on race, racial identity and religion, which I certainly don't agree with.
The final question concerned the columnist Jan Moir's critical comments about the death of the gay Boyzone singer, Stephen Gately. The other panellists came out with the usual 'freedom of the press' argument, but Griffin chose to add that if you must speak / write about the dead then you should 'say nothing but good'. It would be hard for anyone to find fault with that.
I don't agree with the pundits who say Griffin came out of the broadcast badly. I do think Jack Straw came across poorly though, particularly with his lame attempts to defend the mess the Government has made of immigration and border control.
Frankly, Griffin came across as someone who refused to buckle when under ferocious attack by the nasty, proscriptive liberal establishment.
And that, unfortunately perhaps, will garner him and the BNP considerable sympathy as the bullied underdogs of British politics.
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