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Griffin: 'I am not a Nazi'

British National Party leader Nick Griffin tonight denied he was a Nazi as he made his controversial first appearance on the BBC's Question Time.

During the recording he claimed he was "loathed" by Nazis in Britain because of the direction he had taken the far-right party.

At one pointed he taunted Justice Secretary Jack Straw, saying his own father had served in the RAF during the Second World War while Mr Straw's father had been in prison for "refusing to fight Hitler".

Asked by presenter David Dimbleby if he had ever denied the Holocaust, he replied: "I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial."

He was attacked by a number of audience members, with one man branding his views as "disgusting" and accusing him of "poisoning politics".

Another man suggested derisively that he should be consigned to the South Pole where "the colourless landscape will suit you".

Mr Griffin claimed he had been "relentlessly attacked and demonised" in the days leading up to the programme.

"I am not a not Nazi and never have been," he said.

He defended his assertion that Winston Churchill would have been a BNP member if he was alive today and said the party had changed under his leadership.

"I am the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain's Nazis," he said.

"They loathe me because I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists."

Mr Straw however said that, like the Nazis, the BNP continued to define itself on the basis of race.

"It is that difference - the fact that the BNP defines itself on race - which distinguishes it from every other political party I can think of," he said.

Shadow communities minister Baroness Warsi said the majority of the audience had been "appalled" by Mr Griffin's views which had been "exposed" by his appearance on the programme.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne accused Mr Griffin of "playing the same old game" of "pedalling hatred and fear against a minority".

After the recording at Television Centre, White City, London, Mr Griffin said he was not surprised by the reaction his appearance caused.

"It was very much as expected," he told the Press Association. "It will polarise normal opinion. People who have always been against the BNP will say that I couldn't answer some things.

"But a huge swath of British people will remember some of the things I said and say to themselves they've never heard anyone on Question Time say that before and millions of people will think that man speaks what I feel.

"I think people will see the extraordinary hostility shown to me from the people representing the three old parties.

"It's still a matter of the main political parties being against the outsider and that is what it is about.

"I would say it was a hard fought match and I'm perfectly happy that I have done my best. I can see that millions of people who don't usually watch Question Time will remember what I've said and think that's how they feel and I'm perfectly happy with that."

Mr Griffin also said he expected he would appear on the show again.

"I would expect we will appear on Question Time again," he said.

"We are on the same political footing as the Greens and Ukip in terms of representation so they will have to have us on again and I hope that when they do they have us on in a part of the country that is one of our strongholds.

"They put us on in London where the indigenous population is in the minority so we don't have much sympathy or support.

"I would hope they put us on next time in an area where we have councillors elected or in my constituency where there will be a lot of sympathy amongst the audience."

Mr Griffin added that he and American-born writer Bonnie Greer could have "talked all night" and that she had treated him differently from the other panellists.

"There was a very different attitude from Bonnie Greer and we struck up a rapport."

Mr Griffin dismissed suggestions that he had been given "an early Christmas present" by the BBC.

"I regard the BBC as part of a thoroughly unpleasant, ultra-leftist establishment which, as we have seen here tonight, doesn't even want the English to be recognised as an existing people," he said.

"All the BBC have done is follow the rules they set some years ago. It would have been wrong to keep us off any longer."

Following the recording, Welsh Secretary Peter Hain - who had appealed to the BBC to drop Mr Griffin - strongly condemned the decision to go ahead with the programme.

"This BBC decision could end up blighting the lives of many decent people in Britain just because they are not white," he said.

"The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favour in its grubby history. That the BNP has publicly thanked the BBC says it all.

"Our black, Muslim and Jewish citizens will sleep much less easily now the BBC has legitimised the BNP by treating its racist poison as the views of just another mainstream political party when it is so uniquely evil and dangerous."

BBC deputy director general Mark Byford, however, insisted it had been "appropriate" invite Mr Griffin to appear.

"Members of the audience asked the kind of tough questions that mark Question Time out as the premier television programme where the public put the panellists on the spot," he said.

"We remain firmly of the view that it was appropriate to invite Nick Griffin on to the Question Time panel this evening in the context of the BBC meeting its obligation of due impartiality."

Baroness Warsi later told BBC News 24 Mr Griffin's "face of extremism" had been exposed by the programme.

"The problem was that he didn't really have many views to give, a lot of it was trying to slip out of what he has said in the past.

"This man's was very much exposed for the man that he is. When he was questioned on his views his face of extremism was exposed.

"He was given an opportunity to explain some of his policies and he couldn't."

Fellow panellist Mr Huhne said Mr Griffin's "credibility is going to be seriously damaged by his performance.

"It is the age old issue of attempting to build up support for a party by attacking a minority and I think we got that across.

"This is a person who comes from a fascist background, anyone who watches the programme will see exactly what he stands for."