There has been a mixed response to a controversial televised debate between the leader of the Christian Party, George Hargreaves and the leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), Nick Griffin.
There has been some surprise over the apparent areas of agreement between the two men, who plan to stand against each other in the Barking constituency in this year’s general election. The debate was broadcast on the Christian-based channel Revelation TV yesterday evening (22 March).
The BNP said today (23 March) that the debate had been conducted “in an orderly and highly civilised fashion”.
In their own statement on the event, the Christian Party said that Griffin had presented “many concerning doctrines and policies wrapped in seemingly honest patriotic truths”.
The main point of difference between the two candidates seemed to concern ethnicity. Early on in the debate, Hargreaves said that “the BNP does not exist for my future or any other Black or ethnic minority Christian. And since in Christ racial division are demolished – ‘for there is neither Greek nor Jew, but all are one in Christ Jesus’– the BNP does not exist for the wider church”.
However, the Christian Party was not entirely critical of the BNP. In their statement today, they said that Griffin “made clear and strong statements about the dangers of radical Islam and how present policy is persecuting Christians, family values and British people, whilst seemingly embracing and promoting foreign religions”.
They added, “The Christian Party share similar concerns, although their solutions will be radically different in tone”.
For their part, the BNP claimed that Griffin “showed time and time again that the BNP was none of the things which the far leftist cranks claimed it to be, and at one stage Revd Hargreaves apologised to the BNP leader for a billboard last year which attacked the BNP in a most derogatory manner”.
Outside the studio, activists from Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate demonstrated against the BNP. The BNP today dismissed Hope Not Hate as a “Communist Party front”.
Response to the debate has been mixed. One Christian viewer, posting a comment on the Revelation TV website, wrote that he was disappointed “that Rev Hargreaves was not more critical of Griffin's position towards his whole racial ideology which he made no effort to hide. I suppose in pursuit of fairness the honourable reverend forgot the reality of this man”.
However, Christian Concern For Our Nation (CCFON) has already endorsed George Hargreaves’ election bid. In an email to supporters on 18 March, CCFON’s Director, Andrea Williams, said “We would like George Hargreaves to gain a seat in Parliament”, explaining that, “He has been involved in every major Christian interest campaign in the last decade”.
But the next day, she admitted that the comments had received a “mixed reaction”. She insisted that, “In no way does an endorsement of George Hargreaves mean we do not support Christians in other political parties”.
The situation is complicated because CCFON is the main force behind Christians and Candidates 2010. This initiative will involve hustings events, chaired by former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, at which Christians can question leading politicians. It is unusual for hustings to be run by an organisation that has already endorsed a particular party or candidate.
Griffin and Hargreaves will continue to campaign against each other in the Barking constituency. Barking’s Labour MP, Margaret Hodge, recently expressed concern that voters who support the Christian Party could inadvertently help the BNP to win the seat.
[Update 18.35 24th March: The footage is now on You Tube, and we have blogged about some of the more interesting things that were said. George Hargreaves appears to praise  the BNP's policy on migration from the EU, and Nick Griffin expresses his support  for the Archbishop of York ]