We've already said goodbye. (Getty/Neil Mockford & Alex Huckle)
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You're not allowed to punch people. Since when is that a left-right issue?

Jeremy Clarkson wasn't fired because of the PC brigade or the leftie BBC. You're not allowed to hit people - end of story.

The news will come too late for many of Louise Mensch’s former colleagues in Westminster, but just for the record, if there are any MPs reading this, she wouldn’t have minded if you’d punched her in the face.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that’s the only conclusion I can draw from a set of bizarre tweets sent out by the former Tory MP, successful author and Sun columnist this afternoon in the wake of the BBC’s announcement that Jeremy Clarkson will no longer present Top Gear after he punched a producer in the face.

An angry Mensch tweeted to her 93,000 Twitter followers from her New York home: “Britain has got so pathetically wimpy #Clarkson”.

Apparently the much-publicised Clarkson “fracas” was not in fact down to an over-indulged middle-aged millionaire with anger issues but entirely the fault of “our culture of effeminacy” which, she says, “knows no bounds”.

Mensch went on to justify her point to a follower querying her first tweet, saying: “I definitely do think it [violence] is OK. Between equally matched, and no serious harm done? Yep.” She then added for good measure: “Assuming equal rank etc as in this case”.

So what exactly is Louise Mensch saying? That it’s okay if you hit a colleague of roughly the same fighting ability or size?

Clarkson is a big man and I imagine on a good day he can throw quite a punch, using that huge belly as ballast, so I assume Mensch is only happy for him to punch colleagues who fit the same bill.

Which is strange because, from the photos I’ve seen of Clarkson’s victim, Oisin Tymon, he doesn’t look like he’d be any match physically for Clarkson, a veritable featherweight to Clarkson’s heavyweight.

Some of us might also quibble over whether Mensch is right to think that a jobbing BBC staffer such as Tymon does indeed enjoy “equal rank” with the multi-millionaire star of the TV show he produces.

And I suppose we all have different definitions of what constitutes “serious harm” in a fight. Personally, I think I’d be quite cross if someone gave me a cut lip and I had to spend hours in A&E to get it treated, but I guess that just makes me a bit of a wimp.

But then I’m also a woman. So would it be okay for Clarkson to punch women at work as well, Ms Mensch?

After all, some of us are big strapping lasses who can more than hold our own in a bar fight (I know, I’ve done it).

According to her Twitter feed, Mensch later insists that, no, it is not okay for male colleagues to physically attack female colleagues – although, interestingly she doesn’t clarify whether it’s okay for women to hit other women or not, so it’s apparently still a goer for Mensch’s former female MP colleagues to swing a punch or two.

In Mensch’s utopian future, it will mostly be be men who face going into work every day with their fingers crossed that the boss doesn’t smack them in the face because they forgot to put sugar in his coffee. After all, no harm done, eh?

Except there was harm done. To a BBC producer’s face and self-respect. But, in Mensch’s world, that’s just yet more proof of how pathetic we in Britain are.

What Mensch really means is that the fault lies not with Clarkson, who is just a man’s man doing what men do, but with his producer, who failed to fight back and, well, give as good as he got.

Like many of the million-plus signatories to the “Bring Back Clarkson” petition delivered to the BBC, Mensch sees Clarkson not as the workplace bully he is but as the poor victim of political correctness gone mad.

Mensch is not alone, of course. Indeed she is backed up by her employer Rupert Murdoch, who also tweeted: “How stupid can BBC be in firing Jeremy Clarkson? Funny man with great expertise and huge following.”

So if you’re funny, good at your job and lots of people like you, then you can do pretty much anything you like to anyone and get away with it? (Hmmm, now where have we heard that before..?)

The truth is that when people like Louise Mensch imply that Clarkson is a victim, they are basically saying that it’s okay for people to go around punching people who irritate them.

This is not a case of Left versus Right, or about BBC political correctness, or even about whether you’re a fan of Top Gear or not.

I am a big fan of Jeremy Clarkson and I love watching him on TV and reading his various columns. I think he’s funny and irreverent and adds to the gaiety of nations. But I also think the BBC were quite right to terminate his contract.

And if Louise Mensch genuinely believes that it’s okay to punch your colleagues then she may find a queue of people waiting outside her New York apartment block tomorrow morning keen to test out her theory in practice.

Still, no serious harm done, eh?

Julia Hartley-Brewer is a journalist and commentator.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle