Iwould like to start the second week of the new year with a challenge. Can anyone find me a sentient human being, a person of sound mind and body, of any race, colour or creed, someone who's capable of making an argument using a sentence of more than 140 characters, who truly feels offended, insulted or threatened by Diane Abbott's "racist" tweet?
Ms Abbott's observation, provoked by what she saw as patronising comments about the "black community", that the white elite likes to divide and rule, would surely not have touched the sides in an age less infantile and hysterical than this one. It may have been trite, and – given the propensity for Twitter to turn a spark of controversy into a raging inferno – it may have been ill-judged, but I fail to see how Ms Abbott's aperçu could have caused such widespread offence.
And set against stories about race that really mattered, and revealed much wider truths – like the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, or the Luis Suarez case, or the alleged abuse directed at an Oldham footballer – there is something distasteful about creating a furore over such an innocuous remark. Race has become a touchstone issue already in 2012, and must be a matter for public debate, but in a grown-up, rational way. So let me tell you why I don't think what Dianne Abbott said was offensive, let alone racist. When you belong to a disadvantaged or oppressed minority, it is perfectly reasonable to express anger and resentment if someone makes a derogatory generalisation based on racial grounds.
So if white people were, say, five times more likely than black people to be stopped and searched by police, if there wasn't a single white person who was chief executive of a FTSE 100 company, if white people were under-represented in politics, the judiciary and the media, and if white players were the ones being abused on football fields for their colour, then I think there would be every reason for Ms Abbott to apologise for what she said.
But, when you consider what she actually did say – that the ruling classes like to arrange things so that they maintain their grip on power – it beggars belief that anyone would think this controversial. Isn't this the story since time began? And I'd feel a lot more respect for Ed Miliband if he'd ignored the clamour to censure an MP who, to my mind, has said many more risible things when perched on Andrew Neil's sofa in a TV studio. And once again, it's an example of how Twitter is shaping (and/or perverting) the national discourse.
Dianne Abbott will think twice about engaging in a debate using a medium that doesn't recognise nuance or irony, and brooks little in the way of reasoned argument. Politicians should be especially wary of Twitter. It has already revealed its power to blight careers.
They should use it to promulgate a simple message, or to try and tap into the public mood. This is what Ed M did with his opportunistic tweet about the death of Bob Holness, whom he referred to as the host of "Blackbusters". He simply made himself look a t***. Or should that be twot?
Simon KelnerReuse content