The Greasy Pole column from the December 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
We were promised that it would be as entertaining and as cleansing as a mediaeval execution, with the prisoner ritually humiliated then swiftly finished off by the muscular man with the axe. But the BBC's Question Time on 29 October last was less watchable than that because, while condemned man Nick Griffin of the British National Party was surprisingly unprepared for the predictable lines of attack on him, his appointed tormentors on the panel – like Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Jack Straw and Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman Chris Huhne – were similarly feeble. The announcement that the BBC had invited Griffin to take part in the programme provoked a storm of protest avowedly because the BNP, for its racism and nostalgia for the Holocaust, is in the line of descent from the Nazis. If that argument had been sustained, it would have provided ammunition enough to liquidate Griffin but in the event what was substituted was little more than a sample of mob hysteria. Perhaps that suited the purposes of the BBC, embarrassed by the protests and anxious to validate their anti-fascist credentials. It would also explain why Question Master David Dimbleby ran the event with no pretence at being impartial; indeed, by confronting Griffin with inconvenient quotes and facts he emerged as something like the BNP's most effective opponent. Which means that, as an example of the frustration of rabble politics, the programme left us with some unanswered questions.
The programme was not at all helpful in answering questions about the nature of the BNP. To begin with, Griffin denies that it is fascist – just as groups like the Union for British Freedom and the British League of Ex-Servicemen, which in the immediate post-war years sprang from the ruins of Mosley's British Union of Fascists, argued that fascism was out of date when their concept of the future lay with European Union. Griffin also shows symptoms – in public at any rate – of an unclear attitude to racism. In 1993 the BNP Deputy Leader agreed that “We are 100 percent racist, yes” but this policy has been somewhat modified by Griffin into “ethno nationalism” – which in other circumstances, bearing in mind the reputation of some BNP members, could be as menacing as a “final solution”. Discussing the Holocaust, Griffin is on record as concluding that “...the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria” – the kind of statement the origins of which, under pressure from Dimbleby, he said he could not understand. The common thread in all this apparent confusion is Griffin's policy of trying to improve the BNP's electoral prospects by modifying their more extreme tendencies, for example the policy of enforced repatriation has become one of “firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home” .
As things stand, he can claim some success. The BNP has the organisation to nominate hundreds of candidates in local elections; in 2007 there were 754 of them and at the end of that year after resignations, expulsions and the like, they held 42 seats. In May 2008 they won a seat in the London Assembly and in last year's Euro Elections Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons polled enough votes to see them elected – which apart from other things led to Griffin being invited to take part in Any Questions. Unsurprisingly, the BNP gained from the Westminster expenses scandal, which encouraged outraged voters to look outside the established parties in the unsupported belief that somewhere, somehow there were others who would behave differently if they were in power. And that goes some way to explain the appeal of the BNP and to what success they have so far had – the impression they promote that, among the turmoil and cupidity of the other parties they alone make themselves aware of the complaints and concerns in the everyday, persistent struggles of the working class. In April 2006 Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking (a paid-up, devoted member of the New Labour Islington Tony Blair Fan Club) told the Sunday Telegraph that 8 out of ten white workers in her constituency may be tempted to vote for the BNP in the coming local elections – because “no one else is listening to them” about unemployment, high house prices and the like. She was strongly criticised for these remarks, which may have been linked to her helpful advice to some sacked MG Rover workers to look for jobs at the local Tesco. Meanwhile the BNP saluted their success in winning 12 of the 13 seats they contested by gratefully delivering her a bunch of roses. The only valid response to this evidence of the poisonous results of combining political confusion with prejudice was that the last thing needed by workers in their struggles is advice or sympathy from politicians.
The other members of the Question Time panel – and a clear majority of the audience – seemed to have proceeded from the assumption that if the BNP had a case it was too feeble – ill-constructed, chaotically developed, driven by malice – to be worth any serious attention. Instead, their comments were moulded from a mix of sweeping assertions and straightforward abuse, on the lines of the BNP being “...filthy, disgusting...” Perhaps this was their method of evading the truth that organisations like the BNP – discriminatory, repressive, as brutal as they wished to be – appeal to voters who are in despair at the manipulative impotence and deceit of the other parties. So Jack Straw sat blathering before the cameras in denial of his government's miserable failure to deal with the social scars of recession, poverty, crime and capitalism's persistent waste of human talents. He did not acknowledge that their making war on Iraq and Afghanistan was based on purposive lies. Their wretched failure invalidates the claims of all capitalism's political parties to be an effective opposition against the likes of the BNP. We have heard enough of such questions; we need some answers.