Question Time revealed more about the liberal elite than the BNP

screen-captureThe appearance of British National party leader Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time served to prove many things about the media and political elite in the UK, two of which are particularly notable and concerning. One is that a rational, open and honest political debate is impossible in the mainstream media. Two is that mainstream political parties and liberal elites will now do anything to win moral authority and avoid talking about policy and real issues that affect the majority of the population. This is nothing new but it was illustrated acutely and obscenely in this particular show.

Some of the questions asked during and after the event are also mystifying to say the least in a supposedly democratic and intelligent current affairs show. Two examples are:

Should Nick Griffin have been allowed on Question Time?

This is a non-question. Anyone that professes to be in favor of free-speech and claims to oppose a party such as the BNP has to say yes. It is an insult to people’s intelligence – especially the 1 million that voted for him – to suggest they are unable to assess whether the BNP are fit to vote for. The answer to dealing with extremist organizations such as the BNP is not to repress them. It’s to prove the irrationality of their more extreme viewpoints (which isn’t hard).

Would Winston Churchill have joined the BNP?

Again, I don’t see why there’s been so much debate over this. The answer is unequivocally yes because Churchill lived in a far more “backwards” era towards race relations which is where the BNP belong. During that time,  it was fine for Churchill to proudly proclaim such things such as “I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes” and “I do not admit… that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia… by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race… has come in and taken its place.”

The point is, Nick Griffin is a racist and even a panel of kids could have proved that. The main reason the liberal elite i.e. BBC, New Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were so keen to debate him is because they know how morally bankrupt they are and how little they have to offer the electorate in terms of policy, solutions and debate so they pick on an easy target to lynch to get the public onside. It is the very same political establishment’s fault the BNP have come this far. They long ago jumped into bed with big business leading to the deteriorating social and economic conditions which have inflamed the racial hatred the BNP thrive on. It was particularly sickening to see Jack Straw – a man with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis and Western soldiers on his hands – reveling in some kind of moral superiority over Griffin. If actions speak louder than words, then he is as offensive – if not more so – than the BNP leader.

There has been little decent commentary worth reading in the aftermath of the debate but Brendan O’Neil writes an excellent piece here in Spiked and prior to the event, Neil Clarke highlighted the reasons behind the rise of the BNP.


23 thoughts on “Question Time revealed more about the liberal elite than the BNP

  1. Re: Churchill, I agree completely. This was actually an opportunity for the political parties to question the sainthood of Churchill, not that they would ever have done that, spineless bastards.

    Re: Jack Straw, more offensive than Nick Griffin? I find that difficult to agree with. He has committed and has been party to acts that I find to be abominable. But they’re still not as bad as what Griffin proposes for Britain. Straw, bad as he is, is not a fascist.

    Re: giving Griffin a platform… What is this “freedom of speech” you mention? Three points:

    Firstly, the idea that freedom of speech exists in Britain is nonsense. There exists a constant process of censorship by the state, which engenders a culture of self-censorship within the media. The press is routinely barred from reporting stories, and that same press routinely self-censors stories that might encourage organisation of workers.

    Secondly, The concept of ‘freedom of speech’ as an unassailable and purely good concept is flawed. If I incite murder, you’d agree that I’ve over stepped the boundaries of free speech. Thus, free speech itself is never really free: expression is controlled by society’s norms… and by laws. Laws which, among other things, make it illegal to incite murder or racial hatred.

    Thirdly, When the BNP receive increased publicity, attacks on ethic minorities generally go up. The point of opposing a platform for Nazis is not simply to deny them the ‘right’ of free speech: the point is that giving Nazis a platform helps to spread fear, racist aggression and violence. The BNP is a minor political party that espouses policies that are not only illegal under UK law: they’re also morally reprehensible.

    That’s why I back the no platform for fascists position. BNP off the BBC!

  2. It was particularly sickening to see Jack Straw – a man with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghanis and Western soldiers on his hands – reveling in some kind of moral superiority over Griffin. If actions speak louder than words, then he is as offensive – if not more so – than the BNP leader.

    Having just watched the BNP show, I think Nick Griffin used the very same argument as you on the morals of the labour party and the BNP. But in general I agree with Tom.

