Peter Hain is to make a formal complaint to the BBC Trust over the appearance of the British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, on BBC1's Question Time next week. This follows what insiders described as a "robust" meeting between the Secretary of State for Wales and the show's executive producer, Ric Bailey, during the Labour Party conference.
Mr Hain said yesterday: "I fundamentally disagree with the BBC's decision. I fully understand why colleagues feel they have to appear, but I certainly wouldn't appear with a racist, fascist representative – I think it gives them legitimacy."
But Peter Sissons, a former chairman of Question Time, attacked the Labour minister yesterday: "Instead of bleating to the BBC Trust, why doesn't the great campaigner offer to go on the programme and dismantle the BNP's policies himself?"
Separately, a recent broadcast in which two senior BNP activists were deemed to have been given an easy ride by Radio 1's Newsbeat programme has already attracted 100 complaints, says the Mail on Sunday. Mark Collett and Joseph Barber were introduced only as "Mark and Joey", and went on to claim that the England footballer Ashley Cole "was not ethnically British".
The location of the Question Time recording will be kept secret, due to security concerns, with audience members being screened in an attempt to weed out anti-fascist protesters and BNP supporters.
The broadcasting union Bectu, meanwhile, is threatening to strike if the BBC attempts to film the programme at Television Centre in London. "If they try to compel any of our members to work on the programme then, bluntly, there'll be trouble up to and including industrial action," said Luke Crawley, Bectu's assistant general secretary.
The controversy has provoked a bitter split among ministers, with Mr Hain joined by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, in his refusal to share a platform with the BNP, while Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has agreed to go on the show. The Tories and Liberal Democrats have yet to confirm who they will put up against Mr Griffin, who was convicted of inciting racial hatred in 1998.
Despite hundreds of complaints over its decision, the BBC shows no signs of backing down. A spokesman said: "We treat the BNP, as all legal parties, with due impartiality."
Forty-eight people were arrested yesterday after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in central Manchester in rival protests. Trouble flared as the English Defence League clashed with Unite Against Fascism.