Bonnie Greer versus the BNP

Has the BBC made a(nother) mistake?

The BBC has confirmed that the black playwright Bonnie Greer will be a panellist on its Question Time programme this month featuring the BNP leader Nick Griffin. She joins a middle-aged, middle-class, white, male trio from the three main parties: Jack Straw (Labour), Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrat) and a Conservative politician whose name has not yet been confirmed, though rumour has it that this will be Michael Gove.

But is Greer -- feisty, articulate and intelligent as she may be -- the right "person of colour" to take on Griffin? Remember, she is an American who migrated to this country in 1986 and only became a British citizen in 1997. In the eyes of the BNP leader and his odious ilk, she is a foreigner, an immigrant, alien to "indigenous" British culture, tradition and values. Griffin will probably try to dismiss her views on race as those formed from a particular American experience (slavery, civil rights, melting pot, Obama, etc). Much better, I believe, to have had Liberty's doughty director, the British-born Asian lawyer and QT regular Shami Chakrabarti, who was, I believe, also in the running. Or any of the various ethnic-minority politicians I suggested in an earlier post -- David Lammy, Sadiq Khan, Sayeeda Warsi, or even Respect's Muslim vice-chair, Salma Yaqoob. (I note that the principal victims of Griffin's hatred and ire -- Muslims -- will be left unrepresented on the QT panel. One can only hope and pray that the audience will compensate.)

So will Greer's Chicago background count against her? It's important to remember that the Radio 1/BNP story -- given legs again over the weekend by the Mail on Sunday (which hilariously referred to a "Mail on Sunday investigation" that supposedly uncovered the identities of the two BNP activists, Mark Collett and Joey Smith, even though they had been unmasked by anti-fascist campaigners several days earlier) -- revolved around the ridiculously inaccurate comments made about the footballer Ashley Cole "coming to this country" from abroad. Cole, of course, was born in London. Greer will have no such defence against the BNP's crude but superficially effective attacks.

Has the BBC not thought this through?

Writing in yesterday's Guardian, Peter Hain condemned the "corporation's shaky handling of reporting the BNP". The Welsh Secretary, who refuses to share a platform with the BNP, including Question Time, described the BBC as "clueless" and homed in on another big problem with the Radio 1 interview:

If the content were not distasteful enough -- descriptions of the London-born England footballer Ashley Cole as "not ethnically British" and "coming to this country" passed without proper challenge -- even more worrying is the revelation that these members, still introduced simply as Joey and Mark on the BBC website, are key members of the BNP hierarchy. One, Mark Collett, is the BNP's director of publicity. Would the BBC allow any other party's spin doctors to appear anonymously? The interview was in clear breach of basic journalistic practice, and of official BBC and National Union of Journalist guidelines.

The corporation has yet to explain the reason for granting the duo anonymity. Ric Bailey, the BBC's chief political adviser, failed to offer an adequate defence in his debate with me on Radio 4's Media Show last week -- perhaps because it is indeed indefensible. As Anindya Bhattachayya, a spokesman for Unite Against Fascism, has pointed out:

Not only did the BBC not challenge him on that, they colluded in covering up who he was. They said "Mark, 28", when they knew full well who he was. It's like doing an interview with Labour supporters "Gordon and Harriet".

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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In your 30s? You missed out on £26,000 and you're not even protesting

The 1980s kids seem resigned to their fate - for now. 

Imagine you’re in your thirties, and you’re renting in a shared house, on roughly the same pay you earned five years ago. Now imagine you have a friend, also in their thirties. This friend owns their own home, gets pay rises every year and has a more generous pension to beat. In fact, they are twice as rich as you. 

When you try to talk about how worried you are about your financial situation, the friend shrugs and says: “I was in that situation too.”

Un-friend, right? But this is, in fact, reality. A study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that Brits in their early thirties have a median wealth of £27,000. But ten years ago, a thirty something had £53,000. In other words, that unbearable friend is just someone exactly the same as you, who is now in their forties. 

Not only do Brits born in the early 1980s have half the wealth they would have had if they were born in the 1970s, but they are the first generation to be in this position since World War II.  According to the IFS study, each cohort has got progressively richer. But then, just as the 1980s kids were reaching adulthood, a couple of things happened at once.

House prices raced ahead of wages. Employers made pensions less generous. And, at the crucial point that the 1980s kids were finding their feet in the jobs market, the recession struck. The 1980s kids didn’t manage to buy homes in time to take advantage of low mortgage rates. Instead, they are stuck paying increasing amounts of rent. 

If the wealth distribution between someone in their 30s and someone in their 40s is stark, this is only the starting point in intergenerational inequality. The IFS expects pensioners’ incomes to race ahead of workers in the coming decade. 

So why, given this unprecedented reversal in fortunes, are Brits in their early thirties not marching in the streets? Why are they not burning tyres outside the Treasury while shouting: “Give us out £26k back?” 

The obvious fact that no one is going to be protesting their granny’s good fortune aside, it seems one reason for the 1980s kids’ resignation is they are still in denial. One thirty something wrote to The Staggers that the idea of being able to buy a house had become too abstract to worry about. Instead:

“You just try and get through this month and then worry about next month, which is probably self-defeating, but I think it's quite tough to get in the mindset that you're going to put something by so maybe in 10 years you can buy a shoebox a two-hour train ride from where you actually want to be.”

Another reflected that “people keep saying ‘something will turn up’”.

The Staggers turned to our resident thirty something, Yo Zushi, for his thoughts. He agreed with the IFS analysis that the recession mattered:

"We were spoiled by an artificially inflated balloon of cheap credit and growing up was something you did… later. Then the crash came in 2007-2008, and it became something we couldn’t afford to do. 

I would have got round to becoming comfortably off, I tell myself, had I been given another ten years of amoral capitalist boom to do so. Many of those who were born in the early 1970s drifted along, took a nap and woke up in possession of a house, all mod cons and a decent-paying job. But we slightly younger Gen X-ers followed in their slipstream and somehow fell off the edge. Oh well. "

Will the inertia of the1980s kids last? Perhaps – but Zushi sees in the support for Jeremy Corbyn, a swell of feeling at last. “Our lack of access to the life we were promised in our teens has woken many of us up to why things suck. That’s a good thing. 

“And now we have Corbyn to help sort it all out. That’s not meant sarcastically – I really think he’ll do it.”