  3. I’d like to add a couple more points:

    (1) There is no law that says that the BBC is obliged to give a platform to every single political party that exists. The BBC were/are not obliged in any way to do this. The Green Party won significantly more votes in the last European elections (than the BNP) and they have yet to be invited onto the programme, since that election. Let’s remember also that the BNP’s share of the vote did not significantly increase in those elections. But votes for the 3 main parties *did* drop.

    I think we should be asking a different question: can a boost to the BBC’s viewing numbers justify giving Nazis a platform, with all the risks of increased racial tensions and violence that entails? Because to my mind, this debate on the BNP platform has far more to do with the BBC cynically chasing publicity than anything else.

    (2) Regarding freedom of speech (again): the concept of freedom of speech (generally) works in our society because it’s normally coupled with respect for other people and an unwillingness to cause offence. The BNP have no respect for black or Asian Britons and indeed use coded language to directly incite violence against them. They break their side of the unwritten code that protects freedom of speech. They break the law. They don’t deserve a platform.

  4. Thanks both for raising these points because they’re very important ones. I can see this is going to turn into a debate on freedom of speech rather than how the show was a sham and only served to give the BBC and politicians some false moral credibility and nullify mainstream debate on real issues and policy but here goes…

    @Ed – Jack Straw – I regret if I used similar language as Griffin but the sentiment remains the same. Jack Straw and New Labour conspired to kill hundreds of thousands in the Middle East. They launched an illegal war over a cynical lie mainly to enrich the pockets of corporations and bolster state power through the “war on terror”. Let’s remember that before Hitler came along, fascism was simply an economic-social system that described the close union of state and corporations. If that definition still applies, Straw is as much of a fascist as Griffin is.

    @Tom, I’d describe the aforementioned crimes as worse than “abhorrent” – it’s mass murder and broke international law and that’s why I think he’s at least as offensive than Nick Griffin. If we had anything close to an honest mainstream media and political culture, Question Time would have been debating the case for New Labour being tried for war crimes. At least with Griffin you know what you’re getting. Straw on the other hand hides behind a veneer of cynical liberalism. As I say to Ed, if the original definition of fascist extends beyond mere racial connotations, then Straw is one.

    @Freedom of Speech, My thoughts on this are very simple minded I’m afraid. If you believe that everyone has a right to free speech, then you have to defend that right even for those that you don’t agree with or who’s views you find disgusting. I think when it comes to incitement to violence, that’s a very difficult area but I don’t agree that it should be the government that decides what the limit is.

    @Tom, I agree completely that that there are many barriers to free speech in the UK. Legally, the UK is particularly restrictive compared to other countries in this respect. However, I’d argue that self-censorship by liberal mainstream journalists and corporate ownership of the press do far more damage to free speech than anything the government does but that’s a slightly different debate.

    You say, “The concept of ‘freedom of speech’ as an unassailable and purely good concept is flawed”. I personally think it is a “good” thing which should be strived for in a society that’s not Stalinist in nature. However, I do think it can be a problematic concept to define especially when it comes to incitement to violence.

    You add, “If I incite murder, you’d agree that I’ve over stepped the boundaries of free speech.” Yes I would but the government and mainstream media do it all the time – you don’t need to look to the BNP or racist bigots for that. We saw plenty of it during the invasion of Iraq for example. Wasn’t the illegal war of aggression on Iraq an incitement to murder by the government? Wasn’t the mainstream media support for it and their silence over the morality and legality of the invasion also an incitement to murder? My point is, what’s considered “incitement to murder or violence” is very twisted by liberal elites. The government and media are massively hypocritical over what constitutes such incitement. They basically define free speech as what serves state-corporate interests and have little regard for human rights. Therefore granting the Government the right to say what is or is not legal free speech is very dangerous.

    Finally, regarding giving publicity to the BNP fuels violence, this is a tricky one. It is very regrettable that this may be an immediate after-effect of Nick Griffin’s appearance but I honestly believe that repressing them and the one million that voted for them would only add even more fuel to their fire and the tensions that exist. The key to reducing these attacks is not to ignore them, but for the government to address the economic and social problems that have made many working class or Labour voters switch to the BNP.

    Regarding your additional points:

    @The Greens – Agreed. The appearance of the BNP had nothing to do with legal obligations to air them. It had everything to do with picking on an easy target to promote an air of democracy and liberalism and also as you say, I’m sure the viewing figures were very pretty for the BBC. The Greens have far less chance of appearing on the show because they may actually try to debate a modicum of real social issues and policy which would be terribly inconvenient for the big political parties.

