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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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