Nick the Prick

Oh, the hilarity. The frappuccino-drinking classes have whipped themselves up into a froth over the appearance of a fool on the BBC’s Question Time programme – Jason Walsh

It was great to see Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, appear on Question Time a few evenings back. I rarely watch the show, usually having drifted off to sleep by the time its slot is filled. What prompted me to stay up in front of the TV on this particular evening, albeit having drifted off earlier on the settee during the long losing battle against heavy eye lids, was the publicity given to Griffin’s appearance by mobs of censors trying to stop him speaking. Had they not highlighted his upcoming appearance I, presumably like thousands of others, would not have known about it. In Belfast the thought police had gathered at the BBC’s Ormeau Avenue HQ pitted against a much smaller group of racist backers of the BNP. In different times I had found myself outside the same building, probably with some of the same people from the larger of the two contingents, protesting against freedom of expression being suppressed. So it was with some bemusement that I observed a crowd gather to demand the immediate introduction of censorship.

Other images which served as a money-couldn’t-buy promotion for the Griffin appearance were broadcast from the West London station which was hosting the Question Time panel discussion. A bespectacled woman being dragged across the floor, realising the cameras were on her, found the composure to scream ‘shame’ at the BBC. She certainly does not do irony. Spurred on by her own authoritarian disposition she awarded herself the right to decide for the rest of us what views we will or will not listen to while incongruously screaming ‘fascist’ at everybody else.

That the censors marched against the public’s right to hear, view and make up their own minds was not entirely self-defeating. True, there was little in the way of strategic intellect employed or objectives fulfilled. They sought the BNP leader censored; they failed but by their antics ultimately ensured Griffin got a much larger audience than he would have sans the promotional protests. But in guaranteeing the former Cambridge boxing blue such a large audience the actions of the censorship lobby, despite their best efforts, inadvertently exposed Griffin as a clown to a much wider section of the British electorate.

Which provides justification for the BBC having let Nick Griffin have his say and the public to make their response without being told how to think by some dictator of the proletariat. Stung by criticism that the corporation handled the matter badly it is justification the BBC wants. It did not seek a debate but a mauling match in which the sharpest teeth belonged to the Question Time panel chair. However Griffin performed, good or bad, the BBC was justified in letting him on. It did not have to seek validation in his miserable outing, a timorous, populist and unprincipled way of approaching the matter. Validation lies in opting not to muzzle a significant number of people who make up the British electorate. That he performed so badly should be neither here nor there to the BBC.

According to Nick Griffin his participation was to have been a ‘milestone in the indomitable march of the British National Party towards saving our country.’ He was certainly not referring to saving the country from comedy. His performance was a joke. His delivery was uninspiring; a pathetic man representing a pathetic cause. He wasn’t even an empty suit, just a thug in a suit. The tide of censorship went out and without it as cover Nick Griffin was shown to be stark naked. A BNP supporter most certainly understated the case when he said, ‘it was quite a bad performance by Griffin in comparison to his other TV appearances ... he did seem overawed by the occasion and was not, for the most part, at his best.’

Britain's first black British woman MP, Diane Abbott, long presumably on Griffin’s repatriation list, objected to his appearance on the grounds that it was ‘wrong and offensive ... what it does is it sanitises them, that's what it does, that's why it's wrong.’ But it did anything but sanitise them. It made the party appear dirty and uncouth, its leader odious and oleaginous. The projection of the Griffin persona onto the vision panel of the viewing public produced a character worthy of a BNP punch cartoon; a knuckle walker who would not appear out of place grooming and picking nits from the head of Mark Collett. No longer do we need political cartoonists to caricature the BNP. Nick Griffin did it all on his own.

The veils of censorship that long allowed a mystique to envelop both he and his party have been stripped away and now his banality is there for all to see. And as Hannah Arendt reminded us with her great phrase 'the banality of evil', the banal side of his character makes him no less malevolent. He grinned a lot and tried to come over as a ‘hail fellow well met’ type of guy, opting for a bit of unreciprocated backslapping with Bonnie Greer. But his virulence is both matched and negated by his vacuity. His grinning made him look like the human equivalent of a laughing hyena or a leering jackal ever ready to pounce and scavenge on human despair and prejudice. Overall, despite his laughing, he was more laughed at.

Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time was a double victory; against the censors who sought to vanish him, and over the BNP whose claim to even a modicum of intellectual gravitas was shown to be fictitious by its leader’s inept performance.


  1. Mmmm, the BBC being impartial, now there's a novel idea, not completely sure what lay behind this, although I can make a good guess. Whatever lay behind it, the BBC would not have done it without a nod from the big house.

    Although I agree, it was a sight to behold to see people who have either spent their lives on the wrong end of censorship, or at the very least opposing it, to suddenly demand the State sensors Griffin.

  2. Mick, I don't think it was impartial. Its partiality was evident in the way the presenter defended the consensus and moved against what lay outside of it. The BBC is embedded in the structure of the consensus and helps to reproduce it. On Question Time it ruled certain perspectives in and others out. Those it ruled in there was no interrogation of. Listening to Griffin on the Iraq war you would expect from impartiality that Straw would have had his feet held to the fire.

