Jeremy Clarkson mumbled the rhyme in the footage, which was not broadcast by the BBC. Photo: Getty
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The N-word: Jeremy Clarkson has finally urinated on the live rail of racism

Jeremy Clarkson said the word "nigger" in a manner that was meant to be mischievously offensive - and I, for one, am fed up with being expected to serve up elegant, dignified and dispassionate responses each time one of his jibes against a racial group emerges into the airwaves.

I was going to leave this Jeremy Clarkson thing alone. Really, I was. I had a load of laundry to do, and I hadn’t eaten yet. But then I read an article by Marina Hyde in the Guardian whose headline claimed that “revulsion over Jeremy Clarkson has become a badge of honour for the left”. And so, appropriately goaded into a response, like a sleepy bear who has had its belly prodded once too many times with a spitefully sharp stick, here I am.

I am not some paid-up member of an anti-Clarkson fan club. I am busy and Jeremy Clarkson wastes my time, because every now and then he makes a bigoted comment and I am asked to respond to it. I don’t sit in, waiting for him to slip up. He is a brilliant broadcaster whose show would still be a success if he never said another racist thing again. And I would honestly rather that he didn’t. I, for one, am fed up with being expected to serve up elegant, dignified and dispassionate responses each time one of his finely-calibrated jibes – aimed at racial or social groups regarded as too powerless, too humourless, or too distant to reply – emerges into the airwaves.

I am not sure if Marina Hyde’s article was aimed at the participants in some perverse liberal turf war, but I am not part of it. I am a writer of colour trying to make his career as best he can, and all I see is a man who is making millions of pounds who is consistently indulged because he is running one of the world’s most successful shows. Not even a fine. Not even a suspension. Just an “official warning”, or a “final warning”, whatever that is.

Jeremy Clarkson said the word "nigger" – let’s look at that word for a moment, uncensored, in all its ugliness – in a manner that was meant to be mischievously offensive. That’s why he mumbled it. I don’t know why he’s suddenly so mealy-mouthed now, why the cat has got his tongue. Some of his remarks over the years have been less offensive than others, but most of them have been in the same vague ballpark. Mexicans, Gypsies, slopes. The only reason that he’s twitching now, perhaps, is that because he’s finally urinated on the live rail of racism, the “N-Word”, that he’s been flirting with for ages. And the sad truth is that he’s probably spent more time trying to track down whoever leaked that video than he has in reflecting upon just why so many people are genuinely horrified.

My revulsion at Jeremy Clarkson’s racism is not a fashion statement. Neither is my revulsion at some of the defences of him that I have seen this week, which have put me in a state of fury that was almost overwhelming, to the extent that I was afraid to begin writing this article for the uncontrollable rage that might emerge. Because people may scorn UKIP as political outsiders, but their sentiments are already among us. Their sentiments are mainstream, since for years Jeremy Clarkson has been clothing them in a clown suit.

A few months ago I was asked to go on the radio to debate whether UKIP’s use of the phrase “Bongo Bongo Land” was racist. I refused. I refused because I would have found it demeaning. Bongo Bongo Land is so flagrantly racist, I told them, that I didn’t see where the debate was. Here’s what’s going to happen, I said. You’re going to put me on some show with a smooth-talking UKIP spokesperson who’s going to be all innocent and mild-mannered, and I’m going to get angry and possibly lose it, and then the audience will have their Angry Black Man and then people will be asking why we have chips on our shoulders and why we are so mad about everything. So I said no.

And I said no because Bongo Bongo Land is the kind of thing that the racists probably smirked when they were carving up Africa at that conference in Berlin in the 1880s. Hell, for all I know, they may have been mumbling eeny-meeny-miny-mo when they were deciding which territories they wanted for themselves. I don’t know. All I know is that Clarkson has reminded me this week why I hate his casual racism. Because its frequency and popularity are reminders of the very real prejudice that is still acceptable within Britain today. Clarkson’s casual racism is the kind of thing that landlords think when they are deciding not to let properties to black people in the supposed multiracial utopia that is London. It is the kind of thing that led to the racist van campaign. The kind of thing that brings your kids home from school in floods of tears, that makes employers think twice before calling you to interview. It is insidious and it is widespread and we have recently learned from the BBC that Clarkson is not even going to be fined or suspended for it. And I find no comfort, let alone a badge of honour, in any of that.

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Forget sniffer dogs. To stop drug abuse in prison, fight the real enemy – boredom

Since I left prison in 2011, the system has had £900m sucked out of it. No wonder officers are struggling to control drug use.

