But Nick Griffin has dwarfed all of them, and ultimately television is as much about viewing figures as the newspaper business is about selling copy.
There has been much criticism of the BBC for inviting the leader of the BNP on to its flagship political platform: they were besieged by a baying mob and have been inundated with complaints: Ofcom will doubtless be a little busier today.
But Cranmer would like to say how poor the performances were of all three representatives of the main political parties. Jack Straw stammered his way through some ill-prepared tales from Blackburn; Sayeeda Warsi was purposely chosen for her skin colour and religion, yet simply repeated ad hominem attacks ad nauseam; and Chris Huhne, like all Liberal Democrats, had nothing specific to say about anything. All three gave distinctly unmemorable performances, and failed miserably either to expose Mr Griffin’s odious beliefs or the BNP’s sinister strategy.
Last night was one of the few Question Times in which the observations and political contributions of the ‘token celebrity’ outshone those of the ‘professional’ politicians. Bonnie Greer is a playwright and deputy director of the British Museum, but if she were to stand for Parliament, she would get a landslide: she has something of the Obama factor about her. She alone held her cool, and (more importantly) exposed Nick Griffin’s intellectual inadequacies and the absurdities of the BNP. In fact, she came out with the most memorable challenge of the programme. On the subject of the BNP’s plans to change its constitution to permit ethnic minorities to join the party, she said to Nick Griffin: “You can laugh all you want, but if I was a BNP member, I'd be scared.”
She not only charmed, she did so intelligently, rising above the partisan bickering on immigration which beset the other three. While they were arguing among themselves about which party has the best policy and who voted for what, Bonnie Greer was eloquently upholding the right to freedom of speech, and telling Nick Griffin that she had brought books for him – to enlighten him on the true history of the British Isles; to challenge some of his beliefs and prejudices; in short, she offered to educate him.
Who else has offered to do that for the self-styled ‘most loathed man in Britain’?
And that was why she towered above the political posturing and the unseemly fringe behaviour of the politicians. Each time Mr Griffin tried to persuade the British people that he was thinking what they were thinking about Winston Churchill, patriotism, Islam, homosexuality and immigration, Jack Straw spoke about his Jewish antecedents, Sayeeda Warsi said he was ‘disgusting’, and Chris Huhne said... err, Cranmer cannot recall. But Bonnie Greer offered him an education.
How else can one enlighten the ignorant? How else should one challenge the bigot? How else may one inculcate values, develop maturity or instil morality?
And Mr Griffin should accept her kind offer, for he even admitted that he could not himself explain his own past views and actions, or why he believed what he believed. While he denigrated Islam, he lauded the Klu Klux Klan (in the presence of a black American). He contradicted himself over holocaust denial, and implied that ‘indigenous people of Britain’ were victims of genocide bit were not necessarily white because, to him, skin colour is irrelevant. He appeared not only not to know himself, but he could not explain how or why he knows what he claims to know.
Mr Griffin would benefit enormously from studying for an A-level in Critical Thinking, a BTEC in epistemology, or even a few hours of ‘Citizenship’.
In many ways his performance was a disappointment: it was certainly a wasted opportunity. Although he attempted to present himself as the BNP’s Tony Blair – a political saviour who is challenging his party’s ‘Clause IV’ and modernising its constitution to make it suitable for modern Britain – he struggled throughout to articulate anything coherent: he was reactive and defensive.
But his mere presence on the British political scene ought to be a constant reminder of the manifest failings of all of the main parties. The rise of the BNP is a direct consequence of 12 years of New Labour’s immigration policy, their diminution of our liberties and an unprecedented assault on the Christian faith – all of which have alienated millions of its core voters. A vote for the BNP is now the most high-profile protest vote in the history of political sects and dangerous cults. And it is not that their supporters are necessarily racist; it is that they can tune in to the BBC and watch the ‘professional’ politicians receive the kicking and verbal assault that the ballot box can only ever imply.