When the BBC trailed a forthcoming programme that 'would rock the British political establishment' about 10 days ago, they revealed only that an undercover operative had been infiltrated into an unnamed political party. My initial impression was that a genuine scandal was to be revealed and that the political party involved would be one of the major ones (Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrats); if it had concerned one of those then that would have classified as a genuine and major revelation.
A few days before transmission, however, the trails started to include the information that it was the British National Party that was to be the subject of the programme and I began to think that, well, I knew that already.
In the event, the programme indeed showed the BNP to be a sinister bunch of bigots with a fair sprinkling of thugs amongst them. The interview with the leader of the party, shown a little later in the evening, drove home how dangerous these people are. It is true that Griffin condemned those whose contributions showed them to have perpetrated various kinds of violence and thuggish behaviour and confirmed that they had been expelled from the BNP. It is difficult to believe, however, that the party leadership had been totally unaware of their activities prior to the programme having been so indelicate as to have recorded their 'confessions' (aka 'boasts') on film. My impression is that they were quite happy to tolerate such activities by members, provided it stayed out of the public eye.
Whilst I don't consider the programme to have been in any way a 'revelation', because none of what was revealed was any particular surprise to me, it was indeed a shocking confirmation that there are people in this country who are evil or badly misguided, take your pick. The idea that the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who have voted for this crowd of misfits at recent elections will somehow be shocked or shamed into changiong their views, as has been suggested by many in the media commenting on the programme, is naive and misguided; whilst many of them are perhaps not as extreme in their views as some of those who appeared in the programme, they do hold views which have bigotry as a major component. The 'mole' in the programme, who joined the party out of conviction, but who became disillusioned with some of the tactics he saw being employed was, in one way, a hopeful sign - but I did not get the impression that the views which caused him to join the BNP had changed in any fundamental way. At the same time I imagine that both he and the undercover reporter will have a certain justified fear for their own safety for the forseeable future so for both men it demonstrated a good deal of courage.
As a continuing firm believer in the value of free speech I do not favour the notion that people who espouse unfashionable views should be prevented from expressing them; it is far better that people who think this way should be given every opportunity to reveal just how vile they are rather than risk them going 'underground' and becoming more difficult to track. But of course free speech can never be translated into a licence to carry out acts of violence, physical or emotional, on people they dislike or whose views they disagree with. I will be very interested to hear whether the police believe there are now grounds for taking action against various of those who took part in the programme.