Friday, 23 October 2009

Questions That Need Answering

Well, I thought that went reasonably well. Andrew Neil is pointing out as we speak that there's a danger people will have seen this week's Question Time as being five people and an audience ganging up on one person, but given Griffin's spectacularly unconvincing performance, I'm not too worried. He said more than a few things that had me spluttering into my toast, but I suspect his biggest mistake politically was pointing out that David Duke's branch of the KKK is "almost totally non-violent". Griffin knows full well that the only way the BNP can make any more significant progress is to pretend that their views aren't racist really, and that can only work so long as the people inclined to vote for you think that racists are other people. When people say "I'm not racist, but" it isn't (generally speaking) because they know they are racists and want to hide it, it's because the word "racist" carries (entirely deserved) negative connotations that people are desperate to believe don't apply to them, whether or not they actually do.

Linking Griffin to the KKK removes his ability to start sentences that way. When people in Britain think of racists, they think of the KKK (whether this has something to do with "Only in America" thinking, I wouldn't like to speculate). You can't get out of that. You certainly can't get out it by arguing the particular faction of the KKK with which you are associated is "almost totally non-violent". Griffin said other reprehensible things tonight: calling it "creepy" to see two men kissing, arguing teaching about homosexuality to children is "perverse", and of course his continued Holocaust denial, but I suspect it's the link to David Duke that will prove the most damaging politically.

While on the subject of the Holocaust, I thought Jack Straw did very well tonight. At least, he did very well when directly facing Griffin, his squirming on the topic of Labour's track record was standard political stuff (not that I was really expecting anything different). If Griffin got anywhere tonight (in addition to anyone who really did feel sorry for him under withering fire, and there were a number of audience members who didn't really help their own cause in that respect), it was in stating that the dominant political parties are useless and fractious, and then sitting back to watch them squabble. Of course, even the briefest thought would reveal that Griffin's argument boiled down to saying "These three firemen have failed to put out the blaze engulfing your house; so isn't it time for me to SET YOUR FUCKING FACE ON FIRE!?!", so I'm not too worried.

On the other hand, probably the best moment of the whole programme came from Griffin claiming European law forbade him explaining his views on the Holocaust, only for Jack Straw to promise as Secretary of State for Justice that he could have full immunity to say whatever he wanted. I've heard Griffin use that excuse before, and seeing it so totally swept aside was a wonderful moment.

All in all, I'm calling it a win. Once you reduced to saying the KKK faction you're pals with hardly beat up any black people at all, then you're done.

20 comments:

Senior Spielbergo said...

Yey. Spielbergo approves of political commentary related to Squid’s home country. Let’s have more of this.

Tomsk said...

He certainly got a well-deserved kicking, but I wonder what impression it left with people who are considering voting for him.

Almost all the comments on the BBC's Have Your Say are talking about him being stitched up or shouted down. There's nothing much about the odious views and associations that were exposed. I wouldn't be surprised if BNP members were told to load that forum, but even so it's worrying. David Aaronovitch made a good point this morning that "if three angels ganged up on the devil, we'd start to sympathise with the devil".

I hope someone does some proper polling as it would be invaluable to know what the overall reaction was.

Senior Spielbergo said...

For the record I haven’t seen this yet (all important pub quiz on Thursdays – missed first place by half a point damm it!) – But assuming it is available on iPlayer I intend to watch it this evening. We shall see if my instinctive reaction to side with the oppressed kicks in, in any way. I suspect not as it generally only kicks in when the person being attacked is not in a position to defend themselves – but we shall see.

SpaceSquid said...

"Yey. Spielbergo approves of political commentary related to Squid’s home country. Let’s have more of this."

I dunno. You'll notice it took someone just as odious as the lunatics on the Republican fringe for me to feel compelled to comment.

"Almost all the comments on the BBC's Have Your Say are talking about him being stitched up or shouted down. "

That's interesting, and not in a good way. There were several moments that I thought Dimbleby gave up the appearance of being even slightly impartial, though since I don't usually watch the show that might jut be his style. Some polling on as would indeed be useful, though.

Tomsk said...

For the most part it was in line with Dimbleby's normal way of taking people to task (reading quotes back to him, etc.). The problem here was that almost all of his interventions were directed at Griffin. This was inevitable given that he was the focus of the show but it did risk coming across as more ganging up.

