Review: Keith Allen meets Nick Griffin
Keith Allen has previously done a programme in which he interviewed what he called “the God Hates Fags sect in Topeka, Kansas”, and whose daughter Lily Allen wrote and released a song dedicated to the British National Party called F*** You, which was played early on in this show. He asked the BNP’s leader for an interview and he and his production team travelled to Brussels, where Griffin works as a member of the European Parliament (MEP), but Griffin cancelled before they could meet him, something the far right are well-known for doing (as we saw with Stephen Lennon of the English Defence League when Stacey Dooley tried to meet him). Eventually, Allen did manage to meet him (after making a scene when the party’s officials locked themselves in an office in the Parliament building, which led to Griffin reconsidering a possible PR disaster). In this article for the Independent, Allen explains how the documentary almost failed to make it on-screen, until his executive producer, Victor Lewis-Smith, remonstrated with the chief executive.
I reviewed his documentary about meeting Fred Phelps, the leader of the aforementioned Westboro Baptist Church which runs the “God Hates Fags” campaigns, and noted that on that occasion, he seemed to go out of his way to provoke them by talking about his sex life in a rather explicit way, to which they responded with dignity which made him look like a vulgar oaf. There’s none of that here and much less of the snide remarks; perhaps it’s because Griffin doesn’t pretend to be a religious leader and can just as easily tell Allen to clear off, in not so many words. Instead, Allen prances round with a ukelele and at one point starts serenading Griffin with it (which I fast forwarded as I tend to do when things get cringe-making).
His tactic here was to give Griffin a chance to speak and to reveal himself as the bigot he says he isn’t. Asked about his musical tastes, he plays a David Cameron and says he was into punk rock (like the Clash, who were involved in Rock Against Racism) and early Skrewdriver (the band, albeit with only one original member, later became a Nazi band, which Griffin said was a parody of itself), but that his real love was folk music, particularly a capella singing from Suffolk (the English folk scene has also distanced itself from Griffin). Griffin was also allowed to explain that the National Front he joined in the 1970s consisted mostly of ‘refugees’ from Heath’s Tory party (rather than the thugs people associate it with), but Allen later challenged Griffin’s attempts to play down the far right’s thuggish image by showing a fight between a group of BNP activists, including a Parliamentary candidate, and some Asian youths during the 2010 elections — a theme he repeated several times, namely that the BNP are racists and the nature of racism hasn’t changed.
Griffin’s particular type of bigotry has moved to much the same territory as the EDL, namely that all races are welcome but that Islam is particularly foreign, that you can’t be English and be a Muslim (unless you’re a convert), that the Qur’an is not really a religious book like the Bible but a manual for “taking power in this world” and that Muslims who really follow the Qur’an and the Hadeeth want to replace the British state with a Shari’ah state. Allen countered this, rather inadequately, by saying that there are a billion Muslims all around the world for whom the Qur’an really is just a religious book, but this is only partly true; there is such a thing as Islamic state law, but for people who aren’t in a position to influence the state, the personal laws are all that apply. By copying rhetoric from the Islamic “far right” (such as al-Muhajiroun), he implies that they are typical of Muslims, or at least of properly practising Muslims, who are made out to all be potential terrorists or traitors, when the reality suggests the opposite.
He also allows Griffin to make accusations about Muslim gangs preying on white girls in various towns, something the BNP tried to capitalise on by holding demonstrations with placards reading “our children are not halal meat”. Allen seemed genuinely flummoxed by Griffin’s claim, and it reflects on a failure to do adequate research because the issue certainly was known about before 2010. Griffin conceded that there were middle-aged white male paedophiles, but that gang grooming of girls was specific to the Muslim community in the UK. (Paedophiles, by definition, are attracted to pre-pubescent children, not adolescents as are the girls targeted by these gangs.) Allen asked Griffin what he would do if his daughter came home and said she had fallen in love with a Muslim; Griffin shrugged the question off, but Allen played footage of a Tory parliamentary candidate from the 1960s saying that he would advise his daughter, if he brought home a “coloured” man, that she should reconsider as she would not want a “coffee-coloured little imp … calling her Mummy”, to demonstrate that the racist fringe hasn’t changed much over the years. He refuted the claim about grooming by showing a report from the NSPCC which said that levels of sex offending do not differ by ethnicity and was a “colour-blind” crime.
In the final few minutes, he showed clips of another interview with Griffin from just before the 2010 election, which he said was uninteresting and was standard politician-speak, and was only remarkable for what was going on in the next room: a couple in which the woman had an obvious disability (she was shown speaking, but it did not seem coherent and no attempt was made to interpret it or explain what the disability was) was moved to the next room at the request of the production team, so that Griffin could not accuse them of provoking him by interviewing him in front of a disabled person. He said he was quite ashamed at how the team treated them, and suggested that the Far Right’s success could be in making people lose a bit of their humanity, whether by shoving a disabled couple aside in a cafe or by adopting bits of their politics including their attitude to minorities; this was accompanied by a picture of newspapers with scare stories about immigration.
This last point perhaps gives some point to the programme itself, or justification for showing it nearly two years after the last interviews were given. Despite gaining some absolute numbers of votes and retaining some MEPs, the BNP lost handily in the last election and lost most, if not all, its council seats. Searchlight (and its internet arm, Hope Not Hate) have reported that the BNP has turned in on itself since the 2010 election; it may never be able to repeat the campaign it mounted at that election and may fade away and become as irrelevant as all the splinter groups that exist on the Far Right. The true face of bigotry in the UK is the English Defence League, which does not waste its time campaigning in election but fights in the streets, something the programme hinted at by suggesting that one knuckle-headed EDL supporter, shown rambling about “Muzlamic infidels”, might be the future of the far right. Was it worth showing the programme at all? I suspect that the reason Channel 4 resisted showing it was that it was already irrelevant when it was completed, and it was even more so this month; it gave unnecessary exposure to someone who would have become a forgotten man.
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