Griffin under fire: 'Send him to the South Pole. It's colourless there'

His arrival at Television Centre was met with protests. And there was no refuge for the BNP leader inside
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Indy Politics

The leader of the British National Party was greeted by hundreds of protesters outside the BBC's London headquarters and ridicule within it last night as audience members and his fellow panellists turned on him during his controversial appearance on Question Time.

Though Nick Griffin claimed he was able to "land a few punches" during his appearance on the hour-long programme last night, other panellists left believing he had damaged his campaign to broaden his party's appeal by refusing an opportunity to say he was not a Holocaust denier, attacking "creepy" homosexuality, and claiming that the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), was a predominantly non-violent organisation.

In a programme dominated by an examination of the views of the far-right party's leader, Mr Griffin claimed white Britons felt, "shut out in our own country", adding: "We are the aborigines here."

'The Ku Klux Klan is an almost totally non-violent organisation'

Mr Griffin was met with a mixture of hisses and claps as he took his seat on the panel, with David Dimbleby, the programme's presenter, telling the audience before recording began that it would, "not just be the Nick Griffin show". However, the far-right party's leader was confronted from the very first question, when he was challenged over the BNP's use of the image of Winston Churchill to promote the party.

Boos rang out from the audience as Mr Griffin turned on Labour's panellist, the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw. He said that while his father had served in the Second World War, Mr Straw's had been in prison for "refusing to fight Hitler". Mr Dimbleby also intervened early on, bringing up a picture showing Mr Griffin with a member of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke. Mr Griffin drew laughter from his fellow panellists and gasps from members after he described the KKK as an "almost totally non-violent" organisation.

He argued that he was not a Nazi supporter, claiming he was "the most loathed man in the eyes of British Nazis" because he had changed the BNP from being an anti-Semitic and racist party into the, "only political party that stood full square behind Israel". Responding to allegations that he had made racist and anti-Semitic remarks in the past, Mr Griffin said that the "vast majority" of quotations attributed to him were false. However, when he was asked whether he denied the Holocaust, he said he "did not have a conviction for Holocaust denial".

'The BBC is part of an unpleasant, ultra-leftist establishment'

Mr Griffin turned his fire on the gay community, arguing that he and others found the "sight of two grown men kissing in public really creepy". He added that "militant homosexuals" should not have the right to teach homosexuality to schoolchildren. "That is perverse," he said.

He also turned on the BBC at the end of the programme, saying he regarded it 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". Though he denied that he had thanked "Auntie" for the Question Time appearance, he said the BBC had "just done what it had to do".

'I cannot tell you why I said those things in the past'

Several attacks were made on Mr Griffin from the audience. One Asian member of the audience said that Mr Griffin should be sent to the South Pole, a "colourless landscape" he would enjoy. A young Jewish audience member also challenged him over his view of the Holocaust. "I cannot tell you why I said those things in the past, or why I have changed my mind," Mr Griffin said, arguing that European law prevented him from doing so.

Fellow panellists said that Mr Griffin's appearance would damage the BNP's popularity. The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said the BNP leader's credibility would be, "seriously damaged by his performance".

Baroness Warsi, the shadow communities minister, said Mr Griffin was "was very much exposed for the man that he is". Mr Straw finished the programme by saying it had been a "catastrophic week" for the BNP as their views had been properly scrutinised.

'They put us in London where the indigenous population is a minority'

Speaking after the recording, Mr Griffin complained that the audience had been hostile because the BBC had chosen to broadcast the show from London. "They put us on in London where the indigenous population is in the minority so we don't have much sympathy or support," he said. "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."

He said that he and fellow panellist Bonnie Greer, the black playwright, could have "talked all night" as she had not shared the "extraordinary hostility shown to me from the people representing the three old parties". He added: "There was a very different attitude from Bonnie Greer and we struck up a rapport."

Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, who had appealed to the BBC not to allow the BNP leader on the programme on legal grounds, warned last night that giving Mr Griffin airtime could lead to hostility to ethnic minorities. "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."

The BBC's deputy director general, Mark Byford, said that it had been "appropriate" to invite Mr Griffin. "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.

Mr Griffin, surrounded by minders, had to be smuggled into Television Centre through a back door to avoid protesters. Audience members confirmed that, while many had applied to attend the screening as long as a year ago, BBC staff had called recently to vet them. Potential attendees said they were asked about their political affiliations. However they denied being asked questions about their race or religion.