I watched Nick Griffin on Question Time last night, no doubt along with many others who had tuned in to see what the fuss was about.
Of the other four panellists I was most impressed with Bonnie Greer and Sayeeda Warsi. I hadn't seen Bonnie before and I thought she demonstrated a depth of knowledge and good sense on some historical matters, and she maintained her good humour despite having to sit next to Griffin - I assume the three politicians refused to do so. I was with Sayeeda in Bosnia and she is one tough cookie, as she demonstrated on the show, giving better than she got. Her condemnation of the government for creating the ideal environment for the BNP to grow was particularly telling and I was impressed by her strong defence of moderate Islam. We could do with seeing more Muslims like Sayeeda on television and fewer of the extremists who often attract coverage.
Chris Huhne was also good - worryingly so for Clegg, I imagine - although he was not credible when he was asked what the Lib Dems would do about immigration from within Europe. Jack Straw struggled to defend the government's record on immigration and community cohesion. The government minister is usually the hate figure for the audience, for once this was not the case, but he still came across as strident at times.
Griffin was clearly revelling in his most hated man in Britain status, playing up to some of the BNP stereotypes. He had difficulty justifying his previous quotes - not surprisingly - and went off into loopy conspiracy theory territory on a couple of occasions.
Many of the audience also came out of this well. They were decent people with real questions, not the shouty counter demonstration that they could easily have been. I was particularly taken with an articulate asian man who defended his love for Britain and asked where the BNP proposed to deport him to. Our country - and particularly our city - needs good, committed people like this and the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs should be irrelevant.
I was very disappointed that most of the session focused on the BNP, with Griffin's personal history debated repeatedly as if it was the most important news of the day. Outside the bubble of the studio we have a postal strike, a conflict in Afghanistan and an expenses scandal, yet the only non BNP discussion related to Anne Moir's article about Stephen Gately and the panellists swiftly drifted back to the subject of.... the BNP.
BBC News stated that, as the beneficiary of a significant vote - Griffin was entitled to occasional appearances on Question Time, which suggests that they might invite him back. If this does happen, I hope the debate will range more widely than it did this time. The BNP are comfortable talking about themselves but when they are asked to comment on the big political issues their inadequacy shines through...