Liveblogging Question Time

Join me from 10.35pm for minute-by-minute commentary

10.35 It hasn't started yet. Black weatherman on the box. How ironic. Does Griffin really believe he can turn the clock back on multiracial Britain?

10.36 Here we go. Nervous?

10.37 Boo. Hiss. Look at him smirking. Sitting next to Bonnie Greer.

10.37 This is the question that many of us have already watched in the clips released to the news. Straw is right to make it immediately about race: "a party and an ideology based on race, just like another party represented here today", etc. Good "moral compass" line from Straw. The BNP, as I have always said, can only be defeated by politicians who understand the importance of passion and emotion. Oh, and facts: nice to remind the audience at home and in the studio of the non-white contribution to winning the First and Second World Wars.

10.41 Poor kid with the random irrelevant first question on EU trade. He's not from Ukip, mate, he's from the BNP! Great follow-up from the articulate, bespectacled black guy in the front row who we saw earlier on the news. Will he be on the front of the Mail or the Mirror tomorrow? "Completely disgusting" -- hear hear!

10.42 "Why are you smiling? It's not a particularly amusing issue." Great line from David Dimbleby (DD).

10.43 "Islam, we'll come to it later"? Cryptic DD.

10.45 Great reference by Baroness Warsi to the BNP press officer Mark Collett's language on Churchill. Remember Collett? "Mark" from Radio 1? The man who was recorded on Channel 4 praising Hitler a few years ago?

10.47 "You laugh. If I was a BNP member I'd be scared." Good line from Bonnie. I may have to take it all back . . .

10.48 The Enoch Powell audience member has a point. Chris Huhne is picking up on it.

10.49 Huhne has done his research.

10.50 Griffin says he took the BNP from being anti-Semitic "to being the only political party . . . stood full square behind Israel's right to deal with Hamas terrorists". Interesting claim from Griffin. I've said it before and I say it again -- does backing Israel inoculate you from the charge of anti-Semitism? It's the Stephen Pollard/Michal Kaminski/Nick Griffin line of argument. Strange, eh?

10.53 Jack Straw's brought quotes, too. Has any group of QT panellists ever done so much research before a show, I wonder?

10.54 "We'll come to that," says DD. Stop teasing us, David!

10.55 "I cannot explain why" I used to be a Holocaust denier?!?!

10.56 I have just clapped for the first time. Great line from Straw: "I am the justice minister."

10.57. Sadly, not THE "Tariq Ali" in the audience. But good question. Important issue. Let's go.

10.58 Here he goes, inciting hatred with lies about Islam. He has never read the Quran. He claims to love the Jews now, but hates the so-called "new Jews", the Muslims. He's done the Iraq line as I knew he would. Funny to hear him talk about women's rights and rape when one of his party colleagues, Nick Erikson, has claimed that women "enjoy" sex and therefore rape isn't a bad thing. He's a nasty bigot.

10.59 "What is your policy on Islam?" asks DD. Come on, Dave, get tougher on Nick!

11.00 Baroness Warsi getting to the point: "Mr Griffin is a deceptive man . . . demonising Islam . . ."

11.02 I know this (Asian) guy in the audience. He used to be a regular audience member on the Jonathan Dimbleby show that I worked on earlier in the decade. Guess he likes audience shows . . .

11.03 Immigration. Uh-oh!

11.05 Having read Gary Younge's excellent take-down of New Labour (and Straw!) in the Guardian this morning, I can't help but think those who argue that this government has played a key role in the rise of the BNP -- especially vis-à-vis immigration -- have a point.

11.10 The Enoch Powell-supporting audience member is heckling. This is depressing. And the man with the moustache, shouting about the EU and "migrants", seems to be a migrant or a descendant of a migrant himself. Perhaps I'm wrong.

11.12 "Wolf in sheep's clothing"? Hmm. Not quite. He's a wolf in wolf's clothing. He's called for refugees' boats to be sunk and for "chemotherapy" to be used against the "cancer" of Islam. Haven't heard much about that so far.

11.14 Are the Lib Dems now jumping on the anti-immigration bandwagon, too? How things change. And how depressing.

11.15 Huhne is making partisan points about the Lib Dems being the only party that can defeat the BNP. Pathetic. Stick together, panel, or you haven't got a chance.

11.16 "Skin colour is irrelevant"? This man is a liar and a fraud. Where is DD?

11.17 Can he name any of these so-called "scientists"? "Time immemorial"? This man went to Cambridge University? Embarrassing . . .

11.18 Hilarious: a man who denies the worst genocide of the 20th century is claiming that our points-based immigration system is "genocidal". What a joke. And the BBC invited him on. Shame.

11.19 QT does Twitter, too. Hmm.

11.20 YAY! The Asian man I saw on the news. What a great line about the South Pole and "Dick/Nick". Ugh! Nick is pretending to smile and laugh.

11.21 How can Griffin claim he's happy for the Asians to stay, when his party's constitution claims it wants a white Britain?

11.22 Good line from Warsi about "bogus asylum-seeker" being an incorrect and inaccurate term. Shame her party's bigwigs over the years have popularised the phrase -- William Hague, Michael Howard, etc.

11.23 SHUT UP, DD! Why are you grilling Straw in a tougher manner than you're grilling the Holocaust denier (!) to your left? WHO CARES ABOUT KOOKY FRANK FIELD!!!

11.25 "Nick Griffin, he says it's working. Do you think it's working?" DD, could you BE any softer on Griffin?

11.26 Interesting non-BNP question on Jan Moir and Stephen Gately.

11.27 Those of you who haven't read Tom Calvocoressi's excellent post on Moir on the Cultural Capital blog should check it out after QT finishes.

11.29 Tricky question for Baroness Warsi to deal with.

11.30 She's wriggled out of it. Here comes Nick!

11.31 Finally! DD puts a damning quote to Griffin. People are booing and heckling for the FIRST time in this show.

11.33 "The feeling of repulsion is mutual." Hilarious.

11.33 Interesting last question; navel-gazing and self-centred, but interesting and important nonetheless. I'm with Peter Hain. It has been a "Christmas present" for the BNP. Huhne is talking nonsense. Like so many others, he seems to think elections legitimise the BNP. They don't. Hitler was elected.

11.35 These panellists -- Huhne, Greer et al -- don't seem to get that tonight has not been about exposing or not exposing Griffin. Tonight has been about the BNP "arriving" in the mainstream and being considered normal, acceptable and legitimate. Griffin himself in the Times today has said pretty much the same thing.

11.37 "The BBC has done what they had to do," says Griffin. Sorry. No. Not true. No law or constitutional obligation or Ofcom regulation demanded that the BBC invite Griffin on to Question Time, rather than confine him to Newsnight, Today, etc.

11.37 Just realised that there doesn't seem to have been a contingent of BNP supporters in the audience. Strange. I guess I was wrong about that. But I think I was right to be sceptical about the value of this exercise. The genie is out of the bottle. The BNP is here to stay. Disgusting. Depressing. A dark day/night for the British media and politics.

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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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue