The BBC defended the appearance of Nick Griffin on a Question Time in which the BNP leader gave a twitchy performance and described homosexuals as “creepy”.
Hundreds of angry protesters massed outside Television Centre in west London last night as Griffin also denied he was a Nazi and said the Ku Klux Klan were “almost totally non-violent”.
The BBC came under fire from critics who accused it of having legitimised the BNP’s “racist” policies by inviting Griffin on to the show.
Afterwards Welsh Secretary Peter Hain – who campaigned for many years against Apartheid and who had made a last-ditch appeal to the BBC to drop the BNP leader – bitterly denounced the broadcast.
“The BBC should be ashamed of single-handedly doing a racist, fascist party the biggest favour in its grubby history,” he said.
“Our black, Muslim and Jewish citizens will sleep much less easily now the BBC has legitimised the BNP by treating its racist poison as the views of just another mainstream political party when it is so uniquely evil and dangerous.”
However Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who was also on the Question Time panel, insisted that it had been a “catastrophic” week for the BNP, which had seen Griffin exposed as a “fantasising conspiracy theorist”.
“For the first time the views of the BNP have been properly scrutinised,” he said.
BBC deputy director general Mark Byford insisted it had been “appropriate” to invite Griffin to appear given the level of support his party achieved in the last European elections.
“Members of the audience asked the kind of tough questions that mark Question Time out as the premier television programme where the public put the panellists on the spot,” he said.
“We remain firmly of the view that it was appropriate to invite Nick Griffin on to the Question Time panel this evening in the context of the BBC meeting its obligation of due impartiality.”
Following the programme, Griffin acknowledged his appearance would “polarise normal opinion” but expressed confidence that it would have an impact.
“A huge swathe of British people will remember some of the things I said and say to themselves they’ve never heard anyone on Question Time say that before and millions of people will think that man speaks what I feel,” he said.
“People will see the extraordinary hostility shown to me from the people representing the three old parties. It’s still a matter of the main political parties being against the outsider and that is what it is about.”
Before the recording, around 25 protesters breached security and were able to get through the reception area at Television Centre before being removed from the premises.
Scotland Yard said three police officers were injured in clashes with the demonstrators, although otherwise the protest appeared to pass off largely peacefully.
Inside the studio, the recording took place without incident, although Griffin came under fire from a number or audience members for his views.
To loud applause, one man branded his opinions “completely disgusting” and accused him of “poisoning politics”.
Another suggested derisively that he should be consigned to the South Pole where the “colourless landscape” will “suit you fine”.
Griffin sought to defend his record, insisting that his views had been widely misrepresented and that the BNP had changed under his leadership.
“I am not a Nazi and never have been,” he said.
“I am the most loathed man in Britain in the eyes of Britain’s Nazis. They loathe me because I have brought the British National Party from being, frankly, an anti-Semitic and racist organisation into being the only political party which, in the clashes between Israel and Gaza, stood full square behind Israel’s right to deal with Hamas terrorists.”
He taunted Justice Secretary Jack Straw – who was also on the panel – saying that while his own father had served in the RAF during the Second World War Straw’s father had been in prison for “refusing to fight Adolf Hitler”.
Asked, however, by presenter David Dimbleby if he had ever denied the Holocaust, he did not answer directly replying: “I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial.”
He said that if Muslims wanted to remain in Britain they had to accept that it was “a fundamentally British and Christian country” and that most of the population were descended from people who had lived there for 17,000 years.
“We are aborigines here,” he said. “We feel shut out in our own country.”
Griffin also went on to describe the sight of two men kissing in public as “really creepy”.
“I understand that homosexuals don’t understand that, but that is how a lot of us feel. The Christians feel that way, Muslims, all sorts of people,” he said.
Mr Straw said that, like the Nazis, the BNP continued to define itself on the basis of race.
“It is that difference – the fact that the BNP defines itself on race – which distinguishes it from every other political party I can think of,” he said.
Shadow communities minister Baroness Warsi said the majority of the audience had been “appalled” by Griffin’s views which had been “exposed” by his appearance on the programme.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne accused Griffin of “playing the same old game” of “peddling hatred and fear against a minority”.