Jack Straw: ''We've got to make the argument for people''
Justice Secretary Jack Straw has agreed to take part in a debate alongside the British National Party on the BBC's Question Time programme.
Mr Straw told the BBC he would join a panel which will include BNP leader Nick Griffin, the Tories and Lib Dems, in London on 22 October.
He said the BNP were defeated when Labour "fought them hard".
Labour has previously refused to debate with the BNP, and some activists have branded the policy change "a disgrace".
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had already said they would take part in the programme.
Speaking on the Politics Show in the North West, Mr Straw said: "Wherever we have had BNP problems in my area and when we have fought them hard, we've pulled back and won the seats back.
"And that's what we have to do. We've got to make the argument for people and I am delighted to do so."
The BBC had already confirmed that it may invite Mr Griffin, who was elected as an MEP in June, to appear on a future edition of the Question Time, saying it was bound by the rules to treat all political parties with "due impartiality".
No BNP representatives have yet appeared on the BBC's flagship panel show.
But the corporation reviewed its position following the party's success in last June's European elections, in which Mr Griffin was one of two BNP candidates to be elected as an MEP.
I'm really pleased to hear that Jack has decided to go up against the BNP.
A Labour spokesman said the party had reviewed its policy of refusing to share a platform with the BNP: "Following the BBC's decision to allow Nick Griffin to appear on Question Time, the Labour Party has agreed we should take on the disgusting politics of the BNP by participating in the programme."
He added that future programmes would be treated "on a case-by-case basis".
Minister Margaret Hodge, whose Barking and Dagenham constituency saw 11 council seats won by the BNP in 2006, told a Labour conference fringe meeting: "I'm really pleased to hear that Jack has decided to go up against the BNP.
"My constituents in Barking would not understand if we refused to engage in [a debate] with the BNP ....We need to have the confidence to be in that place."
She also said people turned to the BNP when they felt Labour was not listening to them and urged activists to "get off their backsides" and reclaim those votes.
'High wire act'
But Tony Kearns, assistant general secretary of the Communication Workers' Union, said it was a "disgrace" the BBC was going ahead with offering the BNP a Question Time seat.
He urged government ministers and MPs to join protests against the decision.
Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, who has led campaigns against the BNP, said it was difficult for Labour to know how to respond to sharing a platform with the anti-immigration party.
He told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference: "It's a high wire act. I don't know what the precise solution to this is.
"Over the years we've had a no-platform thing with the BNP but that offers diminishing returns now because they're in forms of electoral representation that they never were when we devised that policy."
He added: "You have to respect the office that they hold and that's the dilemma we now have."
He said: "We need to raise our game in confronting them because we've allowed them to eat into slices of the electorate in the last few years."
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