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  • Alastair Cavendish

Mind Your Language

Last year, Jimmy Carr told a joke about the Holocaust that is now upsetting some people who feel, apparently, that offended virtue is a dish best served cold. Why this counts as news, I have no idea. The last news story my one social media account recommended for me, at a time when world civilisation is falling apart, was about a woman who was upset when her Iceland delivery driver asked her to go for a walk in the park with him. I honestly do not understand why anyone bothers to write about such things. They are barely trivia, certainly not at the level of bread and circuses. In any case, my first reaction to Mr. Carr’s joke was “I don’t care.” It sounded pretty much like most of his other jokes to be honest.

There was, however, a great deal in the media reaction to the Carr joke that was sinister. Numerous commentators and pundits fumed about the joke without telling their viewers and listeners what it was, a cowardly and childish thing to do. Many others said that such jokes “should not be allowed” or “ought to be banned”. Fascists are very fond of the passive voice, since they always want to avoid telling you who will be doing the banning. In this case, apparently, the massive intellect of Nadine Dorries would be brought to bear on the matter. I don’t know about you, but the next time I go to a comedy club, to sit in close proximity with a few dozen of the unmasked, unafraid, and heavily intoxicated, I do not particularly want to hear the comedian say: “This next joke is censored because Nadine Dorries doesn’t understand it.” If we are only permitted to hear things Nadine Dorries is capable of understanding, the world is set to become a very quiet place.

Hard on the heels of this noisy distraction came another. The first headline I saw read “David Lammy slams anti-vax mob who ambushed Sir Keir” and announced a brief and unilluminating conversation between the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Iain Dale of the Leninist Broadcasting Corporation. Mr. Lammy was as full of outrage as a man who had just watched a Jimmy Carr Netflix special. He had been at a Very Important Briefing, he said, to acquaint Very Important People with the Very Serious Situation between Russia and Ukraine. While I suppose it is a step up from lame jokes and amorous delivery drivers, the Ukraine story is another piece of absurdity which can only serve to distract the public from serious matters. There is clearly an economic crisis in the Ukraine, together with the usual plethora of social problems, but no one who knows anything about the matter believes for a moment that Russia will invade. The military situation is not Very Serious, and if it were, I very much doubt that Mr. Putin would be anxious to hear about it from David Lammy. Even Boris Johnson can only contact him by giving his first name and hoping the switchboard operator at the Kremlin confuses him with some more important Boris in Nizhny Novgorod.

Lammy is seldom concise, and had many more words to say on the subject of the trivial scuffle that ensued when his beloved leader walked past the protestors outside the Houses of Parliament. Actually, that’s not quite true. The Shadow Foreign Secretary does not seem to possess an extensive vocabulary, but he did repeat the same words several times to give the impression of volume: rabble, thugs, aggressive, ferocious, and not just hostile but “incredibly hostile”, as though there were anything incredible about people being hostile to Keir Starmer. He referred to something he called the “free bile” in the atmosphere three times, though this may, perhaps, have been an attempt to say “febrile”.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said that he was surprised to see such anger directed against parliamentarians in general and the Labour leader in particular, as though there were no justification for such anger. At the same time, he purported to be aware that many people were struggling with mental health issues “because of the lockdown.” This is the lockdown which both Starmer and Lammy supported and encouraged. While the Johnson government attempted for two years to turn Britain into a banana republic, a dismal, cowardly, deracinated opposition offered not a word of criticism except to suggest occasionally and with great timorousness that the republic could do with a few more bananas. It is hardly surprising that many people are furious with Starmer. Most of us, of course, have better things to do than stand outside the House of Commons and shout at him, but we are there in spirit, which saves labour, something Keir Starmer is certainly never going to do.

There are always some protestors outside parliament. Some of them go there day after day, which does, admittedly, suggest that they are slightly unhinged, or soon will be. The ones who were there on this occasion did not attack Keir Starmer, much less ambush him. If he is terrified by this experience of noise and mild jostling, he needs to get out more. I have seen and felt worse trying to get served at a crowded bar on a Friday night. Most people there, and the vast majority of those throughout the country who rightly detest Starmer, said nothing against vaccines. Furthermore, they barely mentioned Jimmy Savile.

I have not bothered to check whether Boris Johnson’s comment about Starmer’s responsibility for failing to prosecute Savile was true. On the one hand, Boris Johnson said it, which suggests that it is a lie. On the other hand, the BBC and the Guardian are saying it is a lie, which suggests that it is true. In any case, I do not much care. It is clear that a great many people in the British establishment helped to shield Savile from justice, and I do not for a moment believe that the Conservative Party was innocent in this matter. It is unsatisfying to throw up one’s hands and exclaim that they are all as bad as each other, but when they are all as bad as each other, what else can one do?

When it comes to protecting sex offenders, Conservative politicians really should not be flinging mud or stones or ill-considered remarks at anyone. In the matter of destroying our ancient liberties and using the pandemic as an excuse to murder their fellow citizens, however, the Conservative government has been slightly less atrocious than Keir Starmer has continually urged it to be. Parliament is corrupt and useless, but there are degrees of iniquity. Sir Desmond Swayne is a lot better than Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson is better than Keir Starmer. Everybody in the world, together with every animal, insect, and fungus, is better than Matt Hancock, who, astonishingly, remains an MP to this day.

The media loves stirring up anger, but it is equally fond of misdirecting it. I could not care less about Jimmy Carr or Piers Corbyn, or the Duke and Duchess of Sussex or any of the other pathetic articles of rage-bait daily dangled before me by the media. I certainly cannot get angry with a few protestors in Westminster exercising their fast-dwindling democratic rights while they still have some. The object of their ire is another matter. All the politicians who have colluded in the degradation of democracy over the past two years are legitimate targets for anger, and those who try to prevent them expressing this anger in peaceful protest should not be surprised when it breaks out in a less temperate form.

As Harold Macmillan remarked (not Winston Churchill, as I thought until five minutes ago, when I checked the website of the International Churchill Society), jaw jaw is better than war war. History shows all too clearly that these really are the only two choices open to us: conversation or violence. Those who seek to limit free speech by banning sick jokes on Netflix or demonising a few protestors who shout at Keir Starmer may well find that the alternative is much less palatable.

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