GriffinI’ve just made the mistake of googling ‘griffin’. According to Wikipedia, it is a legendary creature (or, in another description, a ‘monster’) with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. As the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle was the king of the birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. Griffins are normally known for guarding treasure. In antiquity it was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.

Good grief! Never has someone been as mis-named as Nick! But, as the description implies, however, the mythical bird is a complete mess of unjoined-up bits and the subject of fantasiesof greatness. Oh! So, that’s where the similarity is to be found…

Last night’s debate on the BBC’s Question Time was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Griffin ducked and dived under a storm of vitriol, but the arguments didn’t take us anywhere. We know he lies about quotations and can’t be trusted on any matter. His claim to represent the ‘ordinary man in the street’ is ludicrous, givne his own social background. And his selective view of history is so ridiculous as to be hardly worth challenging – if, that is, it wasn’t the case that some people will want to appropriate the bits of history he cites in order to back up their prejudices.

What was lacking from Question Time – and continues to prove elusive in Britain generally – is an informed, intelligent and measured debate about immigration and population. It appears impossible to achieve without participants being caricatured by their opponents as either ‘stupidly liberal’ or ‘impossibly racist’. This surely feeds into the BNP agenda which is based not on fact and intelligence, but nasty prejudice and ridiculously half-baked claims. But the danger lies not in the BNP spouting vicious nonsense, but in the lack of a genuine debate by the other parties.

Griffin2For example, I have just come across a report in my local freebie newspaper about the decision to close the UK Border Agency’s asylum screening unit in Liverpool – thus leaving Croydon as the only one in the country. Local politicians have gone mad over the sudden decision as this local community will have to cope with every asylum seeker in Britain coming through the town. No extra funding is granted to the Council or schools or medical services to help cope with the numbers involved.

Now, let me say loudly and clearly: every asylum seeker needs to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. Each one needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness and not be subjected to the treatment that saw many of them escape from their own country. We should be offering a better alternative to people who have often been through experiences that would appal most ordinary Brits. Our local community and services are committed to doing that as well as possible.

But the lack of joined-up-ness in policy-making has consequences not only in terms of community service provision and funding, but also in the psychology of what worried people think is going on (which may bear no relation to the reality). Our politicians are going to have to facilitate a proper, informed, intelligent and rational debate on immigration that exposes the inhumanity of the extremes, allows for a humane expression of compassion and service and enables a genuine appropriation of a commonly owned social policy.

Nick Griffin can now build on his fantasy of self-importance. But his performance last night was more ridiculous than scary.