Did Question Time change anything? Much has been made of a YouGov poll taken in the hours after the programme, which showed that one in four would consider voting for the party. But ‘consider’ is different to ‘would’ – and that hardcore was pegged at 4%, less than the share of the vote the BNP won at the European elections.
Those sorts of figures don’t surprise me. I was born, raised and still live in the sort of white working class area which is precisely the kind of constituency widely regarded as the type Labour has too readily ignored. The BNP put leaflets through the doors here at election time; they tie material to our lamp posts. Sandwell Council, my local authority, plays host to two BNP councillors (neither from my ward, but that’s cold comfort). Bob Piper, who sits on that council himself, makes a fair point that the rise of the BNP is a failure of the whole political class; but the people around here have never looked to the Tories for help. If they have previously been politically active or interested (and Mike Smithson has some data on that), then their sense of powerlessness must be to some extent the fault of the party they have trusted. Either way, though, these figures don’t surprise me – they reflect what I hear around these parts every day.
So did Question Time change anything? There’s a very worthy discussion of the programme at Pickled Politics. There are a whole range of opinions on this topic – whether Griffin should ever have appeared, whether he was dealt with properly given that he did, what ‘properly’ even means, and whether – even if in a free democracy Griffin should appear on a programme like Question Time – the show was the right forum to begin the long work of engaging with and defeating the BNP’s hideous ideology. But the general consensus that come out of the debate in those comments, which I share, seems to be that Griffin did himself no favours – but the other panellists didn’t quite take him apart as they could have done. Sayeeda Warsi had her line in populist reassurance (as Don Paskini writes at Liberal Conspiracy, how far must we go with that, exactly?), Jack Straw started well, and Bonnie Greer seemed to get the conceptual issues better, but by and large all backed off from getting their hands dirty by really engaging with what racism is and how it powers the BNP and perverts the fears of the party’s putative constituents. Instead, they all ganged up on Griffin and laughed at his undergraduate performance.
In the short-term, then, Question Time did no harm but nor did it do very much positive good. In the medium-term, this may well prove to advantage the BNP: they challenge for the majority who don’t want to see that is to use this week as a platform from which to launch the sorts of arguments which will damage the party. No change yet, then.