BBC "liberals" love the BNP

What was that about left-wing bias again?

I don't want to say I told you so but . . . er . . . I told you so.

The BBC's decision to invite the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, on to Question Time next month is, in my humble view, the final nail in the coffin of the ludicrous right-wing argument that the corporation has a liberal or left-wing slant. How many bona fide liberals do you know who go out of their way to be hospitable to the BNP? How many dyed-in-the-wool leftists do you know who force Labour to rethink its policy of not sharing a platform with far-right extremists?

In fact, there are those on the centre left who believe this move by the Beeb will further legitimise the BNP's neo-fascist views -- in a confirmation of Godwin's Law, the Labour MP John Mann, chair of the all-party anti-Semitism group, said: "This is how Hitler came to power."

As it happens, I think Labour should now reconsider its policy. The genie is out of the bottle and Griffin and his odious ilk have already appeared on too many serious television and radio programmes and been treated, absurdly, as if they were ordinary politicians. (The BNP is not an ordinary political party. I despair at the number of media commentators who pretend that it is, simply because of the share they get of the national vote. I mean, how many ordinary political parties do you know that happily welcome criminals, thugs and racists to their ranks?)

I also worry that Question Time will provide the perfect populist platform from which Griffin can spew his vile, racist and bigoted views -- unless he is challenged by articulate and passionate "big beasts" from the three main political parties. It is a shame, therefore, that the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has already refused to appear on the same programme as Griffin, for fear of lending him greater legitimacy.

Then there is the specific issue of Islam. For Griffin and the BNP, blacks and Jews are no longer the real enemies: Muslims are. In a recent Channel 4 News interview, Griffin described Islam as a "cancer" that should be removed from Europe by "chemotherapy".

I wonder, which British Muslim will QT be booking to appear with the BNP leader? Or will they allow his Islamophobic bile to go unchecked and unchallenged by its main victims? If they're struggling to come up with someone, I've checked my diary and I think I'm pretty much free every Thursday night in October. I look forward to the call from the Question Time producers at the independent production company Mentorn.

Oh, and to read an insider view of this whole affair from my colleague James Macintyre -- who worked as a producer on Question Time until 2007 and has strong views on the BNP -- you'll have to buy a copy of this week's magazine (on newsstands on Thursday).

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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I'm a Remain voter who feels optimistic about Brexit - here's why

Take back control is more than just a slogan. 

Most politics geeks have found themselves deliciously sucked into a soap opera over the last few days. It’s fast-paced, personality-based and ripe for speculation. But underneath it all, the deeper, harder questions remain – what does Brexit look like, and how can we make it work?

When news of Leave’s victory broke in the early hours of Friday morning (is it possible that was just a week ago?) I felt like the only Remain voter who had some kind of optimism. Fellow Remainers still reeling from the result berate me for it, but I continue to find two reasons for hope.

First, leaving gives us a chance to build a different type of economy. I don’t wish to belittle the recent economic fallout, but with the right leadership and negotiations, we could use this moment to push for an increase in trade with the Commonwealth and beyond. A fall in the pound will disappoint many, but it could help with a much needed rebalancing of our economy, moving from one predominantly based on financial services in London to manufacturing across the regions. 

Second – and perhaps more importantly – leaving is a chance to rebuild our politics. For too long, millions of people in this country have felt ignored or exploited by those who call themselves democratic leaders. In protest, they have left mainstream parties to join UKIP or the hordes of non-voters. In winning this referendum, they have finally been listened to. Perhaps the pressure cooker of discontent can finally be taken off the boil. Perhaps parties can use this result as a chance to rebuild trust and shake up some of our other institutions that are badly in need of reform. 

This point was really brought home to me by a student in the school where I teach. The morning of the referendum she told me that she didn’t think we’d leave the EU, even if the people voted for it. Her friends agreed, saying it was “weird you have to vote in pencil”. They were scared the people’s voice could so easily be rubbed out. When I saw her the next day, a small part of me was relieved that these students had seen that people can genuinely trump the establishment. 

If you’re not convinced, just imagine the backlash if Remain had won by a point or two. We almost certainly would then have voted in an extremely right-wing government, much the same way that the SNP saw a boost after they lost the independence referendum last year. 

Of course, a positive path for Brexit is far from guaranteed. Any leader that goes back on the vote, or tries to fudge it by saying that open borders are a price worth paying, is going to do worse than plummet in the polls - they are going to undermine our entire democracy. And a whole generation’s trust in politicians is already dangerously low.

But this doesn’t have to be a moment for the right. Good leaders understand that Leave’s “take back control” message was about a genuine concern with our borders. Great leaders will acknowledge that it also reflected a deeper concern about the need for agency. They understand the vote was a rejection of a neoliberal approach to the economy that fails to make space for well-paid work, family and community.

The public voted for decreased pressure on public services and a Britain that would negotiate as hard in India as it would in Germany for trade deals. They voted to end a perceived overcentralisation of power by elites, and create a more democratic Britain that gives more dignity to its people. I might not have believed that leaving the EU was the best way to achieve these things, but I’m on the left because I believe we are best placed to make these desires real.  

The vote to Leave or Remain was a binary decision. But Brexit is not. What type of path we take now depends entirely on the direction we choose, and the perseverance we show along the way.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham