Question Time (aka Dear Nick …)
Nick Griffin’s Question Time appearance lived up to expectations, public passion, some good speeches against racism and the man himself couldn’t really defend his views. Having said that there’s a few key subtle points that differentiate Griffin from other politicians on the show – and his performance demonstrates exactly why politicians seem to have their own dialectic.
- Too Much Honesty – when he admitted that homosexuals make him uncomfortable he exposed himself to much criticism. He was asked what his opinions on the matter were, and he gave them – but this isn’t how the game is played! If he had simply replied “I don’t believe it is any business of the state as to what people do in their own homes.” (which is his position on the matter) then he wouldn’t have been boo’d and might have picked up respect.
- Not aware when’s on camera – the BBC cameramen frequently turned their gaze upon Griffin whilst he wasn’t talking, this is fairly usual when a point is being about a person, or an organization they represent. During this time Griffin was looking at his notes, or staring blankly. The most important thing when someone is speaking about you is to look like you’re listening. Even if you’re mentally sticking knives into a voodoo doll. This makes it looks like you are respectful and interested in what others have to say, rather than preparing your comeback.
- Failure To Reframe the question – When faced with a difficult political question it is always more beneficial to reframe it in terms that support your perspective, party or interest group. For example when Nick Griffin was asked about whether the BNP were sullying the name of Churchill he addressed the concerns of people directly by describing the unpopular ideas the BNP has that Churchill shared. A far better line of attack would have been to talk about the benefits of a strong Britain and play on people’s concerns about immigration. The more a politician swings debate to areas where people have common ground with them the more votes they get.
- Insulting your hosts – He commented negatively on the BBC, after they had gone through much trouble to have them on the show. Even if his supporters don’t trust the BBC (and recent surveys show they have a far higher than average distrust of BBC Journalists than most people) then he shouldn’t be making himself look impolite on national television. In some sense this is a sub case of being too honest.
The fundamentally interesting conclusion of all this is that the discursive approach that members of the public always want more of from politicians, honesty, directness etc. is exactly what gets you in trouble on political discussion programs. This applies to mainstream politicians as much as to Griffin and the like.
Gordon Brown isn’t a subtle politician – but he is honest, straightforward, hard working and tries his best. These are qualities that are often described as missing from politicians – but in the modern age politicians don’t control the channels of communication in which their message gets to you. So it doesn’t matter if you are honest and straightforward – what you need to be is manipulative of the soundbites that come out of your debates.
Nick Griffin got caught out in terms of his media interaction, in a way that I haven’t seen happen to a politician since John Major called some of his cabinet colleagues bastards and that made for an interesting evening.