It's all about context....

Richard Herring, dodgy quotes and me

As someone who has spent the past week being demonised, vilified and attacked on various blogs after being quoted, repeatedly, out of context, I couldn't help but nod furiously in agreement as I read comedian Richard Herring's response to Brian Logan's attack on him in the Guardian this morning:

"On Monday I was astounded to read an article by Brian Logan in this very paper in which he wrote, and I quote, that "racists have a point". I never thought I'd live to see such a hateful opinion expressed by a Guardian journalist and was morally outraged.

"Actually, I'm not being entirely fair. The piece read: "This year veteran comic Richard Herring is sporting a Hitler moustache for his show Hitler Moustache, in which he argues that 'racists have a point'." So it wasn't Logan who said it. It was me. I knew that all along, and yet I wilfully took the line out of context in order to be sensationalist. What a cheap and shoddy tactic: you'd expect that in a tabloid perhaps, but the Guardian?

"Imagine if I hadn't bothered to contextualise that first paragraph. At best, that would be sloppy journalism. Yet that's exactly what happened to me on Monday. In an attempt to prove the debatable point that there is a "new offensiveness" in comedy, Logan quoted that one off-colour line and nothing else. He then included contentious statements from two more of my routines (about hating Pakistanis and supporting the BNP), providing little indication of how or why they might have been said. Is it possible he interviewed me with an argument already in mind, cherry-picking the lines that supported his hypothesis? Or is it unfair of me to represent him in that way? I think that most reasonable people might assume from the article that I am racist, or at least pathetically confrontational. Indeed, some reasonable people did assume that. One blogger wrote: "Richard Herring is currently putting on a show called Hitler Moustache, where (and I haven't seen the show) he apparently dishes up straight-faced endorsements of racist ideas."

Richard, mate, I know how you feel....

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.