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BNP on BBC wrong, wrong, wrong

Question Time was discussing inviting Nick Griffin on long before the BNP's "breakthrough"

The BBC is not being completely honest when it says it is inviting Nick Griffin on to Question Time because the BNP leader was elected as an MEP in June. "By winning representation in the European Parliament, the BNP has demonstrated evidence of electoral support at a national level," a spokesman has said. "This is not a policy about the BNP. It's a policy about impartiality." In fact, the proposal was doing the rounds when I was a producer there more than two years ago. This was long before the BNP's "breakthrough", which suggests that the move is, in reality, "about the BNP".

My objection, then and now, is that Question Time - unlike Newsnight or Today, where presenters could give Griffin a grilling on immigration - would provide a soft format for him to pontificate on a variety of issues of the day. It is hard not to have a "good" Question Time. Symbolically, Griffin's appearance (presumably in front of a crowd - in part, at least - infiltrated by cheering BNP members) will mark the arrival of the party into the media mainstream. Question Time is Britain's most successful current affairs programme. Its presenter, David Dimbleby, is the best in the business and its production team has sustained the show's "magic formula", attracting millions of viewers each week.

For all those reasons, I believe the BBC is wrong to bounce Labour into appearing with Griffin, Labour is pathetically wrong to consider reversing its "no platform" policy, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats are wrong to play along. Oh, and to those who ask, "Don't you believe in free speech?" I say of course, but not in engineering an opportunity to incite racial and religious hatred in front of millions of viewers.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Where next?