It’s rare to go a day in prison without someone offering you drugs. When I was sentenced to 16 months in 2011, I was shocked by the sheer variety on offer. It wasn’t just cannabis, heroin, and prescription pills. If you wanted something special, you could get that too: ecstasy for an in-cell rave, cocaine for the boxing, and, in one case, LSD for someone who presumably wanted to turn the waking nightmare of incarceration up to eleven.

Those were sober times, compared to how things are today. New synthetic drugs – powerful, undetectable, and cheap – have since flooded the market. As the Ministry of Justice itself admitted in its recent White Paper, they’ve lost control: “The motivation and ability of prisoners and organised crime groups to use and traffic illegal drugs has outstripped our ability to prevent this trade.”

The upshot is that, rather than emerging from prison with a useful new trade or skill, inmates are simply picking up new drug habits. According to a report released on 8 December by drug policy experts Volteface, on average 8 per cent of people who did not have a previous drug problem come out of prison with one. In some of the worst institutions, the figure is as high as 16 per cent.

Why are people with no history of drug abuse being driven to it in prison?

There’s the jailbreak factor, of course. All prisoners dream of escape, and drugs are the easiest way out. But, according the report, the most common reason given by inmates is simply boredom.

Life when I was inside was relatively benign. On most days, for instance, there were enough members of staff on duty to let inmates out of their cells to shower, use a telephone, post a letter, or clean their clothes. Sometimes an emergency would mean that there might not be enough hands on deck to escort people off the wing to education, worship, drug therapy, healthcare, family visits, work, or other purposeful activities; but those occasions were mercifully rare.

Since then, the system has had £900m sucked out of it, and the number of operational staff has been reduced by 7,000. All such a skeleton crew can do is rush from one situation to the next. An assault or a suicide in one part of the prison (which have increased by 64 per cent and 75 per cent respectively since 2012) often results in the rest being locked down. The 2,100 new officers the MoJ has promised to recruit don’t come anywhere close to making up the shortfall. Purposeful activity – the cornerstone of effective rehabilitation – has suffered. Inmates are being forced to make their own fun.

Enter ‘synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists’, or SCRAs, often more simply referred to by brand names such as ‘Spice’ or ‘Black Mamba’. Over 200 of them are available on the international market and they are, today, the most popular drugs in British prisons. A third of inmates admitted to having used ‘Spice’ within the last month, according to a recent survey conducted by User Voice, and the true figure is probably even higher.

As one serving prisoner recently told me: "It's the perfect drug. You can smoke it right under the governor's nose and they won't be able to tell. Not even the dogs can sniff it out."

The combination of extreme boredom and experimental drugs has given birth to scenes both brutal and bizarre. Mobile phone footage recently emerged from Forest Bank prison showing naked, muzzled prisoners – apparently under the influence of such drugs – being made to take part in human dog fights. At the same establishment, another naked prisoner introduces himself to the camera as an ‘Islamic Turkey Vulture’ before squatting over another inmate and excreting ‘golden eggs’, believed to be packets of drugs, into his mouth. It sounds more like a scene from Salò than the prison culture I recall.

The solution to this diabolical situation might seem obvious: but not to Justice Secretary Liz Truss. Her answers are more prison time (up to ten years) for visitors caught smuggling ‘spice’, and new technology to detect the use of these drugs, which will inevitably fail to keep up with the constantly changing experimental drugs market. Earlier this week, she even suggested that drug-delivery drones could be deterred using barking dogs.

Trying to solve prison problems with more prison seems the very definition of madness. Indeed, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform, over the last six years, inmates have received over a million days of extra punishment for breaking prison rules – which includes drug use – with no obvious positive effects.

Extra security measures – the training of ‘spice dogs’, for example – are also doomed to fail. After all, it’s not like prison drug dealers are hard to sniff out. They have the best trainers, the newest tracksuits, their cells are Aladdin’s Caves of contraband - and yet they rarely seem to get caught. Why? The image of a prison officer at HMP Wayland politely informing our wing dealer that his cell was scheduled for a search later that day comes to mind. Unless the huge demand for drugs in prison is dealt with, more security will only result in more corruption.

It might be a bitter pill for a Tory minister to swallow but it’s time to pay attention to prisoners’ needs. If the prodigious quantities of dangerous experimental drugs they are consuming are anything to go by, it’s stimulation they really crave. As diverting as extra drug tests, cell searches, and the sight of prison dogs trying to woof drones out of the sky might momentarily be, it’s not going to be enough.

That’s not to say that prisons should become funfairs, or the dreaded holiday camps of tabloid fantasy, but at the very last they should be safe, stable environments that give inmates the opportunity to improve their lives. Achieving that will require a degree of bravery, imagination, and compassion possibly beyond the reach of this government. But, for now, we live in hope. The prisoners, in dope.