‘Clumsy’, Clarkson? Really? A non-apology is never enough

Jeremy Clarkson. Picture sourced from Twitter, recoloured

Richard Haviland on the Clarkson incident. For those who do not know what he said and wish to, you can read it here. Be warned. It cannot be unread. No decent editor would have let it go to press. Ed

Even by the usual standards of non-apologies, it was dire. A classic non-apology will tell you that the culprit is sorry you felt offended, putting all the blame on you for the offence taken. But it will at least contain the all-important word “sorry”.

Still, Jeremy, we get it. Now we know it was just a clumsy Game of Thrones reference – that excuses the excrement and the nakedness and the hatred. And you did say “Oh dear” with such conviction. Not sure any of this covers lumping Nicola Sturgeon together with a serial killer, but there are only so many non-apologies you can offer in a single tweet.

Joking apart (and Clarkson wasn’t joking), is it too much to hope that the Sun column marks a turning point, or at least a slight change in the direction of the foul wind that too often blows into our nostrils? Because what Jeremy Clarkson wrote is so emphatically not OK, and millions of us can see it, even in a media landscape where it’s hard these days to be shocked.

If anyone doubts the gravity of what he has done, they should listen to that clip on James O’Brien’s show where a mother describes seeing excrement thrown at her teenage daughter and witnessing the humiliation, the hurt, the pain in her eyes; and then ask what has brought a man to the point where he can “joke” about that happening to a woman.

It’s not even as if what Jeremy Clarkson does is hard. Especially if you have no shame, or taste, or self-awareness. You just start typing. And you write something like this:

“I dream every day of seeing Jeremy Clarkson and all his fellow rent-a-bores paraded before the court of opinion as we jeer at them and their inadequacy.

“I loathe them for the stench they leave wherever they go, for what they have done to the ‘political culture’ in this country.

“I loathe them for the cowardice with which they spread their poison, knowing that when they go too far they will say with all the disingenuousness they can muster that they were ‘only joking’.

“Isn’t it amazing to think that on some sub-conscious level, you know these imbeciles think that what they’re doing is patriotic? That the more offensive the insults they pour on Meghan, the more they think they’d have won the admiration of the Queen. They really are that deluded.

“And you know the saddest thing of all? They really do believe they’re respected. But the only people who admire them are the deeply hard-of-thinking, who follow them around sniffing the lamp-posts they visit, then lift a leg of their own in approval”.

We could all have a go at this. Write any old crap for a handful of dollars, whether we believe it or not. Get a column in the Sun or, if we’re being up-market, the Spectator. But we don’t. Because most of us have some self-respect. Most of us don’t measure our self-worth in direct proportion to the volume of bile we pour on others.

How did we get here? It’s for very good reasons that we are conditioned as human beings to be polite and treat each other with respect. Without that, society would break down. Even Jeremy Clarkson probably wouldn’t tell Meghan to her face that he’d like to throw shit at her.

But somewhere along the line these appalling people, with their ‘common sense’, and their ‘telling it like it is’, and their ‘plain speaking’, pushed the idea that being expected to display common decency was an intolerable infringement of their freedom of speech; that going out of their way to offend, which would make them friendless social pariahs if they did it face to face, was an admirable quality in a public figure; and, once that was established, that the nastier they could be, the more publicity they would get.

These days they’re all over the place, poisoning our public discourse. You know their names – there are too many to list. They’re in the papers. They’re on radio phone-ins. They’re on TV. They push and they push and they push, and when they go too far, they still get away with it anyway. An apology here is followed by more hate speech there. Vile misogyny against one woman is followed by even worse misogyny against another. A dismissal one day is followed by an appointment the next. And when they reach a certain age, they pick up a gong, become a ‘Great British institution’, and get invited to drink tea at the Palace.

But however rotten this all is, we all have our voices. So let me use mine to say this:

You disgust me, Jeremy Clarkson, you and all your fellow bullies. And all the men I know think the same way”.