Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, yesterday responded to criticism of his performance of on BBC's Question Time by insisting he had faced a "lynch mob" and will complain to the Corporation over his treatment.
The far-right politician, who used his appearance on BBC1's flagship debating programme to insist that gays embracing in public was "creepy" and Winston Churchill would join his party if alive today, claimed the format of Question Time had been "twisted" to ensure it was focused almost entirely on him.
Speaking at a press conference following an appearance on prime-time television that drew a crowd of about 500 anti-fascist protesters to BBC Television Centre in west London, Mr Griffin also claimed that the programme should not have been held in the capital because it was "no longer British".
The BBC was under growing pressure to defend the decision to invite the BNP leader, after a YouGov poll released last night suggested that more than a fifth of voters would "seriously consider" voting for the party in wake of the broadcast. The poll, based on a sample of 1,314 electors across Britain, included 43 per cent who said they shared some of its concerns but had no sympathy for the party itself.
The BNP secured 6.2 per cent of the vote in June's European Parliament ballot – its best ever showing in a national election. The latest poll suggests that there is substantial potential for Mr Griffin to extend his party's reach.
Thursday night's Question Time was viewed by more than eight million viewers – around three times the normal audience. The BBC said it had received around 350 complaints, of which 240 alleged bias against Mr Griffin. During the hour-long programme, Mr Griffin faced repeated questioning about his previous remarks denying the Holocaust and describing Islam as a "wicked and vicious" faith. During hostile exchanges with fellow panellists and audience members, the anti-immigrant MEP was jeered as he claimed that Islam was incompatible with being British and that David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was "almost totally non-violent".
Mr Griffin, who at times looked uncomfortable with the intensity of the questioning, said he had not been allowed to offer his opinion on broader issues and that he would be making a formal complaint to the BBC.
He said: "The British public are aghast at the display of bias from the BBC, the venom from the political class, and the sheer unfairness. That was not a genuine Question Time, that was lynch mob.
"People wanted to hear me talking about things such as the postal strike. One or two questions about what a wicked man I am, fair enough, but the whole programme – it was absurd."
The BNP leader demanded a second chance to appear on Question Time to address a wider range of issues. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who was on the panel, said Mr Griffin's performance on the programme had been "catastrophic" but the BNP yesterday claimed that 3,000 people had registered to join the party during and after the broadcast.
The far-right party, which was offered a place on Question Time after the BBC said the BNP's success in the European elections meant its duty to impartiality obliged it to issue an invitation, also claimed that the audience was not representative of the British population as a whole.
Mr Griffin said: "That audience was taken from a city that is no longer British. That was not my country any more. Do it somewhere where there are still significant numbers of English and British people and they haven't been ethnically cleansed from their own country."
The decision to invite Mr Griffin, which sparked violent clashes between anti-fascist protesters and police prior to Thursday evening's recording, continued to split political opinion yesterday. Peter Hain, the Welsh Secretary, said of the latest poll results: "The BBC has handed the BNP the gift of the century on a plate and now we see the consequences."
The BBC dismissed the BNP's leader's complaints of bias, saying the audience level reflected the level of public interest in seeing politicians being scrutinised by voters. As well as receiving 240 complaints in favour of Mr Griffin, a further 100 were received saying he should not have been invited. More than 50 people contacted the Corporation to comment positively on the programme. The only question that did not relate directly to the BNP was about a newspaper article following the death of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately.
A BBC spokesman said: "The questions always come from the audience. The programme is topical and it is normal for it to reflect topics that are in the news in the week."