Leading article: The perils of gagging Griffin

Monday 07 September 2009 00:00
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Reports that the BBC is considering allowing the BNP leader Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time have drawn predictable expressions of dismay. It is hard to see how this matter will end. Were the torchbearer for Britain's far right actually to appear on the show, the result might well be uproar in the audience and walkouts on the part of some members of the panel. Mr Griffin would, of course, be delighted to be at the centre of such firework displays. Enraging the liberal bourgeoisie is all part of his act.

But however frustrating it might be to contemplate the BNP chief appearing on a flagship programme and savouring what he would deem a propaganda victory, the BBC's decision is a sensible one.

A mature democracy has nothing to fear from the BNP and little to gain from trying to shield voters from its simplistic, repugnant ideas. To pretend that the party does not exist by denying it a public platform is a questionable tactic in any case. It only feeds the paranoia felt in some quarters that a liberal establishment is conspiring to shut down debate.

Bans and boycotts are wrong in principle. It is almost impossible to reconcile them with the democratic values that we rightly cherish. Besides, if representatives of the far right are excluded from our screens and airwaves it begs the question of why other extremists are not.

Keeping the BNP in a form of media quarantine has also helped create an undeserved mystique about the party's true strength. In reality, for all the talk of the BNP becoming a serious force, its prospects are poor. The party can only look with envy on the relative success of far-right parties in France, Italy, Austria and elsewhere. It is true that the BNP enjoyed some success in the last European elections, but it has never won a seat in Parliament or ever even controlled a local council. It remains a fringe party that attracts a disproportionate amount of attention through the artful management of "rows".

We should deny Mr Griffin the opportunity he craves to be at the centre of another furore and let him appear on Question Time. We should be confident that the more the BNP is exposed to daylight, the less attractive it will prove to be.

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