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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.