Question Time for Griffin as BNP loses early christmas present

Five minutes into last night’s Question Time and I had joined the 3,000-strong armer of tweeters eager to have their say about Nick  Griffin’s appearance on the BBC’s flagship programme.

Nick Griffin's bizarre smirking tactic comes out again.
Nick Griffin's bizarre smirking tactic comes out again.

Prior to that and throughout the day, the debate had raged on about whether he should have been there in the first place. Griffin’s appearance, many argued, would legitimise the BNP and their hateful policies, giving them far greater credence than they deserve. The BBC’s Mark Byford was roundly criticised, some even asking whether “he would sleep soundly” that night, knowing he had given the BNP this massive opportunity.

However, that was to miss the point and indeed the real opportunity – the opportunity to expose Griffin and his party for what they really are. It is not the BBC’s role to censor political debate. Whatever your feelings and politics, the BNP had reached nearly 1 million voters and as such, from an editorial perspective, they had a right to be heard or at least to be scrutinised – and it is this scrutiny that was the REAL opportunity.

The danger of the show turning into a political X Factor, complete with hysterical audience was very real and I must say that the BBC may regret the perceived witch hunt format that at times threatened to turn the villain of the day into a victim. However, Griffin’s lack of skill and I’m guessing, zero PR strategy other than “get on TV Nick”, meant that he couldn’t exploit this chink of opportunity to the fore.

He was evasive throughout, nervous and clearly flustered, as the audience and even the guests regularly lost their cool and sought to attack him. It was mob rule, it was in danger of playing into his clammy little hands and it was lucky that he did not have the wit or the skill to play the victim card.

That was the real danger of having him on. If they didn’t let him speak and air his ridiculous views, they wouldn’t have given him enough rope to hang himself. Thankfully for all he still managed it, with a slew of feeble comebacks, bizarre smirks, and even applause for his critics, mingled in with his biggoted world view that he occasionally managed to blurt out.

In the end it was a victory for free speech and as such, all that is good about the UK but there was undoubtedly an opportunity for all.

The Press For Attention Prescription

Nobody really took the opportunity. The other guests seemed to forget that they were under scrutiny too and had a platform to air their policies if they dared. They were right to attack Griffin but too keen to join the baying mob and keep the focus on him when they should have turned the focus on Griffin onto them and what they actually stood for. How many chances will they get to speak to a huge audience that was actually turned onto politics and eager to hear policies – however briefly? It was an opportunity for plain speaking for all parties and nobody took it – Griffin tried but failed.

It was a dangerous game but as Nick Robinson said on BBC News just half an hour before; “No TV programme gives politicians power – it is the voter that does that.”

So it now remains for the mainstream parties to get out there and say what they believe in –  that is the one lesson they could learn from Griffin.