Free Speech for the Unlovely 225

I always seem to get back from Africa physically exhausted. I now have to tackle all the organisation of a family Christmas at the last minute. It is both the charm and disadvantage of this blog that the blogging is just me – it has no staff, and no revenue. That is not to devalue the contibution of the volunteer comment moderators – who help out with other things too – and the technical help from Tim, Clive and Richard and the the hosting team. But if I am not writing, nothing happens.

When I am lacking time or energy for deeper thinking, I tend to throw out some provocative thoughts from the top of my mind to see what people make of them. I am worrying today about the attacks on people of whom I disapprove.

I blogged recently about excessive police action against a blogger who argues against the existence of man-made climate change. I think he is wrong, but I don’t see why he should be the victim of police raids. I am going to surprise you by saying that I think that the hounding of Aidan Burley is going too far. Bad taste humour around the Nazis has existed throughout my lifetime – and was brought gloriously to the screen in the brilliant Mel Brooks’ The Producers (the first one, with the fantastic Zero Mostel).

Burley’s stag party seems rather a throwback to the Federation of Conservative Students of the late 70s, important elements of which delighted in singing Nazi songs to emphasise how right wing and taboo-free they were, with an element of self-parody (I speak as an eye-witness). You always worried there were genuine Third Reich sympathies in there – as of course there were so strongly in the British elite in the 1930s. That is the underlying worry in the Burley case – but if there were any evidence of real sympathy for Nazi views from Burley, it would have been dug up by now. I think we should just take this as bad taste humour a la Producers – a play which presumably cannot be produced under French law? Burley has been punished, revealed as a twit, and we should move on.

John Terry is a man whose TV persona and reported behaviour I have always found repulsive. I don’t know what he (or Suarez in a related case) actually said. I find racial abuse absolutely unacceptable. But again, I do not think that where it occurs between two individuals, and unless it is persistent and repeated over a period, it is a matter for the state and police. Not all bad behaviour should be a matter of higher intervention, and shaming can be a good sanction in itself. Both individuals and society have ways to sort things out without always involving the state or constituted organisations within it. I doubt Terry will do it again and it has been made plain that this is unacceptable behaviour in football. It is enough.

The same goes for Jeremy Clarkson. Again, total wanker. But nobody could have seen his TV appearance on the One Show and felt that he actually believed or advocated that strikers should be shot. His body language and tone of voice made it plain he was indulging in hyperbole with the object of being humorous. Exaggerated polemic should not be banned, or even censured. The real problem here is balance. Very right wing polemicists are very often allowed free rein to mouth off on broadcast media. On TV, opposing polemicists (like, err, me) are strictly banned. On radio, George Galloway on Talk Sport is pretty well a lone example. Personally I welcome the vigour of Clarkson’s expression – if only someone equally firm were allowed on to argue with him.

Finally, I am going to defend Herman Cain. No longer a candidate, and his tax and other policies were completely barking mad, therefore pretty mainstream Republican. But I saw very little wrong in anything he was alleged to have done in his love life. One woman alleged that he made a physical advance – put his hand on her leg – towards her in his car, after a dinner where she had asked him for help. It seems to me his behaviour was perfectly normal, and the important thing is she asked him to stop, and he did stop. If men were not allowed to make such advances, the human race would die out. Desisting once it is plain your advances are unwelcome is the important thing. The long term affair alleged was entirely mutual and consenting. Chatting up employees is tasteless, but ought not be a crime.

Burley, Terry, Clarkson and Cain are all people of whom, in different ways, I do not approve and with whose views on life I am heartily at odds. But I don’t hold the view that only people who hold certain approved views should be able to wander round and function, or that we should all be limited to certain highly constrained social behaviours. They are all, in various ways, victims of galloping political correctness. I thought I would express some sympathy for them. Human beings have a right to be wrong, and sometimes foolish. It is part of the human condition.

