I don’t suppose that the inside of Nick Griffin’s head is a great place to be, what with all that racism, homophobia, curiously selective history, and confusion over what he has or hasn’t said in the past. But I would like to be inside that head this morning, to know what he really thinks about his performance on BBC Question Time last night.
Since leaving the studio, where he felt the venom of fellow panellists and audience alike, he will have been enveloped by like-minded staff, family and friends, who will have told him he did well in the face of a five against one onslaught, and an audience rigged as part of the Marxist BBC’s multi-cultural hellhole conspiracy against him. They will have told him that sure, he looked a bit nervy at times, but he came over as an underdog fighting off allcomers, and even if he got a bit muddled from time to time about his views on the Holocaust and the Ku Klux Klan, he got in plenty of soundbites that will have had a few of their target voters nodding quietly in agreement. He will survey the papers, and probably take from them a level of exposure undreamed of until he was invited onto the programme, and see that as being more important than the negative slant of most of the articles about him.
His staff will be telling him that the BNP website has never had so many visitors, that some of those have been offering donations and asking to join. They will dismiss most of the attacks upon him as being entirely predictable, but will take some comfort from the observations, from among others Peter Hain, that what the BBC did last night was legitimise the BNP in a way nothing had done up to the point of emission. And if he has any sense, he will now be focussing on next steps, and how to exploit that ‘legitimisation.’
How he did, how the other panellists did, how David Dimbleby did, how the audience did, what the effect of the violence outside was … these are questions that will be discussed all over Britain today, as the country takes stock of what was an important broadcasting and political moment.
But though technically, his performance was poor, the main parties would do well not to share the general media complacency this morning. This was a programme which began after half past ten and finished just before midnight. So the tenor of many of the articles in this morning’s papers was well set long before the programme ended and, in many cases, before it began.
I heard one discussion on the radio in which it was said that Griffin had failed because the headlines were terrible for him. But it is always a mistake to confuse media opinion and public opinion. Griffin was not aiming for media popularity because he knows he can’t attain it, even if softening the extremist views he genuinely holds. Indeed he attacks the media at every turn as a way of playing up his self-styled underdog/victim of the Establishment status. His immediate goal is simpler: he is the leader of a small party, aiming to become a bit bigger, by targetting messages at people who are disaffected with the main parties and the political process generally.
I suspect last night there were quite a lot of first-time Question Time viewers. There will also have been disaffected Labour supporters, disaffected Tories, people hacked off with all of them because of expenses. Some with legitimate grievances. Others just too used to living in a media-driven blame culture, in which someone else is always in the way of getting you what you think you want or deserve. These were his targets last night, not the activists who hate him already, or the politicians who find his views repellent, or the leaderwriters or the headline writers, let alone the blacks, Muslims and Jews who are his targets in a very different sense.
We would be foolish to think he made no connection at all with at least some of his political targets. This despite the fact that technically, as I say, he was dreadful. He was clearly nervous, which I suppose was understandable. But the twitching eyes and the constantly fidgeting lips were signs of something more than mild stage fright. So was the loud clapping of semi-humorous points made by others, and the over-rehearsed smile. And at times the content was truly dreadful, prompting justified derision at several points.
And yet, never was there a greater need than now to guard against complacency. Once the furore over his appearance has died down, once the frenzy has abated, he and his supporters will be taking their messages to what may be less challenging environments than last night’s hothouse – the doorsteps of the disaffected and the disgruntled. And that is where the mainstream non-racist parties have to fight hardest now.
When an audience member asked whether for example failure on immigration was responsible for the recent relative success of the BNP, the truth is that while we might be able to make a defence of our immigration policies, there are certainly people who have moved to the BNP because they do not believe the main parties listen to them on the issue. They can only be won back by being exposed to a bigger argument and explanation than they will ever get from the slogans of the BNP. But they won’t be won back by us saying they’re wrong.
Likewise on Europe, we have a largely Eurosceptic media, a Eurosceptic Opposition, and so it becomes more important for Labour politicians to make and win the big arguments about why Europe is a good thing not a bad thing.
At the last local elections, where I live in Camden, Labour’s campaign only really found any momentum when the BNP seemed to be getting some traction. Once there was a clear target, it became a bit easier to get over messages about why it was important to reject the politics of race and support a politics of values.
That is what the mainstream parties, and particularly Labour, have to take from these last few days. Politics at its best operates on the basis of strong argument rooted in clear principle. The Tory conference got the Conservatives up in lights in a way that was not wholly beneficial to them. The same can be said of the BNP arising from Griffin’s Question Time appearance. And before Tories get too worked up, there the comparison ends.
It has not been a comfortable few days for politics. But provided there is no complacency, and provided Labour understand why people voted for the BNP, and seize the opportunity to take on and defeat the arguments that led them there – so many of which fell apart under a bit of pressure last night – it might yet be possible to look back on last night not as a turning point for Griffin, but a turning point away from him.
