Like many people, I was concerned about the BNP appearing on last night's Question Time. That's not because I think the BNP should have been excluded - free speech is of paramount importance in a liberal democracy. It would plainly be wrong to exclude the BNP and would only play into their hands. However, I was worried that Nick Griffin would put on the kind of performance that might convince some people that he leads a respectable political party that identifies with the needs of working people.
Fortunately, Nick Griffin was unable to pull off the act. Faced with a largely hostile audience, the BNP leader simply confirmed the intolerant and racist nature of his party, was caught out by his own lies and demonstrated a woeful lack of knowledge about either political issues or our country's history.
Question Time was a triumph for the approach advocated by Jack Straw, who believes the best way to deal with the BNP is to allow their views to be publicly exposed and properly scrutinised. It is an approach that I think will work effectively. In a previous post (How do we deal with the BNP?) I suggested that "we need to be willing to discuss these ideas with people, and challenge perceptions rather than ignore them". I also believe that another key way to fight the BNP is by addressing the many legitimate grievances that people have, thus depriving the BNP of ammunition.
Debate raged about whether or not the BBC should have allowed Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time. From a legal perspective, the BBC had little choice now that the party have two elected MEPs. However, many people felt differently and it was hard not to sympathise with the hundreds of demonstrators who protested outside the BBC yesterday - even if their tactics were misguided. Decent people don't want a man with the views of Nick Griffin expressing their hatred on national TV.
Nick Griffin claimed that he was on a "mission to give the BNP more respectability". On the basis of what he said last night, he has some way to go. It's clear he believes in race-based politics, holds homophobic views (he called gay men "creepy") and peddles hatred and fear towards minority groups. He also seems to have rather interesting connections with the Ku Klux Klan. As rather amusing exchanges with Bonnie Greer also reveal, he has a very limited understanding of British history. That a man of such bigoted views and limited ability can be elected as an MEP really should shame the people of the North West.
Jack Straw was roundly applauded for countering the vile arguments of Nick Griffin so effectively - which rather sounds like a compliment for Mr Straw but isn't intended to be. Unfortunately, Question Time - having invited Mr Griffin onto the show - was dominated by discussion of his party. This was unhelpful, especially when there should have been discussion about the economic situation and the problems of Royal Mail.
All the same, I'm very pleased the BNP leader was allowed to appear on Question Time. He's been exposed for what he really is, and the BNP shown to be a front for a divisive and destructive ideology.