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225 thoughts on “Free Speech for the Unlovely

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  • TonyF

    Merry Christmas to you and yours Craig. I echo all your sentiments. Keep up your efforts. Every day I used to go to Google News to check the latest news. Now I have your website, a very selective set of Twitter feeds and Max Keiser.

    The new media give us a choice and information upon which to make our own judgments.

    Clarkson has the opinions of phone-in taxi-cab drivers. He makes me laugh however abhorrently ignorant and ill-informed he is. Not worth weeping tears and issuing writs over.

  • Richard

    On the aside point: can ‘The Producers’ now be shown in France. As we will remember from yesterday, the French lower chamber has voted for a law to punish with up to 10 years prison anyone who denies that the 1916 Turkish massacre of Armenians was genocide. It is fundamentally wrong in principle to legislate that a certain fact is true. Also stupid. Facts are established by evidence and reason, which if necessary can be tested in court, case by case. The Irish Parliament, being proud of local hero Arthur Wellesley, wanted to resolve the uncertainty about just where, in the environs of Dublin, he had been born. So they passed an Act of Parliament to say just where. Whether the Armenian genocide, or the genocides by the Nazis, are true (as it happens, I have no doubts) is at best irrelevant; or the strength of the case is actually reduced where arguments against are to be silenced not by the the evidence but by the gag of criminal law. I also believe that the earth orbits the sun, and humans are descended from apes; but in other times and places, I could have been convicted for saying so.

  • Berchmans

    A surprising collection of thoughts for which I thank you. I loved the Nazi bit as it confirmed my prejudices …not that they are right wing…but they are idiots.Same with Clarkson .

    With Cain although I have indeed put my hand on a knee and worse without asking permission I have not done this as an adult. I wonder if it confirms the out of control black guy stereotype and find myself reassured that whilst Obama may be a war mongering disappointment at least he seems to be a gentleman in that respect.

    I hope you are well Craig and I have to say your work is an inspiration .I particularly liked the Fox Verrity Israel article.

    You take care.


  • Berchmans

    To Richard

    ## It is fundamentally wrong in principle to legislate that a certain fact is true.##

    This is a very helpful point. I believe that the issue has been and will be further milked by Zionists especially now that Turkey has so publicly stood up against Israel. I normally post to the Guardian site and have many times noted that any article about Turkey quickly degenerates into a debate about Armenian Holocaust denial ..the implication of course being that Turkey is like Nazi Germany…they all hate us.. and for what ???? oops mind that cement mixer! 🙂


  • Tony

    I think the charge against Cain, a valid one, was rank hypocrisy, Craig. Have a great Christmas and strength to you keyboard in 2012.

  • Franz

    The Clarkson case was a wake-up call for me. I took the news stories at face value without even watching the clip or reading the transcript of the interview, but was nevertheless willing to pass judgment until a friend told me what had actually happened.

    As for “The Producers”: the film was written and made by a Jew, and therefore there is a subtext of self-mocking irony about it that makes the humour acceptable. If made by a non-Jew, it would have been considered offensive, and rightly so.

  • Franz

    “It is fundamentally wrong in principle to legislate that a certain fact is true.”
    Indeed. I always felt uncomfortable about the Austrian law outlawing Holocaust denial, though I couldn’t say exactly why. But it is really quite simple, as you sum up: it turns the legal system into an arbiter of truth, not of justice.

  • Leonard

    Along with many others I am agnostic on man-made climate change since there simply is not enough strong evidence for it and what there is has been clearly massaged in order for everyone to be on-message. In all cases like this one has to ask: What are the vested interests of those for and against, whether it is continued research funding, personal profit from carbon trading (Gore et al) or even the vested interest of those who are sceptical, including me.

    What is certain is that no proper science ever stands still as to conclusions, and no research should be presented without proper peer review. The climate change lobby is seeking to tell the third world and very poor countries that they cannot have the infrastructure that we take for granted. We are being panicked into measures which are based on uncertain facts. There are other issues around pollution and plundering of precious resources which are far more important than carbon levels.