And in the meantime, with so many of the public seemingly angry that he was on the programme at all, all of the mainstream parties should be reminding those same members of the public that he only got there because so few of them could be bothered to vote.
As abhorrent as Griffin’s views are and for all of his fidgeting and generally uncomfortable performance, it was alarming to see how all of the mainstream politicians dealt with the subject of immigration. Straw in particular was awful on this point, waffling in a way that people expect of politicians when they are trying to avoid providing clear and detailed answers (the Tory representative was only marginally better). It is on issues like this that the BNP attract more moderate citizens, perhaps in working class communities who feel genuine grievances with their outlook and communities. I suspect such people rolled their eyes the minute Straw started speaking as he said nothing that could connect with them. So, when the dust settles, addressing key points such as this, with frankness, clarity and honesty is the best way of containing the BNP.
jack straw wasn’t much better. seriously.
Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson will at least be comforted by last night’s demonstration that there is at least one politician more loathed than them.
alastair, i think the big issue was how poorly the other panelists were. jack Straw came across as a bumbling imbecile and the other politicans simply used the opportunity as a chance to score points and personally abuse Nick Griffin. As far Bonnie Greer, her laughable attempt at trying to act superior and patronising merely came acorss as someone comepletley out of her depth. If Nick Griffin had been allowed time and freedom to try and justify his policies then he would now be shown up as a man with ill thought out and unworkable policies. As the panel and audience decided to use the opportunity for childish remarks he actually came out looking like someone who was bullied and not given the chance to speak. The people who voted for him last time will not have learnt why they shouldnt vote for him this time and for that the blame soley lies on the panel and it’s host. A better panel would have been yourself, Frank Skinner, Peter mandelson and someone like Portillo. A range of views form people who can hold an arguement and not resort to childlike comebacks
He’s vile. A scumbag. It’s his intolerance and arrogance that offends me most. He’s been playing on people’s fears about race for decades now, Didn’t he even once BOAST about insisting that muslim women remove their burkhas before he’d speak to them? Not to mention his role in that illegal war in which hundreds of thousands of muslims have been killed. I couldn’t believe the Labour Party couldn’t field someone better. They should be doing all they can to counter Griffin.
Completely agree with you, and that is the second time in a week too, which is unusual, to say the least! Speaking of which – have you seen Ms Moir’s “apology”?
With the exception of the comparison to the Tory conference (bizarre dog-whistle) – I agree with pretty much everything you have written.
Politicans shouldn’t be complacent. The topic of immigration should be discussed between the mainstream parties without any party hurling accusations of racism (Labour most guilty of this). The parties need to engage and engage quickly and constructively.
I’m in complete agreement with you here. I can’t have been the only one of the alleged eight million watching last night who squirmed at the sight of the main parties failing to grasp the nettle when it came to the question of immigration policies driving disquieted voters to the BNP.
These difficult issues need to be tackled head-on; the time for being mealy-mouthed is now over, surely.
I thought this is the best article of yours I have ever read. Griffin was repugnant and technically abysmal, but what else did we expect from him?
There is no reason for complacency from anyone who loves British democracy and our multi-cultural society. Lets all do everything we can to get as many people out to vote in the General Election, especially young first-time voters, so we can defeat the vile bigotry, racism, homophobia and revisionist history of the BNP.
Alastair, I am glad you seem to be agreeing with my views posted on your last blog ref the way to respond to the BNP.
I for one am very concerned at the baying mobs. Lets remember 6 policemen were treated for injuries just for trying to keep public order. Nick G didnt injure them the anti facists did that….who is the bigger danger on our streets at the moment?
Some activists think that voilently opposing the right to free speech for the BNP is legitimate makes you wonder who are the ones to fear. There are questions NG has to answer but also there some very big questions all parties need to address and stop lying to us…we are not that stupid all of the time.
I think we’re all probably underestimating the misplaced sympathy that would have been felt for Griffin as he was being trounced from all directions. The simple-minded among us have a natural protective instinct for the underdog and he will have gained supporters last night purely on this basis. We are a small business (tea shop) with a BNP presence growing in our area. I write about here and about our first hand experience of Griffin – http://www.metrodeco.wordpress.com
This is a good article, but it leaves the question begging of how the mainstream parties will connect with the million people who voted for the BNP in the last election. This result is even more impressive or concerning when you consider that they achieved it with very limited means and in the face of the outright hostility of all the mainstream media. The Green Party polled a couple of hundred thousand votes more than the BNP, but this was with the benefit of favourable coverage in major national newspapers and sympathetic treatment by major broadcasters. The potential electorate of the BNP is probably quite a lot larger than 1m.
I agree that it is by no means certain that Griffin will appear nearly so nasty or pathetic in the eyes of his potential voters as he did to the Question Time audience and media commentators. Would the majority of these people know what Holocaust denial is? Would they care? Griffin was trashed over his Nazi sympathies and his weird ideas about racial purity, but he did relatively well when the debate switched to more topical matters. When it came to the issue of immigration, the views he expressed may be impractical and inflammatory, but they probably have appealed to his potential voters more than the evasive waffling from the other politicians on the panel.
