Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Friday, 23 October 2009 17:32 UK

What did voters make of Griffin?

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, in Dagenham, East London

Shopping Mall in Dagenham
Shoppers in Barking and Dagenham had mixed views on the BNP

BNP leader Nick Griffin has complained that he was the victim of a "lynch mob" when he made his controversial appearance on the BBC's flagship political discussion programme Question Time.

But what did voters make of it in Barking and Dagenham, an area where disenchanted white working class voters have been increasingly turning to the BNP?

Everyone I spoke to outside Dagenham Heathway tube station thought the BBC had been right to invite Mr Griffin on to the programme - but even those who did not share his political views felt he had been victimised, to a certain extent.

"I felt sorry for the guy really," said Bill, 64, an out-of-work electrician, who said he had never voted for the BNP.

"The trouble with this country is they don't like the truth. If you don't join the club and say what you think is right you are a bad influence."

Perhaps not aware that Mr Griffin is a graduate of Cambridge university, he went on: "They were just after slaughtering him. He was just maybe not educated enough to take on that many people. He did show Jack Straw up a bit though."

Asked if he thought the BBC had been right to invite Mr Griffin on to the programme, he said: "Why should he not have his freedom of speech? He got elected by people."

'Outrageous'

When my colleague Dominic Casciani visited the East London borough earlier in the week, before Question Time had been broadcast, he had found black and Asian people particularly reluctant to comment on the BNP.

I discovered a similar reticence as I attempted to gather opinion outside the tube station and in the small shopping mall opposite, although most people said they had not seen the programme or had not even been aware it was on.

It gave him a chance to fight his corner but the more he spoke the deeper the hole he dug for himself
Alan Wright

A 42-year-old NHS worker, who had come to the UK 22 years ago from Nigeria, said he had watched Nick Griffin's appearance on the programme with conflicting emotions.

"He has a right to display his position but I think some of the things he was saying were outrageous, about indigenous people and people who were born here."

The man, who did not want to be named, went on: "He needs to be given the freedom to express what his policies are. My worry is that it is going to galvanise support for him with a certain group of people, especially racists."

He said he had lived in the Barking area for six years, but since the election of BNP councillors he had not allowed his children to play outside in the street for fear of racist attacks.

"I don't stand outside my house unnecessarily. You don't know who is watching. I have children as well and I am quite worried about it."

He was concerned Mr Griffin's appearance on the BBC programme would increase tensions: "It may well lead to a surge in support for them, especially as he was the one who got a real kicking."

Marginalised

Some people, like the group of teenagers I spoke to outside Wilkinson's hardware store, had not taken much notice of the programme.

"I started watching it but I fell asleep. It was just on the telly," said one, to laughter from his mates.

He stood his ground and made some interesting points
Margaret Hipson

Labour voter Alan Wright, 76, a retired heating engineer, said: "I think he (Griffin) got what he deserved. I don't even know why he went on there because he was always going to get slagged off."

Asked if he should have been given a platform by the BBC, he said: "A lot of people have been left in the dark about the BNP. It gave him a chance to fight his corner but the more he spoke the deeper the hole he dug for himself."

Elizabeth Hipson, a 42-year-old meter reader, said she had voted for the BNP but - despite watching Question Time - struggled initially to name its leader: "Is it Nick something?"

She said Mr Griffin had "stood his ground and made some interesting points" and that the other panellists had not been able to answer the questions on immigration.

She had discussed the programme with a group of 13 friends in McDonalds and "everybody was of the same opinion - that he did make some difference by going on there, with the things he was saying".

She winced slightly when saying she backed the BNP, explaining that it was associated "years and years ago" with skinheads but said that she now felt it was seen as more respectable.

She was, like everyone else I spoke to, keen to stress that she was not racist but added: "Something has got to be done about immigration in this country. We are becoming extremely overpopulated," citing examples of people from other countries apparently gaining unfair advantages in benefits and housing.

And she became quite animated as she described how she believed British people were being marginalised.

"It feels as if we are being pushed this way," she said, demonstrating with her raised arms, "and in the end there will be no room left for us. They are going to be in the majority."



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