    Whatever the facts, no government, media (Guardian for example)or agency is entitled to tell people what to think or to censure proper examination of presented data, and to make a parallel between holocaust denial and climate change “denial” is crass, shallow and appalling. To arrest someone for merely asking questions is beyond the pale.

  • Mary

    Questions Was he just going along for the ride? Is membership of CFoI compulsory if you want to get ahead as a Tory boy? Or is he just a mixed up kid?


    ‘Mr Burley, a first-term MP, was on the guestlist for the CFI event but was not seen by other guests. The MP, who visited Israel as part of a CFI delegation last May, had written in the brochure about his experiences and his “sincere hope [that] our generation of politicians can help to finally bring peace to this region”.’

  • Franz

    The physics of the greenhouse effect was demonstrated over 50 years ago. Ice caps and glaciers are melting. Average temperatures in most parts of the world are palpably increasing: the number of “above average” months on the Met Office Web is about 80%. Warmer weather, particularly in autumn, winter and spring, is something I’ve noticed with my own eyes in my 42 years.
    I don’t rule out the possibility of a global conspiracy to promote man-made climate change as a fact. There are means (conditional funding) and there are motives (we’re running out of oil). However, for me, the balance of evidence is very much on the side of MMCC. I have looked into the counter-arguments with an open mind, and have yet to find anything that convinces me.

  • Christian


    I think you do great work and I think we nearly agree on the Clarkson thing but… I was hot under the collar about it because if the BBC are going to give someone with such anti-union/worker views such prominence at such a sensitive time, they should be giving equal prominence to pro-union/worker voices. It’s about the BBC, not Clarkson. I know you nearly said as much in this post, but I’d like to add that it seemed they were giving us popular figures being all jokey on the anti-union side and earnest non-famous members of the public/activists on the other side. The jokey people will always come across detached and therefore more rational. It adds up to a kind of anti-union bias and smearing of activists in general. I don’t mind bias, but subtle, undisclosed bias (passed off as balance, or a bit of a laugh) I think is dangerous. I object to the “come on he was only joking” point of view, I find it a bit bullying. Comedian Stewart Lee did a great routine about this a couple of years ago, which I found to be chapter and verse on the whole Top Gear phenomena.

    All the best and thanks for your great work.

  • Father Quatermass

    Cain – he’s not being prosecuted. The question was simply, does this man have any chance of being nominated as Republican candidate for the Presidency. For better or worse, the electorate which will decide that is such that it was better for him to step aside. Fine
    Terry – he’s a footy player. His ‘TV persona’? Do you mean the way he’s portrayed by the media? The laws on causing alarm and harassment or whatever it is are grossly misapplied by the stupid police and courts. The only person who’s been alarmed and harassed here is Terry himself.
    Apple Crumble to you and yours.

  • mike cobley

    Yeah, I felt that about the whole Clarkson thing; even as much as I despise and just generally disregard him, the broadside overreaction made his critics look foolish. After all, there are many other things in this world far more worthy of withering vitriol than Jeremy Clarkson (who says all those naughty things for money)(the Stewart Lee bit about Clarkson is up on youtube and is seriously worth checking out)
    It comes down to two things – keeping things in perspective, and understanding what level of response is appropriate and/or deserved. TV/tabloid-driven culture exploits the public by cranking up the emotive content at the expense of the rational, so that when an issue like the Clarkson one comes along extreme reactions are almost encouraged.