  3. Whatever your perspectives may be on the US, its political system and indeed its politics, it does have a constitutionally enshrined right to free speech in the first amendment:

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Makes you wonder if the south had had such a constitutional protection how different the reporting of the conflict may have been and ditto for the British with their bizarre concept of the unwritten constitution.

    Griffin's appearance is very much a YouTube classic for its comedic content and yes, being able to see, hear and dissect the message and the messenger is a far greater service to a people than censorship could ever be - after all censorship relies on the notion that some people have a far superior idea of what you should see and hear than you do which is a pretty good definition of fascism.

  4. ‘Anti Racism’ has always been a rallying call for fringe left parties in the UK. It produces a turnout and a hysteria unavailable to other causes like climate change for instance. The fringe left and fringe right have been battling it out on the streets of Britain for decades to no real effect other than excitement and satisfaction for the participants themselves and a couple of pointless fatalities.

    Question Time is fairly predictable week after week and draws its panel from a small pool of politicos and BBC approved cultural commentators. Perhaps it is the breeching of this clique by Griffin’s presence that upsets people like Diane Abbot as much as Griffin’s views.

    Surely the BBC could have found a less tainted character than Jack Straw to put on the panel that night. This is the man who let Pinochet get away and is slowly eroding civil liberties in Britain, not that the chattering classes have noticed (since it hasn’t reached the view from their drawing room windows yet) He is even accused by a former British ambassador is being complicit in torture. To me he is even more repulsive than Griffin.

  5. Hilarious, lol. Pretty much a human form of bear bating. A mockery to us all, the bnp and the whole lot of this circus should be ignored. There are much more pressing issues at hand..

  6. I believe the only way to defeat the growth of the BNP in England is to expose them for what they are and secondly to address the issues that lead amy white working class people to vote for them.

    I agree Griffen looked a fool n Newsnight, but then i think he looks a fool all the time. However, i feel the total lack of balance on the show may lead others to claim he was treated unfairly and feel he was not allowed to express his overall views.

    It is partaly because certain people feel they are not allowed to discus issues such as immigration etc that they vote BNP.

    The way to defeat teh BNP is to discuss the issues with them, expose there arguments and also to tackle the issues around deprevation/alienation etc that are leading people to vote BNP

  7. Starry Plough

    'It is partially because certain people feel they are not allowed to discuss issues such as immigration etc that they vote BNP.'

    I think this takes the bull by the horns. Even here we see a lot of resentment generated by the issue of immigration or government strategies for its application in practice. It is all too easily dismissed as racism and then festers and finds an outlet in nefarious groups or activities.

    People should be able to discuss their concerns without some chancer labelling them a racist.

  8. I watched the show lastnight on BBC IPlayer. Great invention. I agree that we shouldn't be censoring the likes of the BNP from public platforms. They should be let speak, and challenged.

    That said, let's say he didn't come across as a fool, let's say he was the opposite, and was quite a charismatic and attractive fellah, I wonder what people would think? The fact that he looks like that big bulldog in the Tom and Jerry cartoons probably put him on the back foot in the popularity stakes to start with. But I'm sure the BNP will at some point produce something a bit more dangerously seductive. Even then, I think they should be allowed to speak, and challenged.

    While he didn't come across very well at all, at the same time there was a patronising tone about some of his rivals on the panel... or was that just my imagination? I found Bonnie Greer sitting with her back to him, very condescending at times. Might just be me. Jack Straw got off to a strong start, and I found myself agreeing with him... but then piled it on a bit too thick.

    Some of the best questions and challenges came from ordinary people on the floor, I thought. More practical and down to earth, and less condescending... eg 'where do you want me to go to, Nick?' or 'can you not see what we have contributed to British society, rather than always looking at us in a negative light?' Simple, effective, everyday questions.

  9. Saw Scargill last night talking in Dublin. Plenty of good old time stories etc, but on the subject of immigration he was very interesting. he attacked the left for being afraid of the issue and said it needed to be addressed. He argued it needed to be broken down into three parts. Asylum seekers, immigrants and economic migrants.

    His main problem was with the impact of free mobility of labour as outlined within the EU. He argued this served the interests of the capitalist class and was a direct attack on workers within a country. He said mass immigration ofthis type was bound to cause social strife of various discriptions.

    I myself am unsure how i feel on this subject. Given the experiences of the Irish people and my own family etc it has always been an area whereby those who move to a new country should always be supported.

    However, it is also clear that in the short term such patterns of migration help the ruling class by depressing local wages and reducing union power.

    This to me is an area I feel much more honest and open debate amongst those on hte left if the rise of far right groups is to be avoided.

  10. Seán Mór, I was touching on this very point in the piece when I said the BBC were right to put him on regardless of how he performed rather than seek justification in the fact that he was hopeless. I think you are right in suggesting that had he the panache of someone like Jorg Haider the response might have been very different and more people would be clamouring to have him banned

  11. Starry Plough, as always something to think about here. I think your nuanced approach to these matters is something that should be emulated. The notion that we should empower with a veto those who scream 'racist' the loudest is anathema to progressive thinking.

  12. case of civil disobedience severely backfiring on the protesters