By Farrukh Dhondy
Oct 31 2009
The BBC invited Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party (BNP), to participate in a TV debate as a panelist on their prestigious current affairs show Question Time. The format, chaired by veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, features each week a politician from the main parties and one or perhaps two people from wider political persuasions who have some track record of holding opinions of interest. They answer questions from a studio audience. The debate can sometimes get heated but is, in the British way, always contained.
Following the dictates of its Charter, which requires the BBC to give proportional air time on radio and TV to elected representatives of the population, invited the far-right BNP to participate. The party, hitherto restricted to representing patches of communities on local councils, won two seats in the last election to the European Parliament and as such was a candidate for air-time.
The BBC must also have known that the controversy would boost viewing figures. For weeks before the programme, after Griffin accepted their invitation, there were protests against his appearance on a “respectable” platform. The party was denounced as racist, fascist, homophobic and misogynist — all with plenty of justification.
The Labour, Conservative and Liberal politicians who accepted the invitation to share a platform with Griffin argued that challenging his views publicly would expose the BNP’s policies for what they are. Their contention was that the people who voted for them had done so out of an ignorance of their origins and the true nature of their intentions. A TV debate would act as an X-ray and expose, if one can tolerate the metaphor, the skeletons in their cupboard, their Nazi past and persuasions.
There is no doubt that the BNP is the successor organisation to the British Union of Fascists founded by Oswald Mosley, a dissident semi-aristocratic former scion of Britain’s Labour Party. It is a bastard great-grandchild of Mosley and espouses the causes that he first put forward and came, in these fair and fecund isles, inevitably to grief. In his heyday, extolling Hitler, marching with a small army of black-shirted thugs, preaching against the supposed influence of universal Jewry and marching to terrorise and victimise the poor and toiling minority of Jewish immigrants of East London, he won the support of a few thousand mentally or rationally damaged people. When Britain went to war against the Nazis, Mosley was jailed.
After the war, Britain was in no mood to tolerate a “Nazi party”. The nutters who longed for their black shirts and square moustaches only returned to the political stage with the advent of immigration from the ex-colonies in the 50s and 60s.
These Fascists regrouped under the banner of The National Front. Through the 60s and 70s it was the nasty party whose only platform was the repatriation of black and brown people to India, Pakistan and the West Indies. They demanded an immediate halt to all immigration into the UK. They were vociferously opposed by the Left and a trifle haughtily by the Labour, Conservative and Liberal party establishments.
The National Front, a rump of a party with no electoral success of any sort, split and gave rise to several nastier formations. The latest progeny of this fascist movement is the BNP even though its leader Nick Griffin, a Cambridge graduate, has attempted to rid it of its criminal image and has induced its members to wear suits and get rid of their skinhead haircuts. He can’t, of course, erase the criminal records that very many of those in the leadership of the BNP hold.
The Question Time on which Griffin appeared became a national affair. There were demonstrations and a police presence outside the BBC’s studios. Griffin arrived with six bodyguards. The format was certainly loaded against him. The studio audience was uniformly hostile with a more than fair representation of black and Asian people. The programme, which normally covers four or five topics of the day, was distorted entirely into denunciations of Griffin and the BNP’s attitudes. The fellow defended himself and tried to appear “moderate”. Panelists quoted from Griffin’s own pronouncements against immigration, against black people, against Islam. Griffin tried to make the racial point about an “indigenous” population of Britain being displaced and challenged by the arrival of immigrants and was faced with the argument that Britain had always been, from Celtic and Roman times, invaded or settled by different nations.
The argument may be academically sound, but television is not the forum for the persuasion of reason. Though the programme did expose Griffin as an undesirable racist, his appearance and arguments on it have, according to neutral polls taken after the transmission, not detracted from but mildly boosted the BNP’s support.
Griffin and his party are no doubt aware of the psyphological research done by Manchester University into the popular appeal of the BNP. The research demonstrates that the BNP has, in the last decade, acquired a new “votebank” as we would call it in India. This is centred around Yorkshire and the Northwest, communities which used to be solidly working class and voted Labour. Support for the party is highest in areas with high Pakistani or Bangladeshi concentration, the mill-and-mosque towns of what used to be manufacturing England. There is very little or no support for the BNP in areas where Indians, mostly Sikhs and Hindus, are concentrated or in areas where people of Afro-Caribbean origin form a proportion of the community.
The BNP’s support arises then from an anti-Muslim stance. The party has succeeded in channelling the anti-terrorist, anti-Islamist sentiment of the working class into an anti-Muslim political base. The main political parties, whose MPs are elected from several of these constituencies with significant Muslim populations, have taken very little heed of this particular development.
Apart from these MPs, the British Muslim population ought to take serious note of it. The counter argument to the BNP’s poison has to encompass an absolute distinction between the positions and plans of Islamists and those of the Muslim communities of Britain. Such a distinction can only emerge dynamically from within the Muslim community itself and is long overdue.
Source: Deccan Chronicle