Outside the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) London headquarters the crowds shouted and pushed, arrests were made and police ended up in the hospital. This was from the self-professed ‘anti-fascists’.
Inside, in the warmth of Television Center, was the fascist they were actually complaining about. Generally described as ‘far-right’ the British National Party’s (BNP) policies are in fact white-supremacist with a touch of the far-left economic strangeness that often accompanies the same.
In June’s European Parliament elections, the white-supremicist BNP managed to win two seats. British broadcasting etiquette therefore last week entitled them to a seat on the BBC’s most prestigious prime-time political discussion show.
Watching the build up to the appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on ‘Question Time,’ you could have been forgiven for imagining British politics was in danger of collapse before an hour’s debate with a fascist.
The main parties were initially uncertain whether they should even put up spokesmen. Finally, Labour deployed one of its most experienced cabinet ministers, the Liberals one of their only recognizable faces while the Conservatives put all their eggs in the basket of their one female shadow cabinet member of ethnic background. An American-born playwright completed the ensemble.
Those who have charted the failure of multiculturalism and rise of Islamic extremism in Britain often predicted that if the mainstream political parties failed to take tough measures, a rise in native extremism would be inevitable. That prediction is now coming true. In the June elections the openly racist BNP managed to garner nearly a million votes. Recent months have seen high-profile civil disturbances caused by street protests organized by a group calling itself the English Defence League.
On the Question Time panel, gleaming with anti-fascist self-righteousness, were just some of those who have helped this situation come about. The Labour Minister, Jack Straw, has spent his political career cosying up to Islamists. The Conservative, Baroness Warsi, has a track-record of sectarian politicking and found herself promoted into the Lords in her early thirties because she is a Muslim woman. Having spent their careers appeasing Islamic fascists, it must have been interesting for them to encounter the nativist variety. But they were ready, their faces set with grim determination at the task before them.
The inflated hullabaloo before the event suggested the BNP’s leader might possess the wit of Jonathan Swift, the oratory of Churchill and the demagogic appeal of the great dictators. What the public tuning in in record numbers actually found was a strange, gurning, little man, whose big opportunity saw him struggle to get out any answers at all.
It was clear from the outset he was trying a charm offensive; the charm was indeed offensive. He tried laughing along with his critics, but the laugh became disastrously fixed, sweaty and tic-like. The program’s presenter, scion of Britain ’s great broadcasting dynasty, asked Griffin about his record of Holocaust denial. Griffin stated that he had never been convicted of Holocaust denial -- which is not quite the same thing. But the laugh stayed fatally stuck in place. ‘Why are you smiling?’ the presenter asked. ‘It is not a particularly amusing issue.’
Discussion of his association with the KKK and David Duke provoked him to describe Duke as ‘almost entirely non-violent,’ drawing howls of laughter from the audience. It could be strictly accurate to describe anyone as ‘almost entirely non-violent’, though as assurances go, it delivers a comfortsimilar to describing an airplane as ‘almost entirely safe.’
Doggedness turned into defensiveness, then petulance, then self-pity. The pros lined up against him actually performed pretty poorly, but the event was comparative, so they emerged as titans. The next day’s papers proclaimed a rout, as though the Luftwaffe itself had been seen off rather than one of its rare British admirers.
After months of fiscal and moral incompetence it is suggestive in itself that it took Griffin to make the public remember any fondness for itspolitical leaders. But amidst the cries of jubilation and the sound of halos being polished, the distracting dishonesty of the event was almost entirely overlooked.
Nothing highlighted this better than the shouting-down of Griffin’s calamitous efforts to discuss what he called the ‘indigenous’ British people.
Most members of the panel talked about their racial origins. The Labour representative talked of his Jewish descent, the Conservative of her Pakistani grandparents, the writer of being a black American. All cited their ethnicity, yet told Mr Griffin his did not exist. This comprised a gang-up not just on him, but, many viewers (not just Griffin ’s supporters) will have felt, also a gang-up on them.
For any identity to be lost, it must first be decried and ridiculed -- and then denied. If Britain is to have any coherent identity in the coming years, this and the numerous issues which surround it must be addressed. But it was not. And nor was Griffin ’s other main recruiting sergeant: immigration.
The day after the broadcast, a former advisor to British former Prime Minister Tony Blair came out to describe how mass immigration - the other policy that has immeasurably strengthened the BNP - was deliberately encouraged by the Blair government in order to “rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date.”
Such news will not only entrench the paranoid suspicions of Griffin’s supporters. It confirms what large numbers of the British public, who would never consider voting BNP, have for so long feared: that the situation is worse than they thought. Griffin , as a racist, is of course exactly the worst person to address such serious concerns.
The man has - in typically British fashion - been laughed away. But it will soon ring hollow if our politicians continue to laugh off the issues that accompany him.
Last week the BNP leader was taken apart in front of the lights and the cameras. But outside the studio, in streets and cities which are changing fast, our politicians would do well to wake up if they are to have any hope of quelling the anger of people they have so recklessly ignored.