SpaceSquid said...

It did, though of course the only alternative was to treat Griffin as any other pundit, which would have allowed him to spend more time lamenting the ineffectiveness of the larger political parties, which I think would have earned him more votes in the long run.

Chemie said...

I'm sorry but did Squid actually watch a programme about domestic politics?

Personally I'm not sure what the fuss is about. People who are very interested in politics watch Question Time, and I doubt that people who consider voting BNP are well versed in politics. If they tuned into see a one-off then they probably saw a ineloquent confused fool getting fairly bullied.

That said I was dying for someone to ask an actual political question - say about the royal mail, or economics so I could laugh my head off as Griffin tried to construct an actual feasible answer. (One of his party leaders wants to solve the credit crunch by taking the jobs from the women, the rest just want to stop trading with the rest of the world)

SpaceSquid said...

"I'm sorry but did Squid actually watch a programme about domestic politics?"

It's telling that my brain shut off the very instant the conversation turned to anything other than how the BNP are scum.

Chemie said...

You weren't the least bit interested in *why* they won seats, the impartiality of the BBC or the effect of probably-poor publicity? Didn't get a whiff of fun with the Baroness backtracking her own published views on civil partnerships?

I have to agree with some other commentators that it would have done the BNP more harm if the show was filmed somewhere less cosmopolitan then London.

SpaceSquid said...

"You weren't the least bit interested in *why* they won seats, the impartiality of the BBC or the effect of probably-poor publicity?"

A lack of interest in how the panel answers a question doesn't imply a lack of interest in the question itself. Watching the hammering of Griffin was useful because it revealed exactly what the BNP are, and what they want to pretend to be, in a way that can only be realised by actually watching Griffin interact with others. Once the topic turned to why the BNP is on the rise, the show descended into the usual political squabbling that I find so tedious. Both that question and those about BBC impartiality have been discussed in various articles online for quite some time. I am unlikely to learn anything new on how the current political landscape has benefitted the BNP from anything Jack Straw has to say.

"Didn't get a whiff of fun with the Baroness backtracking her own published views on civil partnerships?"

Fair enough, yes; I enjoyed that bit quite a lot.

Gooder said...

"Once the topic turned to why the BNP is on the rise, the show descended into the usual political squabbling that I find so tedious"

Unless its Americans!

SpaceSquid said...

"Unless its Americans!"

American political squabbling is very different. In fact, the arguments between the left and right in the US are much more akin to Straw vs. Griffin than Straw vs. Warsi. That's exactly why American politics takes up so much more of my time than British politics does. What we saw last night is pretty much happening daily over the pond.

Having said all that, I don't watch any American QT equivalents either.

Tomsk said...

"I have to agree with some other commentators that it would have done the BNP more harm if the show was filmed somewhere less cosmopolitan then London."

Yes, they've played into the BNP's hands with both the audience and the choice of panel. It was crying out for a white, working class conservative voice prepared to take on Griffin. Those that were heard from the audience tended to be of the same mind as him. Not great if you want to change the minds of would-be BNP voters.

Senior Spielbergo said...

Right I’ve watched it now and I think I’m probably of a similar view some of the other commentators. Putting the issues to one side, the show definitely had a feeling of ganging up on a single guy – The choice of questions, what basically felt like 4 vs 1 on virtually all issues (including the chair), the obvious disparity in terms of preparation against the BNP than any other party represented (maybe a little against labour as well), and the fact the other panellists were able to continually interrupt Mr Griffin while he did not do the same in return. In fact even the editing gave that impression as you constantly got the reaction shots of Mr Griffin to the various points being made from the other panellists but hardly ever the same thing from any of the others. So yes I think I would agree with the point made by Tomsk and I wouldn’t be surprised if because of the way the show played out some people will develop more sympathy for him – It can indeed be argued that he was basically put on their to be ganged up on – Not that the BBC ad much of a choice – it was either that or put him beside a Labour, Lib Dem, and Tory MP and treat him as an equal to them – something they clearly didn’t want to do.

In terms of the content, I actually think it would have been far better to simply let Griffiths simply proclaim his views in a properly balanced question time as I think ultimately that would have been of greater benefit to the British Public. It’s possible that I have far too much faith in people, but as a general rule I tend to think people as a whole are generally good, and are generally capable of making up their own minds in a sensible way. Fundamentally there are always going to be people who believe the same things as the BNP (otherwise as a party they simply wouldn’t exist) and those who disagree – I would like to believe that with all the right facts presented to them the later would vastly outnumber the former. You do that by allowing all sides to publicly air their views and for appropriate scrutiny to be applied to all sides – Do it right and thanks to good old Democracy the “right” result will end up filtering through.

