Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Were the BBC right to give Nick Griffin respectability?

The following interesting piece is from a press release from an academic at Warwick University. Food for thought. In a democracy and in a society with a social conscience we have choices to make, and where those choices contribute to particular outcomes we need to take that share of the responsibility. For me the most useful thing that came out of the BNP broadcast on Question Time was the clear cloak of respectabily that Nick Griffin displays being just that. A cloak, which masks what he really stands for. Behind his leadership is an acceptance amongst a BNP supporting sub culture of the righteousness of attacks on gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, people with obesity, Jews, Muslims and anyone else seen as different. The arbitrary cut off of the post Ice Age population of those who "belong here" vs those who might have a right to be here under certain terms (but far from equal terms) is beyond belief, but not beyond possibility if we do not see a concerted attempt to outvote the BNP everywhere, which is the best weapon we have in a democracy.
The second thing that came out more strongly than before, which is where leading politicians like Jon Cruddas and Liam Byrne have been pushing the debate already, is for the mainstream parties to tackle the tough issues on the ground that people, particularly those in more deprived areas, actually face and their perception of who is on their side. Where the vote for the BNP has been a protest vote against the seeming lack of concern by the main parties, this absolutely must be put right, and we need to keep pressure on the main parties to do so.

Extract from Warwick University website press release from Dr Tim Shields:

"The forthcoming appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on Thursday’s Question Time panel has led Dr Jim Shields, an Associate Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick, to recall what happened after the first appearance of far right French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front National (FN), on a key French TV programme in February 1984.
The programme was the prime-time evening L’Heure de vérité (The Hour of Truth) on channel Antenne 2 (one of what was then three main French TV channels). On it, politicians were questioned for an hour by a panel of journalists before a live audience. The show had many parallels to the UK’s Question Time - in its topicality, its political focus, and the fact that getting invited on it was the mark of being, or becoming, a nationally significant politician.

Dr Shields says:
“This was February 1984, when Le Pen and the FN were still almost entirely boycotted by the media, and electorally insignificant (more insignificant than the BNP today). The programme attracted a lot of opposition and large viewing figures. Le Pen acquitted himself well, under pressure, and dispelled something of his 'bogeyman' image. In the days following, the FN reported a rush to join, raising its claimed membership to 30,000. This was an implausible claim - real membership probably rose to less than half that figure - but it is clear the TV programme had a real impact in legitimising Le Pen and drawing new people to his party.”
“Just after the programme went out, voting intentions for the FN in the European elections of June 1984 doubled, from 3.5% to 7%, and in the election itself the FN would score fully 11% (2.2 million votes). It should also be noted that after the programme, in a Figaro-Magazine poll, those with a 'positive opinion' of Le Pen rose to 13%, and then rose again to 17% by summer 1984.

“This single hour on prime-time television paid huge political dividends for Le Pen and the FN - a real milestone passed in political acceptability. In his autobiography, Le Pen would point to that TV programme as the start of his political rise, calling it 'the hour that changed everything'. If the clock ticking down to Thursday evening on the BNP's website is anything to go by, Nick Griffin anticipates a similar effect from his appearance on Question Time.”

Dr Jim Shields is an Associate Professor in French Studies at the University of Warwick."