Tonight a notorious professional twit appeared on BBC's Question Time (just in case you have been living in a cave this last week), causing much breast beating across the media and chattering classes. I refer, of course, to Nick Griffin, Leader of the British National Party (BNP), in case you thought I meant Jack Straw. Everybody agrees that the prospect of Griffin's weasel words being broadcast across the airwaves is an unpleasant one, but those who would seek to lay blame are looking in the wrong direction.
Those politicians who oppose the appearance of Griffin naturally blame the BBC for issuing the invitation. Even those Voltairean types who extend the logic of their liberalism to include all comers complain that, outside of news coverage, the BBC is under no obligation to invite every self-aggrandising idiot who runs for office onto its flagship politics programme. Give him his election slots and hope he goes away.
I'm quite happy to say where the blame for this story lies: with us. Of course no politician is going to blame the electorate for anything, because they cannot be wrong. The BBC, too, is scarcely going to slap the hand that feeds them. So I'll say it - we're to blame. More than 1,000,000 of us thought it was a worthwhile use of their birthright to choose a racist representative back in May - that's one in every 16 people who voted. Complaining that the BBC is giving the BNP the veneer of respectability beside the point - they already have it in many people's eyes. Politicians blaming the BBC for tonight's three ring circus at Television Centre is perhaps the definitive example of shooting the messenger.
For too long we have acquiesced in the non-participation of the public in political life. Some is trendy theorising about young people participating through other channels - that wearing hemp trainers and watching Live8 is the noughties equivalent of joining the Young Conservatives. People are not embarrassed to admit they didn't vote at the last election; it is almost a badge of honour, that you are above it all. Yes, politics is complicated, difficult and often boring - just like tax returns, life insurance and building regulations - but you might come to appreciate the effort if your roof falls in.
I think Griffin's appearance tonight might actually be a good thing - not because I think he'll fluff his lines, or suddenly be exposed as an evil scumbag and or even because I think he'll end up looking stupid. I hope for all of those things but I realise that, in a reversal of the usual axiom, he may be an idiot, but he's not stupid. I really hope it makes people bother to find out what the BNP policies are, and then think again about the choices they make.
Shaw said "democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.", and the sight of the gurning, sweaty jowls of Nick Griffin is what happens when no-one takes elections seriously anymore. Perhaps people will suddenly start to realise what matters is engaging in political discourse. And that is not racist politicians appearing on our TVs. It's racist politicians winning unchallenged at the ballot box.
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