Other parties say Nick Griffin appearance will give them opportunity to challenge views of far-right party
The British National party has welcomed the BBC's decision to allow its leader, Nick Griffin, to appear on Question Time following the far-right party's success in the European elections.
Although the BBC has yet to issue a formal invitation, the corporation is preparing to ask Griffin to join the panel show and is already consulting other parties about appearing with him.
The party, which won two seats in the European parliament in June, has not appeared on the programme before. Some parties, including Labour, have previously refused to share a platform with the BNP because of its policies on race. A spokesman for the party said yesterday: "Obviously it's good news. Of late, a large proportion of Question Time has been devoted to assaults on the BNP, so it's rather welcome that we are allowed to defend ourselves."
He attacked the Labour party over its past refusal to share a stage with its members and accused the government of using its equality watchdog to attack the BNP.
Referring to the Equality and Human Rights Commission's decision to take the BNP to court over its constitution – which states that only "'indigenous Caucasian' and defined 'ethnic groups' emanating from that race" are allowed to join – he said: "If anybody has an excuse for not sharing a platform with a political party, it should be us and the Labour party, but we believe in the democratic process."
After years of discussions, the BBC is understood to have decided in February that the BNP would have to be allowed to appear on Question Time if it attracted significant support in the European elections. Other smaller parties elected to the European parliament, such as the Green party and Ukip, have been represented.
A BBC spokeswoman said it was obliged to treat all legal political parties registered with the Electoral Commission with due impartiality. "Our audiences – and the electorate – will make up their own minds about the different policies offered by elected politicians," she said.
A Labour party spokesman said the BBC's decision had forced it to review its position of never sharing a platform with the BNP, while the Conservatives said they would treat Griffin's appearance on Question Time like "any other programme" and would ensure a senior Tory was present to counter his arguments.
"We have seen the BNP do well in areas where people haven't been prepared to tackle them and now they are elected we have got to face up to that reality," said a Conservative spokesman.
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "If they're being given the opportunity to debate, then we will appear with them and do our best to argue against them vigorously and to shut out their support."
One anti-fascist group has already said it will stage a demonstration outside Broadcasting House this week to protest against the BBC's decision. Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism accused the corporation of being "complacent and naive" by treating the BNP as a "normal political party". He said: "We will send the BBC a letter saying that it's not legitimate to give them a platform of respectability when they have a policy of discriminating against people on grounds of race."
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017