Question Time BNP: Disgusted -- but by Griffin's fellow panellists

They had the opportunity to show themselves to be better. And they blew it

I am the son of an immigrant. My close family includes Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. I oppose everything the BNP stands for. And I too feel disgusted about Nick Griffin's appearance on BBC1's Question Time on Thursday night - but not because he was invited to appear on a respected, high-profile national discussion programme. No. I am angry and ashamed that his fellow panelists, three senior members of our main Westminster parties and one leading cultural figure, acted in a way that betrayed the very principles that were invoked as reasons why the BNP leader should not have been on the programme.

Griffin 's views, it is argued, are beyond the pale. It was wrong to give him the oxygen of publicity and, by his presence on Question Time, tacitly accept his party as a legitimate element in mainstream political discourse. But he was there, and given that he was, it should have been ridiculously easy to demonstrate how repulsive his party is.

It should have been enough to confront him with past comments that have been recorded in a manner that makes them undeniable. It should have been enough to examine his party's stated policies, and its ludicrous elevation of an indigenous ethnicity in an island that has assimilated waves of immigrants for centuries. (They, after all, include such successful invaders, like the Normans and the Dutch of William of Orange, that history barely considers them to have been belligerents, as well as those actually invited to leave Britain's former colonies to take up jobs this country needed and who, along with their descendants, have contributed so much to our society and economy; not to mention, of course, our own royal family - whose surname would still be Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had anti-German sentiment in the First World War not made the change to Windsor seem prudent. "Royals go home" doesn't sound like much of a vote-winner.)

It should have been laughably straightforward for the panelists to debate with and destroy Griffin 's arguments. Instead, inflated by their outrage, the other speakers repeatedly interrupted, spoke over and cut short the BNP leader. They could have given him all the rope he needed to hang himself. By treating him as a pariah not even granted the liberty of finishing many of his sentences, never mind a particular proposition he was beginning to elaborate, they showed precisely the disregard for others and their views that they condemn in Griffin 's party.

Nearly one million people voted for the BNP in the Euro-elections. Whatever one thinks of their party's platform, they have a right to be heard. Some parties cannot be more "legal" than others. That is a consequence of living in a democracy, and it is part of cherishing the right to free speech. You persuade such people that they are wrong by discussion of what they say; and that means exactly what they say, not what it can be distorted into sounding like (the BNP's appropriation of Churchill was thus a weak example for its opponents to concentrate on, because so many of his statements and beliefs would be seen as racist and objectionable by the standards of our time).

In debate you extend every courtesy to the BNP that they might possibly curtail if they were in power. You merely rest on the force of your argument. And you do all this because you are confident in the superiority of your position, and that morality and good sense are all that is needed to show how odious Griffin's band of fascists actually are, however slick and more media-savvy they may seem compared to their predecessors.

On Question Time, however, we saw four men and women who occupy offices that convey the appearance or prospect of weighty national power and influence. And how did they show themselves to be better than this man, this outcast unfit to take part in our civilised political discourse? By using the bullying tactics so often deplored in those of Griffin 's ilk. By shouting him down. By indulging their indignation - never mind that in the process we lost the opportunity of hearing him condemn himself in his own words

Shame on them, I say. If BNP support increases as a result of Griffin 's appearance, they should reflect on the fact that it was they, not the BBC, that disgraced themselves on Thursday night.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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No, the Brexit vote wasn't just about immigration

The data shows that most voters want a fairer society. Labour must fight for this in the Brexit negotiations. 

The result of the UK referendum to leave the European Union has shaken the political establishment to its core. As I have argued since then, it should be a wakeup call to all political parties.

Some have also argued that the referendum result is having international repercussions, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House cited as "Brexit Plus Plus". With the imminent election in France, and Germany’s later this year, responsible analysts are trying to understand why people voted the way they did and what this means. Too often, there are knee jerk explanations without any evidentiary justification to back them up. 

Analysis of who voted to leave shows the majority of people who voted to leave live in the South of England, and 59 per cent were from the middle classes (A, B, C1). Only 21 per cent of people in the lowest income groups voted to leave.

Analysis of why people voted as they did is more complex. This includes an increase in Euroscepticism particularly from older, middle class voters; concerns about globalisation and the impact on jobs; inequalities and being left behind; and new voters who didn’t vote in the 2015 General Election, for whom immigration was a concern. When this analysis is overlaid on analysis of that election, some themes emerge. The attitudes and values of the majority of the British public are firmly rooted in the desire for a fairer society, based on principles of equality and social justice. Although immigration played a part in the election and referendum results, perceived competence, being "left behind" and disillusionment with the direction of change were the key drivers.

Whether people voted to remain or leave, they did so because they believed that they and their families would be better off, and the majority who voted believed they would be better off if we leave the EU. Labour accepts and respects this. We have said that we will vote for Article 50, but we intend to hold this Tory government to account to ensure we get the best possible deal for the country.

In his speech last week, Jeremy Corbyn set out the issues that Labour will hold the government to account on. We have been absolutely clear that we want tariff-free access to the single market, to ensure that Britain continues to trade openly with our European neighbours, and to protect the cost of living for families struggling to get by. Getting the best deal for the UK means that we must continue to have a strong relationship with our EU neighbours.

Under my work and pensions portfolio, for example, we know that 40 per cent of pension funds are invested outside of the UK. If we want to guarantee a dignified and secure retirement for our pensioners, we must ensure that savers can get the best returns for the investments they make.

We also know that many of the protections that have until now been offered by the European Union must continue to be guaranteed when we leave. Provisions that secure the rights of disabled people, or that protect worker’s rights are an essential part of British society, enhanced by the EU. These cannot be torn up by the Tories.

Defending these rights is also at the heart of our approach to immigration. The dire anti-migrant rhetoric from some parts of the media and certain politicians, is reprehensible. I reject this scapegoating, which has fear and blame at its heart, because it is not true. Blaming migrants for nearly seven wasted years of Tory austerity when they are net contributors of over £2bn a year to the economy is perverse.

Of course we need to respond when public services are coming under pressure from local population increases. That’s why Labour wants to reinstate the Migration Impact Fund that the Tories abolished. We also need to ensure new members of communities get to know their new neighbours and what’s expected of them.

We believe that migrants’ broader contribution to British society has too often been obscured by the actions of unscrupulous employers, who have exploited new arrivals at the expense of local labour. A vast network of recruitment and employment agencies has developed in this country. It is worth hundreds of billions of pounds. Last year over 1.3m people were employed in the UK by these agencies. In 2007, 1 in 7 of these people came from the EU. We should ask how many are recruited directly from the EU now, and offered precarious work on very low wages whilst undercutting local labour. Labour will put an end to this practice, in order to protect both those who come here to work and those that grew up here.

Importantly, however, we cannot let our exit from the EU leave us with skill shortages in our economy. Our current workforce planning is woeful, particularly for the long-term. We need to reduce our need for migrant labour by ensuring our young, and our not so young, are trained for the jobs of the future, from carers to coders. Again, the Conservatives have undermined people’s chances of getting on by cutting college funding and the adult skills budget.

Unlike the government, Labour will not shirk from our responsibilities to the nation. Our plans for Brexit will respect the referendum result, whilst holding the Government to account and delivering a better future for all our people, not just the privileged few.

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.