Jeremy Clarkson’s call for strikers to be “executed in front of their families” was an unfunny joke that required no comment from anyone. If you don’t like Clarkson’s brand of populist right-wing humour (I don’t), switch over. But few chose that option. The Twittersphere erupted in outrage and Labour rushed out a late night press release calling on David Cameron to “condemn” Clarkson’s remarks (Cameron has since said it was “a silly thing to say”). Now, remarkably, Unison, one of the country’s biggest trade unions, is taking “urgent legal advice” over whether the Top Gear presenter could be prosecuted for his “I’d have them all shot” comment.
I’ve embedded the clip from The One Show above, so you can judge for yourself, but it was entirely clear to me that Clarkson’s comments were made in jest. Indeed, immediately before the remarks, he joked that he supported the strike (the roads were clear for once) but needed to give the other side since he was on the BBC. The literal minded response of most liberals only panders to Clarkson’s depiction of the left as sour, humourless and boring.
Those on the left “outraged” by Clarkson’s comments are the mirror image of those on the right who cry foul when Ken Livingstone jokes about hanging Osborne or compares Boris to Hitler. The divide, in this instance, is not between the left and the right but between the ironic mind and the literal mind. We can either live in a censorious society where individuals are free to use only the blandest language possible, or one in which we tolerate bad jokes and make them in return. I know which I prefer.
The irony is that Clarkson’s joke about strikers distracted attention from a remark that was genuinely offensive. “I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading,” he said. “It’s always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst.”
“You just think, why have we stopped because we’ve hit somebody? What’s the point of stopping? It won’t make them better.”
Where, I have been meaning to ask, was the outrage over that?
P.S. For my own take on the strike, see my blog from yesterday “The myth of “unaffordable” public sector pensions“