    @Freedom of speech again, I think I’ve covered this in my previous points.

  5. Well I tend to agree with Nick’s article that the moral bankruptcy of Jack Straw and Sayeeda undermined their arguments and gave massive credibility to Griffin when he brought up Iraq. At that point, you can imagine the chorus of viewers across the country saying “that’s what I was going to say”. Jack “they shouldn’t wear burkas”Straw gave us a spectacle of pure hypocrasy. And Sayeeda was dreadfully shown up when her disapproval of same-sex civil partnerships was mentioned.

    Griffin will get a huge sympathy vote from the real British public (not represented by the audience) because he was being bullied and picked on throughout – by almost everyone on the show. Only Bonnie Greer knew how to talk to him and made some salient points without alienating him or his sympathisers.

    What a repulsive bunch these politicians are…

  6. Also, I believe Winston Churchill said something like “well the Jews deserve all they get…” but I would like to have that confirmed by anyone who has a collection of his quotes.

  7. Thanks for the comments John. I think this may be the Churchill quote:

    “Winston Churchill suggested Jewish people were “partly responsible for the antagonism” that saw them branded “Hebrew bloodsuckers”, according to an article made public for the first time yesterday.”

    There’s also one in this collection of quotes in The Guardian by him. A very rare mainstream media insight into the other side of him:

  8. Ed – Jack Straw – I regret if I used similar language as Griffin but the sentiment remains the same.

    I wasn’t attacking you for it, just interesting how the right and left can meet!!! I also think that Nick Griffin also mentioned about the Labour party and the Tories being far too close to big business etc. My personal response to Government being to close to big business is to opt out where and whenever I can. I avoid working for private business but then again most third sector work is funded by Government..damn it!!!!

  9. In the case of Griffin, he was clearly using Iraq to score political points because later in show, he supported Israel’s right to destroy Palestinians!

    But I think we are seeing left and right meeting on certain points nowadays because the government is so far to the right of the political spectrum that they’ve gone off the scale. Even Reagan and Thatcher would baulk at some of the political and economic policies Blair and Bush pursued.

    By the way, I don’t think you can avoid working in the belly of the beast to some extent and I´m not convinced working for government is a lesser “evil” than working for big business. The important thing is that you can can do a little bit outside of the system to change it in someway.

  10. I think you can avoid it but it is hard. In spain very hard as civil society is less developed. Personally I think the state does alot of good and I experience it often. Damning the state is dangerous. I guess I am talking of what I am doing now and I am trying to make change and do something that I hope will help others, while giving me a salary. I find too many people spend more time grumbling about the system than actually doing anything positive. Without action it is not productive. Your statement makes me think that you are saying that for me to work through a Government funded post in international development is as bad as working for BP or Shell. I guess you are not saying this but maybe are. I hope not.

  11. Just out of interest when was the last time you publicly campaigned on an issue or wrote to your MP. I would imagine quite recently but I reckon if you asked half the bloggershere world of discontent it might be a different story. Maybe I need to stop reading blogs!! Anyway, rant over. I am house hunting in Cardiff!! The joys.

  12. I’m with Ed on this.

    The BNP claimed to oppose the Iraq war because they think it’ll win them a few votes. Don’t confuse their opportunism with some sort of ‘coming together’ of the left and right, because that is not happening.

    Thatcher would have gone much further than Blair if she thought she could get away with it. Her social policy was far more divisive and rightist than Blair’s was (whatever you think of him, this is undeniably a fact). Let’s not forget that for a lot of the Labour government’s time in power, they were sorting out a country that had been left on its knees by the selfish greed-is-good Tories. Cameron talks about ‘broken Britain’ and while Blair deserves to face justice for his foreign policy, there’s no way that Britain’s as bad a place to live as it was in 1996/1997.

    As to whether working for the state is as bad as working for big business… I think the point here has to be which government job you’re talking about. Fighting in Iraq or advising on foreign policy isn’t the same as working with disabled kids for Hackney Borough Council. There are few large companies which would ever get involved in something like that third example unless they could see a profit motive. Same re: teachers, nurses, bin men, environment officials, etc. I think you do them all a bit of a disservice with that comment.