As to a “result” – I’ve got to say it was probably a very slight win for the BNP. I highly doubt that many people watched the show who were in a genuine “undecided” camp. The vast majority of people who watched it I imagine were in the anti-BNP camp, and they may well have got their “kick” out of the general BNP kicking that was allowed on the show, but ultimately that is just fuelling an already existing belief in their own “rightness” so won’t actually be a change. I highly doubt there was anyone out there who watched it who wasn’t at least somewhat aware of BNP’s anti-immigration values so the only people who are potentially going to be influenced are those who maybe already have a similar view, and who don’t get on with the existing 3 main parties – and would view it:

a) as a sign of BNP legitimacy
b) a confirmation that there is someone who is clearly different to the 3 main parties (who all basically merged into one opposition party on the show).

So I wouldn’t be surprised if the BNP get a small bump in recruitment – I wouldn’t be surprised if the BNP can make a case of being picked on and generating some small element of sympathy, and I would suspect that it won’t have succeeded in causing any significant increase in people already opposed to the BNP.

Jamie said...

Looks like a bump in recruitment is what they're going to get, rather depressingly: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8323638.stm

Gooder said...

I don't think a bump for the BNP is too bad since hopefully the whole thing will galvinise others into voting.

If those who oppose the BNP vote where the BNP stand (for other parties) I can't imagine BNP getting that far

SpaceSquid said...

Hopefully Gooder's right; the poll didn't take into whether any of those two-thirds who say they'd never vote for the BNP are more likely to vote specifically to block them. Moreover it doesn't really account for whether the programme is responsible; the most they say is that BNP support was at 2% last month.

In truth, I was expecting at least a slight bump. I once watched a Klansman on Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends explaining how the same thing happens whenever the KKK go on TV in America. They agree to go on shows like Oprah and be roundly loathed and shouted down/explained why their views are nonsensical (depending on one's perspective), but in exchange they get to flash up their recruiting number, and they always get a boost.

The poll makes things look bleak, but we can perhaps take solace in that the actual increase in recruitment was just 3000 people, after a show watched by 8 million. It's possible that will go up with time, but one would think if anything requires doing in the heat of the moment, it's signing up to the BNP.

Tomsk said...

Spielbergo -

"Fundamentally there are always going to be people who believe the same things as the BNP (otherwise as a party they simply wouldn’t exist) and those who disagree – I would like to believe that with all the right facts presented to them the later would vastly outnumber the former. You do that by allowing all sides to publicly air their views and for appropriate scrutiny to be applied to all sides – Do it right and thanks to good old Democracy the “right” result will end up filtering through."

I'd like to think that too, but history teaches us that democracy is only a metastable state and can easily be subverted by a party that seeks to undermine the democratic process itself. Hitler, after all, was elected democratically. And that also shows that the number of people who agree with a far-right party is not static as you suggest. Germans in the 1930's were not intrinsically more racist than anyone else at the time - it was a mixture of socio-economic problems and his rhetorical power that brought him to power. There but for lucky circumstance go we all.

The BNP aren't stupid enough to openly say they want a fascist state, of course, but it doesn't take a lot to read between the lines. Hopefully they will never become powerful enough to show their true colours, but we should still think twice before treating them as if they were any other political party.


Squid -

"The poll makes things look bleak, but we can perhaps take solace in that the actual increase in recruitment was just 3000 people, after a show watched by 8 million."

Maybe, but for every new registered member, there's n times more new potential voters. Hopefully the new votes are more of a blip though.

SpaceSquid said...

"Maybe, but for every new registered member, there's n times more new potential voters. Hopefully the new votes are more of a blip though."

I recognise that. I wonder though if there's a case to be made that by the very nature of the BNP, the multiplier between members and potential voters is smaller. It's at least arguable that the more hard-line a party is, and the further from the centre, the less likely one is to find someone who would consistently vote for them but not actually be a member.

That's just a passing thought, though, I don't have much to back it up.

Chemie said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QAvkFS_cgk&feature=player_embedded

If only