Many questions, but few answers from Question Time.

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: media, This Week in the News |

BNP leader Nick Griffin’s much anticipated appearance on BBC’s Question Time did not give the party legitimacy as many feared, but allowed all others to bask in comparative glory. And how could they not? Griffin appeared impish, weak, inconsistent and deceptive, nodding along with the audience when it suited him and laughing strangely when it didn’t.

“I can’t tell you why I used to say those things any more than I can tell you why I have changed my mind,” he said in response to a Jewish audience member’s question as to why he once equated the “myth of the holocaust” with the myth of the earth’s flatness. His blatant lies, strange facial expressions and obvious discomfort roused the audience into camaraderie-amusement and mounted anger interchangeably, allowing other panellists to sit in benign smugness, like school children praised for their good behaviour.

Leftist viewers may have been surprised to find themselves nodding along with Conservative spokeswoman for community cohesion and crowned most powerful Muslim woman in Britain, Sayeeda Warsi, who perhaps came off best on the show. Time and time again Warsi articulately debunked the BNP in a calm and measured tone. She challenged Jack Straw to have “an honest debate about immigration,” which he seemed unable to do. She said political parties must engage with BNP voters and address their feelings of disenfranchisement.

In a way it was a shame that the whole attention was on Nick Griffin because it conveniently allowed other panellists, who actually have a direct bearing on policy, to dodge the questions. As much as a chance to denounce the BNP,  it was a chance for others to pose and posture. Even those that weren’t on the show generated their own publicity. Welsh MP, Peter Hain, has become a household name for his vocal opposition to the program.

It was only historian, playwright and author Bonnie Greer, who refreshingly unconcerned with her own public appearance, addressed the issues in a human and witty fashion.

“I am not a politician, I don’t know anything about politics,” she said unapologetically, by way of opening and later, turning to Griffin, “You have to change your constitution now, that will be interesting. You can laugh,” she said as he nervously giggled beside her, “but if I was a BNP member, I’d be scared.”  To which, strangely, he began clapping.

She later said the experience was “one of the weirdest and most creepy experiences” in her life.”

The BBC has also created its own publicity, generating a huge leap in ratings and unprecedented news coverage. The Guardian devoted its front page and a two page spread were devoted to the topic while it unleashed a Twitter storm.

In the end the show was an opportunity for the audience and the impressively measured panel members to hold the BNP to account. It did hold an uncompromising mirror to the BNP and forced Nick Griffin to explain his party’s views. But it was the claps, though small, of support for his anti-Islamic and anti-immigration spiels that we must be most concerned with. The BNP has been publicly ridiculed, but it is the supporters that need to be challenged and given an alternative, if it is to be defeated.

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