Welsh Secretary Peter Hain is to boycott the BBC’s flagship political debate programme Question Time over proposals to invite the British National Party to take part.
Mr Hain, a regular panellist on the weekly question-and-answer programme, last night urged other Cabinet ministers to follow his lead and decline to appear alongside BNP members. Labour has long refused to share a platform with the BNP, arguing that to do so would give legitimacy to the party’s far-right views. But the BNP’s performance in June’s European elections – it won two seats – has forced broadcasters to re-think the coverage they give the party, and handed mainstream political parties a similar dilemma.
The BBC said it was bound by law to treat all properly registered political parties with “due impartiality”.
Mr Hain – a veteran of the anti-fascist campaigns of the 1970s – insisted the “no platform” policy should remain in place. He said: “I was horrified when I heard about this, because it makes them [the BNP] appear as if they are another political party sitting on a panel along with democratically-elected parties.”
The Neath MP said the BBC was “the best and highest-quality broadcaster”, but on this occasion had made a “shabby, shameful decision” it should reverse. Some campaigners and MPs have questioned whether the “no platform” strategy needs to be re-thought in the wake of the election results. In Wales the BNP came seventh with 5.4% of the vote, winning none of the four seats on offer. But the party won a seat in the north-west of England and a second in Yorkshire and the Humber, where it achieved 9.8% of the vote.
Mr Hain is seeking an urgent meeting with BBC executives in an attempt to persuade the corporation to re-think, and said he rejected any watering down of the “no platform” approach.
“I make no bones about it, this is personal for me,” he said. “The BNP have broken up ordinary public meetings that I have spoken at in previous years, and their like have thrown rocks through my front window when I lived in London.”
The BBC has yet to issue a formal invitation to the BNP, but the corporation is understood to be planning an installment of Question Time from London this year. Labour is reviewing its position, but Mr Hain said: “I don’t think any Labour minister should go along with this quisling stance.” The Conservatives have indicated they will make a senior figure available for the programme, as have the Liberal Democrats.
BNP leader Nick Griffin has already been interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and has also appeared on the Andrew Marr show on BBC1. A spokesman for the BBC said: “The BBC is obliged to treat all political parties registered with the Electoral Commission and operating within the law with due impartiality. Due impartiality is achieved both by ensuring appropriate scrutiny for each party and by the appearances of a range of politicians across a series of programmes. Our audiences – and the electorate – will make up their own minds about the different policies offered by elected politicians.”