Nick Griffin was right about one thing: Churchill would have felt at home in the BNP.
The appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the British Nartional Party, on BBC Question Time on October 22, 2009 has led to massive debate across the UK. Those in favour of freedom of speech advocated for Griffin to be allowed on the programme in the interests of exposing him. Those opposing said that there should be no platform for fascists and that Griffin and the BNP would only benefit from the publicity, no matter what was actually debated. I agree with the latter position and have always done so. Rare words of sense were written by Gary Younge in the Guardian reminding us that the other panelists, in particular Jack Straw, as the representative of New Labour is as guilty (if not more so) of encouraging racism in Britain as Griffin, especially considering Straw’s incendiary 2007 remarks on the niqab and the direct link between this and rising Islamophobia.
The panelists on Question Time were literally falling over themselves to show themselves to be tolerant and non-racist in the face of Griffin’s blatant racism. However, the mechanisms they chose to do this by resorted to the tried and tested recourse to patriotism (critiqued by Paul Gilroy in There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack with regards the Anti-Nazi Leagues in 1987).Griffin was asked to comment on his statement that “If Churchill were alive today, his own place would be in the British National Party.” This led to outrage expressed by the other panelists who accused the BNP of hijacking Churchill as its own. But the uncomfortable truth is that Griffin is right: if Churchill were alive he would share the beliefs of the BNP because he did so in his day. It is a delusion to think that Britain fought the Second World War because it oposed racism. Churchill, in particular, was a eugenicist, having drafted the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, the only law on eugenics to be passed through the British parliament (albeit never out into effect).
Griffin said on Question Time that “Churchill in his younger days was extremely critical of fundamentalist Islam.” Whereas it may not have been called that in Churchill’s day, according to winstonchurchill.org:
Churchill’s view was reinforced by his experiences as a young British officer serving, and fighting, in Arab and Muslim lands, and in South Africa. Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.
“The improvement of the British breed is my aim in life,” Winston Churchill wrote to his cousin Ivor Guest on 19 January 1899, shortly after his twenty-fifth birthday. A fuller account of his abhorrent beliefs can be read here.
Suffice is to conclude that a reversion to British patriotism and dubious figures such as Churchill as a means of tackling the abhorrence of the far-right has and will never be sufficient. Having been said, it is hardly surprising that this – along with blatant anti-immigration one-upmanship – was the only tactic employed by the Griffin pathetic QT co-panelists (with the exception of the only non-politican, Bonnie Greer).