  13. Just to emphasise something: I don’t want to be seen as defending Blair. But for the most part, the Tories were worse, just like they will be when they get back into power.

  14. @Ed: “Working outside the system” – I don´t think it’s possible at all unless you go and live on a desert island. I’m talking in a very literal sense – none of us can avoid consuming and somewhere along the line that’s going to empower some company or organization you’d rather not.

    @”Damning the state is dangerous” – Three things on that. One is that dissent of any powerful institution is, and always has been, necessary to achieve progress. Preferably dissent with action.

    Two is that you seem to have the impression that I’m against all forms of government. I’m not because, unlike a corporation, it’s the one powerful institution we’ve got that can be democratically reformed. That is, if our democracy was functioning correctly but it’s not due to the influence of big business. What I’m against is the huge influence of private power that now controls much of the government and the politicians that have embraced that. That said, I’m not in favor of building up an all powerful state – quite the contrary.

    Thirdly, the state is a huge apparatus and you and Tom are both right that tarring all departments of it with the same brush is unfair. I didn’t mean to imply that and of course, working for a government development agency is probably doing more good than working for Esso or Shell. What I meant was that working for the government or corporate world isn’t much different in the upper echelons of those organizations. Nowhere is this more crudely illustrated than in the USA where it seems there is a revolving door between the boardroom of companies such as Goldman Sachs and the White House.

    “@When was the last time you publicly campaigned on an issue or wrote to your MP.” I’ve afraid I’ve never done either although not living in the UK, I obviously don’t have an MP at the moment. The most I’ve ever done is write articles about specific environmental, social and political issues some of which can be found on this website. And of course, try and highlight certain issues and encourage debate with this blog. It’s a pretty lame effort to say the least and not enough and I’ll be the first to admit that. I agree that a person should be judged on their actions not their words and there’s a lot of bloggers out there that just moan. However, I’d like to think that this blog doesn’t fall into that category and tries to encourage more constructive moaning 🙂 If it helps create a debate that makes both reader and writer think a little bit more about an issue, that’s surely no bad thing. Please don’t stop reading this blog anyway as it may go out of business if so. Good luck with the house hunt by the way.

    @Tom: “The BNP claimed to oppose the Iraq war because they think it’ll win them a few votes. Don’t confuse their opportunism with some sort of ‘coming together’ of the left and right, because that is not happening.” I’m not sure where I came across as confused on this point when I said, “In the case of Griffin, he was clearly using Iraq to score political points because later in show, he supported Israel’s right to destroy Palestinians!”. Just to reiterate again, I’m in total agreement that Griffin was an opportunist on this. I do think that other sections of the more moderate left and right have come together on certain points though. The environment is one example in the USA where politicians on the left and even on the right were aghast at Bush’s rejection of the Kyoto protocol.

    @”Thatcher would have gone much further than Blair if she thought she could get away with it. Her social policy was far more divisive and rightist than Blair’s was (whatever you think of him, this is undeniably a fact).” We can only theorize about the first point but the differences between his and her economic policy were marginal. If Blair thought Thatcher had gone too far to the right, why didn’t he roll-back a lot of the damage she’d done? He embraced the foundations of Thatcherism. John Kampfner summed it up very nicely in The Telegraph:

    “Blair’s programme for the 1997 election confirmed all Mrs Thatcher’s free-market reforms of a deregulated, non-planned, largely privatised economy with a flexible labour market, marginalising the trade unions and local authorities, while publicly disowning Left-wing shibboleths such as redistribution….Blair and Brown let it be known that Labour had become “the party of business”. They had dumped “tax and spend” policies forever. They were seemingly all Thatcherites now.

    Blair trimmed back some of her employment legislation, but always by stealth. He softened some of her economic changes, with more measures to encourage the unemployed into work, and to provide more help for those in need. Perhaps most importantly in this regard, he introduced the minimum wage, in the teeth of initial Tory and business opposition.

    Yet all the way through, he never once challenged the basic tenets of Thatcherism – private ownership was preferable to the state, the unions should be kept in check and profits were good.”

    Labour therefore spent little time “sorting out a country that had been left on its knees by the selfish greed-is-good Tories” as you say. On the contrary, they welcomed it with open arms.

    The difference between a Cameron Conservative government and Brown Labour one are so marginal they’re barely worth debating. It’s big business that runs the show now more than ever which is why whoever is in power is largely irrelevant. This is the most pressing issue facing democracy rather than which party is in charge. “Politics is the shadow cast over society by big business” as John Dewey famously said.

