Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guido and Harry's little Tank comes to defend their mate Jeremy.

We live in a country with a decent record of protest. The rights of citizens to march in the streets to oppose what they see as wrongs being done by those in power is part of our (unwritten) constitution. We may disagree with specific protests but most of us would buy the Voltairean maxim "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  So how should we react to the stunt perpetrated by the Right Wing bloggers Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) and his buddy Harry Cole? They used a military vehicle (rather like Gruber's "little Tank" in "Hello Hello") to present a petition with, apparently, one million signatures on it demanding that the BBC reinstate Jeremy Clarkson.

Fawkes is a curious character. He is a militant libertarian and though instinctively conservative he is as critical, sometimes, of the Conservative party as he is of Labour. It is the liberal establishment that is mostly in his sights. When push comes to shove, which it will very soon, he'll probably back the Tories - though he has implied approval of UKIP in the past. He despises the BBC and it is the combination of this, the libertarianism and the wish always to zig when the liberals are zagging that lies behind his armoured car mounted protest.

Jeremy Clarkson is Jack the Lad. The "card" who entertains us with skill, but also with outrage. The skill is undeniable. "Top Gear" is a hugely successful television programme which even those of us who avoid it like the plague must admit has high popular appeal. And it makes lots of money. The "outrage" element of the Clarkson persona is his obvious hatred of political correctness and his refusal to adhere to the behavioural norms that most in public life feel they have to follow. He's not alone in this, but he is perhaps the most visible. And the million people who signed Fawkes' petition no doubt like Clarkson as much for his outspokenness as for his broadcasting talents.

Clarkson' track record - summarised here by Sky - is abysmal. He is privileged and famous, rich and revered, friend of politicians and many in the public eye. Others who have these advantages manage also to be decent people. Clarkson has an arrogance and a contempt for others that is incompatible with his position of privilege. He is not some oddball on the fringes of fame. He is one of Britain's "celebs" and as such, whether he likes it or not, a role model. If he can get away with the things he does and says then why shouldn't I ?

The libertarian Guido Fawkes and his friends seem to believe that Clarkson has the right to transgress as much as he likes - freedom ahead of decency you might say. The Prime Minister, more cautiously, agrees - otherwise why would he publicly support him ? The liberal establishment just doesn't like Clarkson who is a serial offender against their (our) values. Politically we are in UKIP territory here. Indeed Nigel Farage shares many of the Clarkson personality traits and his railing against the "LibLabCon" establishment is similiar to the contempt that Clarkson holds for it. However Clarkson, ever the contrarian, has denied any leaning to UKIP - in an interview with Radio Times he said:

“I’m massively pro-European so it becomes rather difficult to support a party that wants primarily to get you out of Europe. Anyway there doesn’t seem to be a party for UKIP there’s just one man in a Barbour with a pint and a fag"

Jeremy Clarkson pro-Europeanism may seem a surprise (a welcome one !). But it does suggest a  perverse individuality and a refusal to be typecast. It is a shame that he could not combine these admirable qualities with compassion and a greater determination not to offend. He is never going to be a liberal and nobody should ask him to be one. But a bit of "Noblesse Oblige" would not go amiss - and would avert the need for the shadier figures on the Right of our politics  to appear in armoured vehicles to defend him.


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