Howard Jacobson: Nick Griffin looks as if he'd be light on his feet. So here's what to do with him

The BBC already deals with the BNP leader so it knows where to find him
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The following is by way of addressing a thorny problem – what should the British Broadcasting Corporation do about the British National Party and what should the British National Party do about the British Broadcasting Corporation. The BBC argues that as long as the BNP garners substantial votes it has a right to appear on Question Time. And the BNP argues that when its leader is invited on to Question Time he is lynch-mobbed. Whatever happens in the future, there will be no pleasing the British public, some of whom will never stomach the idea of Nick Griffin being allowed to express his views on the BBC, while others will continue to argue that after his party's success in the European elections he is as entitled as the next politician to do his thing. After long consideration, I believe I have a solution to the impasse.

Invite him to take part in Strictly Come Dancing.

Allow me to explain how this would be of benefit to both parties, and ultimately to the country. Nick Griffin, first. It goes without saying that he is unhappy. Who ever yet met a happy racist? Not only is the language of racial exclusion in a general way bad for you – bad for the heart which thrives on love, bad for the soul which shrivels in proximity to malignity and gall – it leaves you friendless, if you discount your own party, and you must discount your own party because where's the relief in mixing with people whose souls are as shrivelled as your own?

This loneliness was apparent on Question Time when, after Bonnie Greer teased him about the quality of his university degree, he blushed like a schoolboy and turned to her in an expectant spirit of merry banter – of which, of course, he won't have had much experience in the BNP. Reader, his crestfallen expression when she refused his proffered hand of friendship – white supremacist ideologue to liberal black writer – was such as would make the stoniest hearted weep.

Clear it all was at that moment, anyway, clear for all to see: the isolation and social gaucherie that had driven Griffin to seek out the stunted fellowship of other introverts and join the National Front at the age of 15. Five or so years later, pursuing a not entirely dissimilar logic, he was a student at Downing College, Cambridge, my own alma mater, as I have already mentioned in this column.

Why I find it necessary, every time Griffin's name crops up, to confess that he and I went to the same college I leave others to investigate. Perhaps I too am looking for a friend. It's not impossible he mentions me whenever talk turns to Downing College at BNP branch meetings and he wishes aloud that we'd been contemporaries. Maybe he would have liked me to teach him some handy Yiddish expressions – "You're a shlemiel, Nick!", for example – in return for listening to him hold forth on the subject of pigmentation.

It's hard to imagine Griffin at Cambridge. I don't remember any member of a fascist party in the university in my day, though I am of an earlier intake. Could be that fascism as a discrete ideology wasn't necessary in an institution that was already just the tiniest bit unwelcoming to people of the wrong social or ethnic persuasion?

Writing about the obstacles put in the way of the scientist Rosalind Franklin, the American academic Mary Wyer notes that elite educational institutions could be difficult places "for Jewish men and women to study and to work at" in the immediate post-war years. I'm not saying it was still tryingly difficult for me in the 1960s, but there were residual suspicions you could smell on older academics, particularly medievalists who revered Thor and Odin and hadn't forgotten what the Jews had done to Hugh of Lincoln in the 12th century.

By Griffin's time, most of this would have vanished and it was more likely to have been he, as a paid-up member of the National Front, who met with hostility. Did he intend his views on racial purity to be known, I wonder. Was he seeking notoriety? Who were his acquaintances at Cambridge? Which tutors befriended him? My moral tutor invited me to his rooms at the beginning of every term, called me Finklebaum or Horowitz, and asked what I'd been up to in the vacation. Had I said I was a member of the National Front and was keeping busy, thank you, he would not have registered emotion. "Excellent, excellent, Fishbein," I hear him saying. "Do come to me with any problems." So what would Griffin have encountered?

My own guess is that by going to Cambridge as a National Fronter, Griffin was looking to surprise and interest people. It's possible he chose Downing in a fit of faint-heartedness, since Downing, as a college closer to the railway station than to King's Parade, has always been a bit out of things – like him. What is more, the Downing College crest is a griffin rampant. Could a man called Griffin have accidentally attended a college whose coat of arms was a griffin? Reader, I think not.

Griffin attended Griffin College, in my view, in order that people would make the connection, express surprise, and invite him to their rooms for sherry, where he would discourse to them on heraldry and such other aspects of white English culture with which he was conversant. Though nobody, I suspect, until me, ever did make the connection.

Sad? I'll say it's sad. So why not welcome him back into society? Make a fuss of the man not the politician. Put him to music. He looks as though he'd be light on his feet. We have seen how he covets the friendship of a black woman; I'd guess he hankers no less for the companionship of a gay dance judge. He could even win. And then, robbed of its gravitas, where would the BNP be? They might have to relinquish the Lambeth Walk at party conferences and take up the bossa nova.

As for the BBC, it has nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing as I suggest. It already deals with Griffin so it knows where to find him. It would honour its obligation to give airtime to any rabble rouser who can successfully rouse a rabble, and this without doctoring the audience which, for Strictly Come Dancing, will cheer anything. Above all it would meet BBC Entertainment's most vaunted ambition, which is to be edgy. Then go for it, I say. Next time, Dawkins singing his favourite hymns on Songs of Praise. And a suicide bomber introducing the Lottery.