Friday, 23 October 2009
Griffin via Beeston
The reading at Nottingham University with two talented younger poets, Polly Atkin and Neele Dellschaft, was very well attended chiefly thanks to the remarkable energy of the organiser Eireann Lorsung, herself a poet. She and her phalanx of bright and charming fellow PhD students spoke volumes for the place. Afterwards we went for a meal and only at the end of that did I see the last twenty minutes of Question Time in my perfectly respectable and clean B&B on the oldest TV set I have watched in years.
It is a little worrying to see the comments on the BBC websites, mostly sympathetic to Griffin, mostly complaining about a lynch-mob atmosphere. It didn't look or sound like a lynch-mob to me: he was not being constantly interrupted as some claim, nor was he booed throughout despite the fact that he didn't look or sound anything like a decent human being. He prevaricated on Holocaust denial and on the Ku Klux Klan, and kept hammering away at the idea of the indigenous English or British, sometimes one, sometimes the other, as a downtrodden group deprived of rights by immigrants and government. As if! It does not seem to me that poor Asians or Africans or Caribbeans are running the country, let alone migrant Polish workers. Ostensibly, his greatest concern was immigration and indeed it is immigration that touches the nerve in poor white areas, but the rest was little more than a plea for racial purity, classic fascist territory, presented weasel-fashion. That, at least, is my twenty-minutes viewing.
I think the BBC handled this badly. It would have been far better to have him politely but very firmly interviewed in a face-to-face situation by someone prominent. Then possibly let him on Question Time with the full range of BNP ideas established. But this is a dangerous time - a deepening recession - to bring him on QT first. However hopeless and repulsive he is, he only gains by this form of appearance. A door has been opened through which he will walk again and again. Vile people bring out whatever is vile in perfectly ordinary people. They stop thinking of it as vile. Furies and frustrations concentrate on specific targets. The programme had both fury and frustration in plenty.
In the morning I walked up to Beeston town centre just to get a sense of the place. It has the sweet, hamfisted look of much of post-industrial Britain. Miscellaneous shambolic buildings where small businesses try to make a living either by providing cheap handy services or by appealing to the imagination: the three part barber-ladies hairdresser-children's 'jungle cut' building with the Martial Arts shack tacked on to it. Dancing lessons behind a shop. The vacant site. The large shed-like building housing Amore, the Italian restaurant . The small, front-room sized Balti take-away. The ancient cobbler's shop, established in 1947, in a tin shed with a facade of miscellaneous crooked signs. The bike shop. Young mothers with prams. The roads too big, sweeping through to other places. The friendliness in shops. It is latter day George Orwell territory at heart.
Hard to think of hatred simmering in such places. The odd resentment, the odd fight, the odd curse probably fuelled by drink, but not the steady downloading of hate accumulated over long years the way I sensed it in parts of Northern Ireland. I don't think the country is primed for Griffin and his yobs. I think people are better than that.