Like many of us, I've spent a bit of time this week mulling over the thorny issue of whether Nick Griffin should have been offered a platform on the BBCs Question Time. On one hand, I do value freedom of speech and expression, on the other, I am conscious that this freedom needs to be balanced against the possible consequences for the vulnerable within society, especially if the sentiments expressed are likely to encourage violence and hatred. A part of me felt Griffin would be sure to condemn himself out of his own mouth, another part worried about the fillip given to racist attitudes, insidious or overt, that seem to be growing in British society. I decided to wait and see.
Within minutes of watching Griffin perform, I felt a lot easier. It didn't take long to recognise that this was not going to be a slick performance as he blundered his way through the programme alternating from arrogant buffoonery to self pitying ingratiation. It was, as they say, not a pretty sight - but at least he created some near comedy (if it hadn't been so offensive) with his non violent Ku Klux Klan and the assertion that he only associated with fascists to moderate their views.
And yet ... on Radio 4 on Thursday morning they discussed the turning point in the political career of Jean -Marie Le Pen, when in 1984 a similar exposure in the media dramatically increased his foothold in French society. Over the last few decades we have seen a sea change in attitudes towards people based on gender and sexual orientation; racial prejudice has not decreased in the same way - and anti Islamic feeling has burgeoned. I just hope and pray that, when it comes to the BNP, history won't repeat itself.