  • Passerby

    Nazi uniform, the joke of the century, the taboo, the outmoded and crap colours, and even worst; the stupid hats, and yes the arm band. This latter always reminds me of the prefect in the hall, sort of a jumped up tweet, strutting his stuff, because, you guessed it the arm band was on his arm.
    It is now seventy years past, however the Nazi uniform still is a tool to punish those guilty of wearing it. Given any weekend, anywhere in UK, for the duration the towns, and city night spots are filled with the uniformed Nazi officers pissed out of their head, en route to the next pub, or nightclub. In fact if the Nazi uniforms and Nun’s outfit were banned from the Fancy Dress outlets, these poor bastards will go out of business. Further, is it right for any society to legislate against looking silly? Does this not smell of fascism, if it were to be thus?
    Racism, firstly let us clarify the issues; there are no races! In fact race is an arbitrary construct, further it has been used to exploit the underdog, and the minorities while attempting to infuse a sense of superiority to the majority, whom otherwise have little going for them. The fact that we accept this arbitrary vile construct exists, itself is helping to instantiate “racism”. The clear message ought to be there are no races, and the minor differences in appearance somehow do not mean different strains of human beings, but the personal attributes; ie there is no race of big nose people, race of bald people, race of tall people, race of chubby, tubby, etc. However, this concept still is pushed with a view to perpetuating the “differences” however minor these may prove to be.
    Finally legislating against belief, now this is the age old trick; Romans fed the Christians to lions, in the way of establishing “norms” of belief. French have passed legislation to stop women wearing their Niqab, and have just “outlawed” anyone questioning the Armenian Genocide. These legislations are added on top of the other array of the outlawed thought crimes, and belief in criminal “faith/Ideas/thoughts”. Ironically the same “defenders of the values” will rip into all things Islamic and Muslim without batting an eyelid, and or feeling uncomfortable. Therefore the same corrupt practices of Rome, are still being practised, although there has been a change in target victim group. It used to be Christians, Now it is Muslims. So much for progress.

  • Mary

    O/T Hagwitch Madeleine Albright (the price is worth it) is reading out an eulogy to Havel at the funeral in St Vitus Cathedral in Prague She is speaking in Czech, her native language. Hagwitch no 2 Hillary is there along with adulterer husband. Cameron is there with Major. Sarko too.

  • Dave Hansell

    [Puts on contrarians head]

    Can’t concur on the basic general premise of the argument here. For sure those identified are putting across a particular view in a way which can only reasonably, at least on the surface, be construed as either jocular (as with Clarkson) or pathetic (as with Burley).

    However, the old cliche about many a true word being spoken in jest has more than one possible meaning dependent upon context. It’s dead easy to get away with stuff by pretending its just a joke when what you are saying or doing actually represents what you really think.

    Here’s a 16 minute sketch on Clarkson and his crew by comedian Stewart Lee which demonstrates the point;

  • Leonard


    My post was about sceptics and their questions not being censored, not really about promoting an argument or discussion here about Global Warming. It’s fine to have a debate elsewhere, and I assure you I have done my research as you undoubtedly have. That demonstrates that it is not “closed science” and if things were so clear cut then there would not be eminent and highly qualified people dissenting from the conventional wisdom.

    Whether it is Bradley Manning or the publishing of information on Climate Change that should ALREADY have been in the public domain since it is researched in our name and at our tax payer expense, ALL info unless it can be proven to be a “real” security risk (as opposed to an invented one) is something any democratic electorate should be entitled to access.

    The Climate Unit at East Anglia palpably withheld information, manipulated data and tried to hide emails that exposed its duplicity, whether or not it had a fundamentally good case for warming. No publicly funded body should behave in this way, and as has been pointed out, the whistleblowers get bullied, arrested or vilified while those they discovered the truth about carry on regardless.

    Even worse, the press concentrates, as Craig demonstrates, on relatively trivial gaffs of minor celebrities while serious flaws in supposedly democratic institutions go unchallenged by the mainstream media.