The problem that the main parties will have in dealing with the BNP electorate is that in the more deprived districts of some of Britain’s towns and cities, the poor white population has been ghettoized. Not perhaps in the literal sense (though there are instances of this), but in their heads. What is more, partly because of the multicultural, diversity-promoting policies of, among others, the former mayor of London, they have come more and more to identify themselves in terms of their skin colour. They don’t just feel poor and underprivileged, they feel white, poor and underprivileged. They have also developed a kind of siege mentality, which the BNP has played on, not least by using the emotive imagery from the Battle of Britain. The way Griffin was pilloried on Question Time will probably have resonated with these people quite effectively.
It is difficult to see how the current parties of the left can appeal to this feeling of white victimhood. I don’t think that they have the language to do it. I also don’t think that the BNP electorate is interested in what Alastair calls “the bigger argument” about immigration or the “big arguments” about the European Union. They are generally responding to local grievances, which the BNP has been quite adept at exploiting.
Griffin himself is far too odious and peculiar a politician to achieve wide appeal, so the BNP under his leadership is unlikely to make significant electoral advances. Apart from anything else, he has too many hostages to fortune and too many batty beliefs. The question is whether the BNP could continue to develop in the coming years and achieve a more convincing veneer of respectability and a leader who is more charismatic and less vulnerable to exposure. Then they could emerge as a more than a marginal force in politics with a regular seat on the Question Time panel.
I thought Straw and Warsi had a good debate about immigration, but overall none of them really tackled a big issue, which is that people buy the myth that English people have been made into second-class citizens.
The BNP thrive on the idea of a conspiracy, that X, Y and Z are conspiring against X, Y, and Z (the indigenous British in this case).
It’s a shame that immigration is not tackled and then it takes the BNP getting 1 million votes before it enters mainstream debate, and then most of the show is about it.
Griffin showed himself as a far-right nasty-man who relies on the idea of this conspiracy, but the issues which force people into his grubby paws were not properly addressed. Straw tried, and I thought did pretty well all night, but didn’t make the case forcefully enough. People need to know that it’s ok to feel proud to be British without being labelled racist, which is something the Tories have traditionally done far better than Labour. Due, I think, to our more bleeding heart liberal wing (including me to some extent).
Griffin’s a right winger, so I don’t like him. But if enough people shun pride in their origins (e.g. being British), there is a vacuum created into which the likes of Griffin step.
I watched QT last night, and it ended up being a predictable farce.
Straw was as pious and as shrill as I’ve ever seen him, all Huhne did was try to score party political points, in fact, Greer was the real star, and a surprisingly good Varsi came away with a lot of credit.
I’ve never seen a politcal and media elite so terrified of one man. Guess why they’re terrified – becasue a lot of what Griffin says resonates – mostly with ex-Labour voters.
Just remember who has given the BNP traction – the Left, pure and simple.
I don’t suppose you saw the recent council by-election in South Oxhey, near Watford. The BNP hold (narrowly) the county council seat and were expected to add another district council seat. In fact concerted and honest campaigning by Labour focussing on what the BNP mean, not what they say saw the BNP routed and a labour councillor eturned. As you infer Alistair, this is where the fight must be taken aginst Griffin et.al. and when it is it is surprising how often and how well it can be won.
The article on Newsnight on Wednesday that looked at the dissafection with mainstream parties in a part of Stoke struck a chord with me.
If my memory serves me right the commemorative plates for the 2012 Olympics are being made in China, not in the potteries.
When you get rid of workers, when you tell them their skills are no longer wanted because their jobs are being sent abroad because it’s cheaper then they feel aggreived.
When they’re told there’s nothing they can do because of “the market” and “globalisation” and no one listens to them but the BNP who exploit their anger and frustration then we have a problem.
The profits of these companies that have relocated production overseas then go the the ever greedy short term merchants in the Squrae Mile who get richer.
You have a bigger problem when we use a phrase like “British jobs for British workers” if there’s nothing to back it up.
If you have unscrupulous employers who undercut wages paid to UK workers by hiring foreign labour then again we have a problem. Add the constant scare stories peddled by the BNP eg immigrants get taxpayers money to set up businesses plus the lies printed in the gutter press about immigration then this compounds it.
Griffin was awful yesterday but I wasn’t inspired by Jack Straw or any of the other panelists either. Why didn’t Romper Room control field an attack dog? Why does it always have to be a minister?
John Reid, Dennis Skinner, Andrew McKinley woud have all been better.
We can’t be complacent but we must to more to help dissafected voters and we must be seen to do it.
I agree with everything you said. I just hope mainstream political parties now realise that they cannot carry on ignoring the white working class in the UK otherwise they will cause the BNP membership and voters to flourish. They must also debate with Nick Griffin otherwise he like Jean-Marie Le Pen will be seen as a victim of the political establishment.