I managed to get home in time to watch the last 50 minutes of Question Time on the BBC last night. It was an interesting programme to have watched, albeit in a slightly different format to usual. Admittedly I do not watch every episode of the programme but I have watched it enough times to know that usually a set of current affairs questions are asked to a panel by an audience.
As this is in the public domain and just in case it isn't abudantly clear from what I say, I will lay out my stance: I am not a supporter of the BNP. I am however a supporter of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That is not to say I will always agree with what an individual has to say, nor that I won't draw inferences from what people say about themselves but I do think it is important that we have the right to freedom of speech and of expression.
I think the BBC were right to invite Nick Griffin, as leader of the BNP, onto a current affairs programme which gives other political parties a platform to speak. The BBC is not party affiliated and must be seen to be neutral. The BNP have achieved 2 seats in the European Parliament and were democratically elected to that position. What I do think the BBC should have done however was run Question Time in the usual fashion, i.e. the questions should have focused more heavily on this week's issues. I was expecting to hear discussion of the Royal Mail strikes, for example. Instead, the panellists and the audience, in my opinion, did themselves a disservice. They asked questions specifically about the BNP, attacked Nick Griffin personally and repeatedly, when what they should have been doing, in my opinion, was letting him dig his own hole. His views and his party's views are unpleasant, which is putting it mildly, but letting him come across as a victim, which he did, was in my view a mistake.
Of all the other panellists it was Bonnie Greer who impressed me the most. She was articulate when other panellists seemed unable to answer questions. I know she is not connected to a party, so she only had to represent her own views but it was clear to all that Great Britain needs more speakers like her, and less like Mr Griffin. The worrying thing is that the BNP seem to offer an alternative vote in towns and cities where anger at the mainstream political parties is rife and where education is less than satisfactory. We need to take note: I am able to watch Mr Griffin's statements and hear what is behind them, what he is covering up and know that he does not offer a viable solution, no matter what he says. But to some he will sound like his party offers them solutions which the other mainstream parties do not. Surveys have shown that people who are not racist are voting for the BNP. Parties do not get elected to the European Parliament when only a few fundamentalists vote for them. The BBC has drawn all eyes to the policies of the BNP: what is needed now is a realistic solution to win those votes back again.
Question Time did briefly touch on another issue that was topical this week, both in that it was current and because it also reflects on the very reason that Mr Griffin was invited by the BBC. The question was related to the Jan Moir article in the Daily Mail which reflected on the death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately and drew the conclusion that because Mr Gately died and because he was also gay, the fact he was gay must have caused or contributed to his death. It was a hugely distasteful, homophobic article and prompted thousands of complaints to the PCC. I disagreed with everything that Ms Moir wrote but I have to conclude that if we wish to live in a democratic society where freedom of speech is so fundamentally important, we have to allow people like Ms Moir the right to publish articles such as the one she did. We can say that she is wrong in her views but I would rather live in a society where newspapers and television channels are not restricted by the government.
It was this type of question in which Mr Griffin did himself disservice: in answering it he also came across as homophobic and ill informed. He did his party no credit by his response. Yet there was no personal attack on him so he did not sound the victim either. If only the other questions put to the panel last night had been in similar neutral terms. In answering this question the other panellists also demonstrated why the BBC was right to have invited Mr Griffin onto the programme in the first place: our country is a democratic one which prides itself on freedom of speech and each person's ability to draw from that their own conclusions. One hopes that everyone reading Ms Moir's article would have seen it for the homophobic rant that it was and that everyone watching Mr Griffin's stint as a Question Time panellist would have seen what he truly represented. But if they didn't, that is their choice. And one which we are entitled to have.