Saturday, 24 October 2009

His Bonnie from over the ocean

Poor Bonnie Greer. The general, if not universal, consensus has it that the Newsnight Review regular did best in the bearpit that was Thursday's Griffin Time. I thought so (at least among the panellists: the best contributions came from the floor). Chris Huhne was quite forceful, but his attempt to portray the Liberal Democrats as uniquely tough on immigration (tougher than Labour, anyway) was deeply weird. Jack Straw was his usual mixture of oleaginous and disturbingly right wing; hearing him - after all he has done during the past twelve years - cheered to the rafters simply for not being a racist will not form one of my pleasanter memories. Sayeeda Warsi was shrill and unconvincing, and there was no sign of the Union Jack scarf we were promised. They made a dispiriting trio. If this is what reaching out to potential BNP supporters means, it would be better by far just to ignore them. If some people want to vote for fascists, let them. Nick Griffin isn't going to form the next government, or any government.

Greer played a more subtle game, treating the BNP leader, as he deserves to be treated, mainly as someone who Needs Help. Her gentle humour was a more effective weapon than Straw's ranting (Sunny Hundal does not agree, which only confirms me in my opinion) and more authentic than Huhne's impersonation of Enoch Powell. It was, she writes, part of a game plan: "There was no way that I was going to live up to any negative pictures that he would have had about me, or of any other black woman, even at the risk of looking ineffective". It may, though, have worked a little too well. Bonnie seems to have landed herself with a stalker.

It began backstage. Greer told the Standard,


"I was the last to emerge and when he saw me, he turned and smiled his greasy smile and clumsily half extended a hand. I ignored it and thought to myself: what are you about? Are you forgetting I'm black? Are you forgetting you called me a black history fabricator? Are you trying to show me you aren't racist?"


And it got even worse when they were seated:

"We were seated next to each other and as we were having our microphones attached, he leaned towards me like I was his new best friend and tried to make small talk. "Bonnie, how many times have you been on?" he asked. "Bonnie, do you find it scary?" I looked him straight in the eye. "No," I replied sharply, "but you might."

According to today's Times, Griffin "repeatedly" tried to engage her in conversation. "He was trying to vibrate towards me; I was trying to edge away from him" she said. "He was like some creepy guy who bothers you in the pub". At one point during the broadcast, I noticed Griffin tapping Greer affectionately on the back and attempting to share a conspiratorial remark. When he came out with his spiel about indigenous Brits ("the skin colour is irrelevant", he maintained, by which I assume he meant that he hates Poles almost as much as he hates black people) she offered him a reading list. "Come see me at the British Museum [where she is a trustee] and I'll give you some books." Big mistake. Griffin handed her his business card - which she is now "considering putting up for sale on ebay" and afterwards described her as "a smart and charming lady". He accepted her (presumably rhetorical) offer to come up and see her museum, which she must now deeply regret. His enthusiasm would appear unrequited. She found him "dangerously narcissistic" and suggested that "in America he would have been on the David Letterman show" as an object of ridicule.

I thought it was Letterman himself who's the object of ridicule these days; but then Bonnie Greer has been in Britain for two decades and perhaps she's above such trivia. Personally, I'd like to see Griffin get the Jon Stewart treatment, though he'd also make a good candidate for Jerry Springer.

It's possible that Griffin's enthusiasm for Bonnie Greer is all a pose, of course, a cynical and doomed attempt to persuade people that he's not really racist at all, just tough on immigration and with a heart bleeding for the plight of the indigenous population. What better way than to say nice things about an inoffensive-looking American woman of colour? But perhaps, just perhaps, he really does have a crush on her. Stranger things have happened. She's an attractive woman, and he probably hasn't been in the proximity of such an intelligent person since his Cambridge days (in her most elegant stiletto-strike, Greer revealed that Nasty Nick had come away with a Desmond). She was nice to him: at least, she wasn't overtly aggressive towards him, which if you're Nick Griffin might well seem irresistibly flirtatious. The coup de foudre, indeed, might explain why a man used to mugging for the cameras seemed so uncharacteristically nervous. Who hasn't been on edge during a first date with someone they really fancied?

Being racist in general does not necessarily preclude warmer feelings towards an individual - as the mixed racial heritage of most African Americans tends to demonstrate. Perhaps, like his friend from the "non-violent" faction of the Ku Klux Klan, he fantasises about being master of a Southern plantation, with Bonnie as his favourite slave-girl. Or perhaps his fantasy is more prosaic but equally delusional, and he imagines that Greer might see past the maligned caricature conjured by the liberal-dominated media elite into the decent and sensitive soul within.

I hope Bonnie Greer is taking appropriate evasive action.