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Oct. 22nd, 2009

I’ll admit to some concern about tonight’s edition of Question Pit. Far too many people will not listen to a single grandstanding word (and why would you? I can never bring myself to watch the thing; it’s twice the length of Prime Minister’s Questions, with everyone displaying the same sanctimony and tedious rhetorical tics, but devoid of the already scant information that gets communicated then), but will simply see that at last the BNP have been taken seriously. And many of the BNP’s newly targeted constituency will wonder why everyone is haranguing the leader of that nice party that’s been campaigning locally and promising to protect old ladies from crime, and suspect all the more that the BNP are right: the liberal intelligentsia really do just hate them.

It may be an article of faith among “right-thinking people” that the BNP are anathema, but to the people the party has been courting so assiduously over the past few years—by seriously downplaying the “send ‘em home” aspect of their platform and stressing the “improving your community” angle—this is not at all clear. It seems to have been assumed within the government that there was never any need to counter the BNP’s claims on the doorsteps of the poor and disenfranchised because, the rising tide having floated all boats, it would be obvious that everyone was benefiting from the government’s munificence and the BNP would therefore find themselves redundant. The odious sanctimony and wretched idiocy of this approach suggest Blair’s steady hand on the tiller, but he won’t have been alone in his cosy Radio 4 assumptions.

Griffin is certainly an idiot, but a canny one. He won’t care that his words are often contradictory or downright meaningless; what’s important is that he gets to rant, wildly accuse and play the victim, usually in the same sentence, and dismiss whatever anyone says back to him. These are effective rhetorical tricks for people not given to, or necessarily capable of, digesting a whole bunch of words at once, while those who already broadly agree with him on ethnic matters would be cheering him on even if he spent the whole hour spinning his chair around, shouting “Wheee!”.

So if you’re going to contradict, dismiss or even mock Griffin to his face, show your working. Don’t let anyone think you’re dismissing him because of the fact that he claims to represent the working class. Don’t let him get you angry; do, however, point out not only where he’s getting basic facts wrong but where he’s actually betraying the very working people he claims to be defending. Don’t take him seriously, but take very seriously the impact that he and his ilk could have.

It would help if Griffin’s opponents were (1) not smarmy and a bit off-putting or (2) just good speakers who tend not to say daft things themselves, so I’m not entirely convinced that Jack Straw (1), Chris Huhne (1), Baroness Warsi (2) or Bonnie Greer (1) are the team to do the job.

EDIT: I am happy to eat my words about Bonnie Greer, although to be fair they were based on many hours of her being far less engaging on endless editions of Newsnight Review. Clearly, to get the best out of her when eliciting her opinions on the latest Ian McEwan novel or whatever, from now on Kirsty Wark should be blacked up. You’re welcome, BBC.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:54 am (UTC)
I think the refusal to directly take on the BNP in campaigning sprang more from a concern that by dealing directly with the BNP and taking them seriously they were giving them credibility and publicity, and this was an approach taken by all three major parties, not just Labour.

It was two Labour MPs - the very non-Blairite Jon Cruddas and the very Blairite Margaret Hodge - who suggested the more direct approach you rightly suggest is necessary, because they saw more than most, due to the nature of their constituencies, the inroads the BNP was making into traditional white working-class Labour support.

I'm still not entirely happy about Nick Griffin appearing on QT. The BBC seem glibly unconcerned about the consequences of putting him on their flagship political programme - exhibiting the usual "not us guv" attitude of the media, who seem to think that they exist in some sort of vacuum and that anything that happens as a result of the choices they make is always someone else's fault.
Oct. 22nd, 2009 12:00 pm (UTC)
I hold no torch for Margaret Hodge, but I thought she was entirely right to warn about the upsurge in BNP support and was astounded by the way that a sizeable chunk of her own party actually tried subsequently to blame her for it.
Oct. 22nd, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
I hold no torch for Margaret Hodge

If she were tied to a stake above a pile of kindling, I know many DCMS staff who would be more than happy to hold the torch.

But yes, she was indeed right (on that occasion).
Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)
> BBC seem glibly unconcerned about the consequences of putting him on their flagship political programme

I’d beware slightly here of your natural inclination to “slam” journalists. I can only presume that you haven’t seen any of the Beeb’s defensive flinching this week. More than ever, it’s terrified of being seen to be partial in any way and, however odious Griffin is, his party polled enough of the vote to warrant his being heard. The BBC’s claim this week that it is not up to the corporation but to the government to ban groups and individuals from the airwaves is neither legalistic sleight of hand nor hasty buck-passing but the truth.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 05:15 pm (UTC)
I have seen plenty of the BBC's defensive flinching this week. I don't quite understand why the BNP vote, which declined slightly in the last round of the elections, is now considered high enough to warrant his being heard when it wasn't before, and regardless, why he had to be heard on Question Time, when it would be quite sufficient to interview him on Newsnight or something.

The BBC’s claim this week that it is not up to the corporation but to the government to ban groups and individuals from the airwaves is neither legalistic sleight of hand nor hasty buck-passing but the truth.

I'm afraid I disagree. Buck passing is exactly what it is. Not allowing Nick Griffin on QT is not banning someone from the airwaves. The BBC consciously took a decision to put him on QT because it would generate reams and reams of publicity for the programme - it's not up to the Government to stop him from appearing, it's purely a matter for the BBC. Moreover, they make plenty of decisions every day about which views and which individuals views they choose to represent on news programmes, in the drama they commission etc. etc. This is never a matter for the Government, and is always a question of judgment for the broadcaster. I do agree that it's terrified of being seen as partial, but curiously, only of being seen as partial to the liberal left.

Edited at 2009-10-23 05:16 pm (UTC)
Oct. 22nd, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC)
> this was an approach taken by all three major parties, not just Labour

Both true and fair, but only one of them was in power at the time.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
This is true, but the handling of far-right parties isn't simply a matter for the governing party, but for all of them. It's a question of democratic conduct, and defending democracy, which is the duty of all democratic parties.
Oct. 22nd, 2009 11:15 am (UTC)
This is a great post. Thanks for it.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
Greer is a tiresome windbag.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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