  • Pee

    Like TonyF I am grateful to Craig, his blog and contributors for ‘enlightening’ me this past year to the sources of ‘real news’. I have built up a useful set of alternative news feeds thanks to their being referenced here.
    Orra Best. A Guid New Year tae ane an’ a’.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    Herman Cain made series of costly gaffes and confused moments (barking mad?) but I don’t believe he even made ‘advances’ in that he spoke a lot with his hands in affectionate gestures. Cain grew up in a poor but happy family. His mother taught him “success was not a function of what you start out with materially, but what you start out with spiritually” which gave him the strength to survive cancer.
    We are left now with most good Americans casting their eyes at Newt Gingrich. Sad.

  • larry Levin

    BBC is establishment propaganda, remember how those who tried to expose the iraq dossier lies were sacked and their source suicided.

  • Peter

    Merry Christmas, Craig. I fully subscribe to the motto of Voltaire and find it deeply sad that so many who claim to support civil liberties are so quick to try and bag the scalp of their political opponents / call for criminal charges when they exercise their own civil liberties

  • Chris2

    “The Irish Parliament, being proud of local hero Arthur Wellesley, wanted to resolve the uncertainty about just where, in the environs of Dublin, he had been born. So they passed an Act of Parliament to say just where…”
    I am not familiar with this story, Richard. As you know the Irish Parliament was dissolved by the Act of Union in 1801, at which time Arthur Wellesley was fairly obscure.
    Good to see Berchmanns here, as a recovering cif regular I can say that his contributions are among the few I miss reading.
    Craig is quite right. The dead hands of evangelicalism and its evil twin Benthamism grow ever stronger, they thrive on communal stupidity and apathy.
    There is nothing surprising about Revisionist Zionists and Nazis admiring each other; nor is the propensity of Tory backbenchers to lick the blood of the boots of bullies noteworthy, ’twas ever thus.

  • Abe Rene

    A strong cup of tea should help get your vigour back. A piece of Dundee cake might help as well.

  • Rose

    Off topic – but I see that somebody has got under the wire on the Gus O’Donnell Graun thread at 3.58 am. Is it you Jives?
    Happy Christmas and thanks Craig and all you diligent diggers.

  • Iain Orr

    Craig’s blog has a fine title. Changing one letter gives it an allusive McCartney lilt [ “All th’unlovely people, where do they all come from?”]. His defiant tolerance of unlovely words (Clarkson/ Terry etc) also recalls the playground response to being called names : “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Richard’s point – “It is fundamentally wrong in principle to legislate that a certain fact is true” – also recalls Burns’ birthday reminder to George III in 1786 that “… facts are chiels that winna ding”. [The phrase from stanza 4 of “The Dream” is best appreciated in the context of the complete poem: its 15 stanzas read here – – by Siobhan Redmond with great accuracy of phrasing.]

    But words do not just hurt; they can cause lasting damage; and facts are often used disingenuously, , however accurate they may be. For instance, when Mary refers to Hillary’s “adulterer husband”, branding the scarlet letter on Bill is surely meant to make his friends blush for his past behaviour. The intent is not to be purely factual, nor to be complimentary. Labels (“neo-cons”/ “socialists”/ “ignorant”/ “Zionist”/ “terrorist”) are in many contexts not factual but primarily a form of insult, like “Proddie”/ “Kike”/ “nigger”.
    So the question is often: does this form of insult amount to a deliberate and lasting injury to one or more people or to public standards of behaviour such that the words gestures or dress (or its absence) are comparable to real Anti-Semitic sticks or Sharia stones? A secondary question is – even if deplorable, do any injuries caused by the insult need to be redressed under civil or criminal legislation? I’m with Craig on this: a healthy society will not encourage insulting behaviour, but it will generally leave discouraging it to non-legal sanctions. That said, I have seen a father call his daughter “stupid” to her face in a way that morally deserved far greater condemnation than if he had struck her hard enough to break a bone.

  • Rob

    Yes, I want to echo the thanks and good wishes expressed in the comments already. Craig, your blog is an important and useful publication, even if there are times when I don’t agree with you. 🙂

    Happy Christmas to you and your family, and may your influence continue to grow in 2012!

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