Ali Miraj: Who, in Parliament, speaks for the white working class?
Many people believe last week’s Question Time debate was a fiasco. It was. When will the inept, self-serving, political class wake up and smell the coffee? The BNP gained close to a million votes in June so Nick Griffin had as much right to appear on Question Time as the elected Chris Huhne and Jack Straw. I wrote a piece, “Why it is perfectly rational for the ignored white working class to vote BNP”, for this site back in July 2008, a year before the BNP’s success in the European elections. Did anyone in the political establishment listen? No. It is little wonder then that the BNP gained the support it did.
When I was pounding the streets of Watford, hardly one of the most salubrious constituencies in the land, at the last general election, I encountered resentment from working class whites. They felt powerless and ignored and were angry. That sentiment manifested itself in the election in June this year of a BNP candidate in South Oxhey, just outside Watford, to Hertfordshire County Council.The Economist newspaper this week highlights that poor working class whites perform worse than any other ethnic group at GCSE. Hardly the basis of a bright future. On top of that, there is tension over the lack of council housing available with 24% of whites feeling that their ethnicity holds them back, up from only 15% who felt this way in 2001. They also feel less able than any other group to influence decision-making both locally and nationally. That is hardly a surprise. In a decade where ethnicity has been foolishly focused on by policymakers as the primary source of an individual’s identity, people confer benefits and special treatment from the state by emphasising their difference. Against that backdrop one is justified in asking - who in Parliament speaks for the white working class?
A key issue which cannot be ignored is uncontrolled immigration. When Jack Straw had finished reading his previously prepared script and was asked a direct question on whether the rise in BNP support was a corollary of Labour’s failure to address immigration effectively, he floundered. When pressed by Mr Dimbleby for a straight answer, he like a seasoned politician side-stepped the question.
Bonnie Greer, who as Nick Griffin has said on his website, was “fun and intelligent”, has rightly pointed to the vacuum in British politics as the cause of the rise in BNP support. Griffin may espouse, abhorrent views that are unpalatable to many including myself, but he represents a constituency that should not be ignored. Griffin himself has described his mauling on Question Time as a “lynch mob”. I agree. It was a farcical display of bias. Where in the audience were the voices in support of the BNP? One can only assume that they did not make it past the BBC’s vetting process.
Instead of vilifying Mr Griffin, the other panellists (with the exception of Ms Greer), the presenter and the audience should have been seeking to engage with substantive points. Not once was the marginalisation of white working class communities properly debated. The fact that the audience was from London, a bastion of diversity, was not representative of broader opinion or conducive to an insightful debate.
Changing the entire format of the programme to focus on grilling one particular member of the panel is unprecedented, was unfair and will only lead to an increase in support for the BNP. If the BBC wanted to examine Mr Griffin’s views in detail, then it could have hosted a special one-off election style debate with just the BNP leader and the studio audience present. Question Time has adopted this format with Party leaders during elections in the past. By totally changing the emphasis of the programme the bias and agenda were visible for all to see. I would have liked to hear Griffin’s views on the postal strike, the Lisbon treaty and war in Afghanistan.
Still at least it was pleasing to see him abandon his previous denials of the holocaust. No doubt this road to Damascus conversion was heartfelt. Whatever the reality, it was certainly worth tuning in to watch.