As L’affaire Clarkson stumbles towards its second week, we flail about to understand what the row in North Yorkshire tells us about its hero and ourselves. As someone recently observed, this is our version of the long-running culture wars in America. Britain is now divided according to whether you feel that: a) it is apparently OK to clock and threaten staff with the sack if in doing so you wind up that mythical paramilitary unit, the PC Brigade, by insulting foreigners; or b) the physical and/or verbal bullying of employees is, by and large, poor form.
Any residual meaning to the terms “right wing” and “left wing” has evaporated. The only political distinction left now is pro-Jeremy (Tory and Ukip supporters) and anti-Jeremy (everyone else). Yet however beguilingly postmodern our culture war may seem, its cultural cornerstone, like so much else, lies in the 1970s.
Although it’s been noted that the tale of a late-arriving hotel guest’s raging about the lack of a hot dinner was modelled on the Fawlty Towers episode “Waldorf Salad”, there are other Fawlteian echoes with Clarkson. If, as alleged, he called his producer a “lazy Irish cunt”, here is the potty-mouthed version of the berating of the builder Mr O’Reilly (“a half-witted, thick Irish joke” in Sybil’s estimation).
If Jeremy did cheekily mumble the “N-word” during his rendition of “Eeny Meeny”, we recall Basil’s dialogue with the Major about the correct racist terminology for Indian and Caribbean cricketers. And if he did strike and/or humiliate Oisin Tymon for catering-related incompetence, Manuel will appreciate how the producer felt. A rampant social climber with sledgehammer sarcasm, railing against strikers, socialism and funny foreigners, whose frustrations with a changing world to which he cannot adapt bubble up into maniacal rage…
Meanwhile, fan club coordinators such as Richard Littlejohn have dredged up every imaginable defence for their pin-up except for the one that might work. Mark Thompson bit a reporter’s arm when editing the Nine O’Clock News, and went on to run the BBC. On this precedent, is it too late for Clarksonistas to launch a putsch against Tony Hall, and declare ultimate victory in the culture war by installing Clarkson as Director-General?
Balls lands a panto punch on the Chancellor
Hats off to Ed Balls for his panto triumph on Andrew Marr’s show yesterday. Badgering George Osborne to agree to debate him with a clumsy handshake was a master stroke. If there’s one thing the sporting public craves, it’s an undercard bout with no main event to follow, though whether it will happen is another matter.
After his initial demand that Danny Alexander be given a plinth, the Chancellor is expected to insist in the coming days on the inclusion of Treasury spokespersons from the Popular Front of Judea, Cwip (Camberwick Green Independence Party), Baader-Meinhof, the Judean Popular Front and the Khmer Rouge.
Coming soon: Mr T as Papa in the Clio commercials
Taking a well-earned break from sprinkling peace over the Middle East, Mr Tony Blair conquered his phobia for brokering big money deals to arrange a donation. Mr T coaxed Hull City FC owner Assem Allam to give Labour £300,000, with another half million to follow if the Unite union executes a threat to withdraw funding. Cynics will wonder if Mr T is trying to stoke tension between Ed Miliband and Unite’s Len McCluskey to assist the Tory election effort.
But hey, sneerers gonna sneer, and we congratulate him on the act of philanthropy with someone else’s money. One small caveat for Little Ed. On his Hull form, it won’t be long before Mr Allam demands that the party renames itself Labour Tigers.
Swings and roundabouts, meanwhile, for Cherie Blair. The Sunday Telegraph reports that this erstwhile Bennite’s foray into private health provision has not started well. After three years, her company Mee Heathcare has opened only 11 of the 100 clinics it promised to open by 2017, and has lost millions. But it isn’t all Mee, Mee, Mee with Cherie, and in better news she is likely to be appointed to the board of Renault. Exactly why is opaque, but a hunch says she has been cast to type as coquettish ingenue Nicole (not, please God, to Mr Tony’s Papa) in a new series of Clio commercials.
Jim Murphy’s denial is not to be sniffed at
With everything going so swimmingly as he leads Scottish Labour’s fightback against the SNP, Jim Murphy can afford a minor setback. So we shouldn’t fret too much about his amnesia over whether, as a teenager, he sniffed glue from a crisp packet. Asked if he partook after telling a Glasgow University audience the practice was rife on his council estate, he said: “I don’t remember.”
Being pleased to accept the denial of any inhalation later issued on Jim’s behalf, we see no need to quote the National Inhalation Prevention Coalition’s guidance to counsellors. “A client… may not clearly remember episodes of use because of memory loss…”
Nigel Farage in another assault and tactical retreat
A purported draft of a forthcoming Nigel Farage speech has leaked from Ukip HQ. “I tell you now, and let me be clear about this, that if elected, I pledge to fight to my last breath not merely to repeal anti-discrimination employment legislation, but to pass the Bugger Off Home If Your Name Ends in -Owski or -Escu (And Assorted Weird Terminations) Act,” he will apparently say on Thursday. “And when I tell you that, as I categorically do, be in no doubt that I have been misquoted, taken out of context and had my words blown out of all proportion by the liberal media once again.” Well, it saves time.