  15. Cheers for the response. I think maybe this whole debate is far too wide and complex to to be had on the comments page of a blog. It is also aged old. Pint anyone? I agree you do have to work within the system. P.S I don’t work for Government.

  16. True and that’s mainly my fault for not limiting the conversation to the point being made in the blog post. It’s still raised a few interesting points which could be blog posts in themselves.

    By the way a pint would be nice if the government hadn’t manage to close down all the decent boozers through the smoking ban. I’ve got a few things to say about that. Only joking.

  17. I would say on a personal note..the Labour party have done great things in terms of bringing international development up the agenda and trebling aid budgets since 1997. Not that they are perfect and they need to go a lot further. We all need to campiagn more and on more issues. We are far too apathetic! I guess proven by yourself who is very engaged but has not publicly campiagned!

  18. Agreed. Again, guilty as charged campaigning wise but at least by being engaged in the “blogosphere” it’s a step in the right direction. And I concede it’s unfair to tar the entire Labour administration or their policy with the same brush. Blair was more progressive than Thatcher on certain social issues such as gay rights for example. I was criticizing his economic policy at home mainly. And as you say, they’ve put more into international aid and development (although people in the UK are surely wishing they’d put in as much effort at home!).

  19. The biggest question about the BNP, just as with any group that has extremist ideals, is what to do about it.

    If there are attempts to somehow ‘muzzle’ them then this can end up working in their favour by actually increasing their popularity. I tend to think that, given time and enough media air space, they will eventually peter out as a political force. This is what happened with Pauline Hansen a decade ago in Australia. She pedalled a similar brand of muck as the BNP leader.

    I just think that the novelty factor of a party like the BNP should wear off after a they have made their impact. They seem to be at the beginning of that impact at the moment and it could do a plenty of social damage and last for some years.

    My genuine concern is that the BNP could soon take the place of the Lib-Dems as the third biggest party in the UK. The Lib-Dems have continued to be completely uninspiring since Charles Kennedy finished as their leader and are likely to start to lose their vote share sharply.

    The best way to deal with the BNP is for people outside party politics to debate their policies, because their policies are rubbish. Freedom of speech (which is only somewhat ‘free’ in the UK) can work for the BNP but sane people have to make it work against them.

    Brett Hetherington

  20. @Ed, Agreed but the reason the BNP have become so popular is because many working class voters feel they’re not doing OK and they not comparing their lot to those in the third world otherwise they wouldn’t be so disgruntled.

    @Brett, Agree with that too except I’m not sure if giving them more air time will see their novelty wear off and peter out as a political force. If the mainstream parties fail to address the real social and economic problems that the BNP have capitalized on, I can only see them getting more popular unless the mainstream actually co-opt some of their policies.

  21. Of course. I have often noticed a hardening of people who come back from living in the developing world and on entering the UK they have little time for the ‘victim’ culture in the UK. Not my approach but hey.

  22. The BNP believes that British workres should have priority over foreigners.Not my personal opinion.I believe that meritocracy should determine the success of candidates.However,the BNP recognise that the definition of merit is often stretched by government employers so as to still give preferential treatment to foreigners.This said,there is no connection between positive discrimination and striking workforces.The postal strike relates to pay and conditions and not race relations.It appears that you are intentionally misinterpreting BNP policy to form a loaded question.Your reference to British workres is also invalid since a colossal amount of the postal service is staffed by foreigners.Foreigners who illegally chose not to distribute BNP flyers.I believe that if people aren’t content with pay and conditions in the Royal Mail or any other work environment then they should seek employment elsewhere.The unions,with unreasonable demands on hard pressed businesses have brought this country to its knees in the late 70s.Sensing a weak government now,they are resurgent.Here we go again!I believe most trade unions are headed by communists and self serving rabble rousers with a deep seated hatred for the educated and successful.Many of these unions actually destroying businesses and even complete industries with impossible demands,ultimately ousting their own members from their jobs.The postal workres should be grateful of employment in these times.They do not have my sympathy,being a postman is not a highly skilled job.Most of our modern postmen are scruffy,lazy louts that bin half our post.If they were the smartly uniformed professional postmen of 20 years ago then my attitude may have been different.

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