The move has caused consternation among politicians, with some Labour MPs and at least one cabinet minister pledging to boycott Question Time. They fear the BNP will use the publicity to promote a racist agenda.
The change in policy has also triggered dissent within the BBC. One senior correspondent, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s barmy ... Public servants can be sacked for membership of the BNP and yet the BBC wants to give them airtime with the main political parties.”
The BBC changed its position after the party won two seats at the European elections. Its share of the national vote at that poll was 6.2%. “They got across a threshold that has given them national representation and that fact will be reflected in the level of coverage they will be given,” said Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief adviser on politics. “This is not a policy about the BNP. It’s a policy about impartiality.”
Quite right too. Democracy is never comfortable. It throws up results most people feel queasy about. People are elected who we would rather not deal with. Tough. The BBC has done the right thing, and if Labour empty chair the programme, it will say more about them than it can ever do about the loathsome BNP.