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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear