Question Time this evening will be receiving a slight boost in ratings. With the appearance of the leader of the openly racist British National Party, Nick Griffin, it’s clearly going to be the largest audience the political debate programme will have seen in a long time. What’s not known at this point is what the consequences will be.
Many are arguing that giving the BNP a voice on a respected BBC programme legitimises them, and will increase their popularity. Others counter this by saying his views will be exposed and people will become more aware of the party’s racist and fascist nature. Each likes to accuse the other of patronising the population. But the point where everyone gets caught up is in the figure of 900,000 people who democratically voted for them.
One side likes to argue that these 900,000 people are confused about who the BNP really are, and would not vote for them if they really knew their bigoted values and opinions. Another side likes to argue these 900,000 people want a party who’s willing to stand up for Britain against Europe, or bring in real change, and they’re resorting to the BNP in desperation. What almost no one seems to suggest is the possibility that there are 900,000 hateful racist bigots who voted for a hateful racist party.
This determination that people are either confused or moderate is peculiar in the extreme. They’re bigots, and there’s a political party who shares their views. So they vote for them. It isn’t very complicated. There are racist people. Lots of them. They’re everywhere. Our deranged need to pretend that everyone is just misguided or under-informed prevents us from recognising an important reality. Britain has lots and lots of racist people living in it, and the BNP very adequately represents them.
There’s no ambiguity about the BNP. They’ve made some very haphazard attempts to spin themselves to be an anti-Europe party, who just happen to want immigrants to go back to where they came from and hate the Jews. But you don’t even need to scrape the surface to find their views – they aren’t embarrassed by them, and don’t try to hide them. Andrew Brons, who recently won a seat on the European Parliament, was a member of the Nazi-formed National Socialist Movement in the 60s, and by the 70s was high ranking in the National Front. There’s no secrets in this party – they’re openly, boastfully racists. They’re Nazi-affiliated, if not outright members of neo-Nazi organisations, they’re Holocaust deniers, they believe in white supremacy. I can’t stress enough how out in the open this is. Let’s pluck a ridiculous example. The record label that publishes their racist songs is called Great White Records. No one’s confused.
If someone has problems with Europe, and doesn’t feel like the Tories are going to address it, they’ll vote UKIP or Veritas. (Of course here you can have the fun of hunting for relationships with less savoury roots.) If someone votes for the BNP it’s because they’re a racist.
So here’s the pickle: We’ve got a sort-of-democracy in this country, and with that comes our requirement to allow people to freely vote for whomever they wish. When one party receives almost a million votes, wins council seats and positions as MEPs, we as a nation have welcomed them in.
The BBC is a public service broadcaster. They’re required by law to be non-partisan. But I believe they have discretion and editorial control of a programme like Question Time, and clearly they could have refused to invite Griffin. It’s unquestionably a ratings and attention-gaining coup to make this move, but I have no idea which is their motivation. However, the problem with Question Time as a format for this is quite what a hideous programme it is without a BNP member on the panel.
Born of Radio 4′s Any Questions, both shows follow the same format. A panel of politicians and public figures take unknown questions from the audience. Of course the boast that the panel are not forewarned of the questions is meaningless – whatever the four or five main news stories of the week might have been will be the questions asked, and the panel will have been appropriately prepared for receiving them. The only unknowable is the light-hearted question at the end, where in a week where a politician had been on a fancy holiday they might be asked, “If you could go on holiday with one politician, who would it be and where would you go?” Here they stumble and murmur a confused reply, unsure what their team of advisers would have liked them to say, and the farcical nature of the programme is lit up for all to see. “Um, well, I suppose I’d like to go with David Cameron and his lovely wife, and we’d go to, um, a good British resort to boost our local economy?” Yuck. Neither presenter, brothers Jonathan and David Dimbleby, as it happens, has the wit or gumption to challenge scripted responses, nor force guests to actively debate with or respond to opposing views given. Instead they allow the panellists to take it in turns to say their pre-prepared piece, and then another chance to say it again instead of answering a direct question.
But what makes both Question Time and Any Answers so remarkably revolting is the audience. Pre-selected based on their political views, they bray and jeer like disease-infected cattle whenever someone says the binary opposite of their pre-defined positions on a matter, and then clap as if they’re trying to mash their hands into a bloodied pulp whenever someone says something they agree with. Should the audience be divided on a subject then their wire-frame opinions are voiced in a battle to see who can clap the loudest when their representative repeats their asinine position once more. Anything sophisticated or nuanced is ignored or literally shouted down by these fetid idiots.
Tonight’s episode is going to be this times a million. The BBC have allowed a few BNP supporters to be in the studio, and the programme will be dominated by the two audience groups trying to shout each other down, or beat each other on some imaginary clapometer from hell. (Add to that the inevitability of some anti-fascist protesters who will be in there – I can’t help feeling a little confused as I watch the footage of anti-fascist protesters campaigning against free speech. It just doesn’t seem to quite work as a concept.)
My guess about the panel is a lazy display of people trying to outdo each other about how much they’re against Griffin. They’ll each make it their goal to prove that their political party is best at not agreeing with racist opinions, and each will try to get Griffin to say something offensive. I fear that Griffin will have the sense to refuse to address any of these subjects, but instead incessantly bring up matters such as education, the financial crisis, and Europe, and of course immigration. He will talk a lot about how Britons are fed up of immigration. He will state that all the main parties have failed to address these key issues, and it’s time for a party who’s willing to listen to the people, and so on. And of course never even have to suggest what his own solutions will be, because no one will ask him – they’ll be too busy telling him how they hate him more than the others.
Of course I could be wildly wrong. I do hope so. I hope that Griffin exposes himself as the despicable human being he is, and the rest of the panel eloquently rebut his remarks and educate the audience with original and smart thoughts. Although even if this is the case, I doubt they’ll be heard over the frenzied mooing of the audience.
Whatever happens, we need to snap out of our denial about how many racist bigots live in this country, and start working out how we respond to them now they have a political voice.
PS. For anyone not convinced that BNP voters know and understand the party for which they vote, have a fun look through the Have Your Say responses on the BBC this evening.