Earlier this week the BBC invited the chairman of the fascist British National Party (BNP), Nick Griffin, now a member of parliament, to its Question Time debate. The move led to a huge controversy and public protests outside the BBC studio, and attracted 8 million TV viewers. Griffin observed rather memorably that if Churchill had been alive today, he would have been a member of the BNP. The mostly dismayed British press has jumped to the defense of their beloved leader, but Griffin's observation is not entirely off the mark, as Ian Jack writes:
However foolish Nick Griffin may have been on Question Time, one thing he said rang true: that if Winston Churchill were alive today, the British National party would be the only party that would have him. Churchill had notably racist opinions. About Indians, as the historian Ramachandra Guha has written, he could be "truly dreadful". Leo Amery, his long-suffering secretary of state for India, recorded many Churchillian moments in his diary. One from September 1942 reads: "During my talk with Winston he burst out with, 'I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion'." The next year hundreds of thousands of people lay dead or dying from starvation in Bengal. When the cabinet was discussing the possibility that grain might be sent to relieve this appalling famine, Amery writes that the prime minister butted in with "a flourish on Indians breeding like rabbits and being paid a million a day by us for doing nothing about the war".
In the end Amery wondered if his boss was '"really quite sane" about India. We could wonder the same about Griffin's attitudes to Muslims. But when Jack Straw said on Question Time that the BNP's policies contradicted "the longstanding values of British society", we might also wonder just how long-standing some of those values have been.