So the appearance of the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, on the BBC's Question Time has come and gone. What has it left behind, aside from several hundred frustrated protesters who failed to stop it from happening and Mr Griffin's complaint to the BBC that he faced a "lynch mob"?
There was, rightly, much argument about whether the BBC should have invited Mr Griffin to participate. Like it or not, however – and we dislike it intensely – the British National Party is a legal entity; it puts up candidates for election. It now has two legitimately elected MEPs.
In these circumstances, it would have been wrong for the BBC to treat the BNP differently from other minority parties, whose leaders and elected representatives appear routinely on the whole panoply of political programmes. To have excluded them from Question Time any longer would have fuelled the claims of the BNP and its supporters that, although they play by the rules of the constitutional game, the BBC and the political establishment do not. It would have compounded the BNP's sense of victimhood.
That said, it was probably inevitable – while patently undesirable – that the programme turned into a Question Time like no other. Not only was there a throng of protesters outside – probably more numerous and rowdy than the BBC and the police had bargained for – but the composition of the panel and studio audience was tailored to the BNP leader's participation.
And when Mr Griffin complained about having to face a "lynch mob" and being "howled down" by the audience, regrettably, he had a point. There was a hectoring and bullying aspect to the show that pitted the other four guests, and the majority of the audience, against him. That might be a fairly accurate representation of British opinion in relation to the BNP, but it is not what happens when other minority parties, such as the Greens or UKIP, are on the panel. Nor, when, say, UKIP appears is three-quarters of the time devoted to Europe. Mr Griffin and the BNP dominated the proceedings.
For anyone tempted to support the BNP, Mr Griffin's poor response to pressure might make them think again. As a politician, he was not canny enough to turn his position to his advantage; he could not deploy wit in his defence, nor did he have the confidence to protest to David Dimbleby – as he could have done – that he had come to talk about policies, not take a beating. But the way in which he was pilloried may have inspired more sympathy than he or the BNP deserve.
When the hour was up, viewers might have learnt something about Mr Griffin's strengths and, mostly, weaknesses, but they would not have been much clearer about the party's policies. That was a failure of the programme and why, not without misgivings, we say that the BNP needs to become a regular feature of political discussions. It is not hectoring or mystique, but familiarity that breeds contempt.Reuse content