Saatchi and Lawson: Nuance goes out the window in a moral arms race

We seem unable to discuss controversial matters calmly

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The Independent Online

When the private becomes public, danger lies ahead. And in an age when it's hard to hold on to a sense of proportion, a great big klaxon should sound the moment the world piles in to comment on what is essentially a private issue between two people.

I'm afraid I have to talk again about Charles and Nigella, because there is no better illustration of the pernicious climate in which outrage and censoriousness are expressed in increasingly intemperate terms, to the point that public debate becomes a sort of moral arms race. At this juncture, I am obliged to say that I condemn domestic violence. Unreservedly. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that I condemn all types of violence. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but I feel I have to make this clear because last week, when I wrote about the incident in which Charles Saatchi was pictured with his hands round his wife's throat, I was vilified by the tweeting classes for appearing to condone violence against women.

“Disturbed you have not recanted comments,” one wrote. “Are you aware of distress you may have caused!” Well, no, actually. I thought I had simply sought to contextualise what was clearly a pretty terrible incident, whose ramifications - because of the public scrutiny attached  - are potentially disastrous for the couple involved, their children and their wider family. But if a tangential observation goes unaccompanied by an outright denunciation of the evils sometimes perpetrated in the home, the accusations of belittling a serious situation are unleashed. It's so utterly depressing, this climate of hysteria which infantalises the nation.

Everyone from the Prime Minister downwards is asked for an opinion, and woe betide those who seek to present a nuanced view. What an affront! This is tantamount to beating your own wife! And then comes the rush to judgement in the court of public opinion. How can the London Evening Standard, a sister title of i, continue to give Mr Saatchi a column - he writes entertainingly on photography every Thursday - when he is so clearly such a reprehensible character? And by employing him, isn't the editor of the paper traducing all those women who have suffered domestic abuse?

This ludicrous position is complicated because the editor of the Standard is a woman and the person leading the charge is also a woman. Louise Mensch - I know, I also thought she'd disappeared to America, never to be heard of, or seen, again - complained that Sarah Sands, the Standard editor, was effectively an apologist for domestic violence, saying that Ms Sands' position was “a whitewash”. In an editorial, the Standard had said that it would have been “irrational and unjust” to have dismissed Saatchi just because it had been “a wretched week for his marriage”. At last, an outbreak of decorum. After all, it's not as if Saatchi had an agony column, or was writing about sexual politics.

Sadly, this is not a story which shows any signs of going away. Mr and Mrs Saatchi are caught in the public glare at a time when outrage comes easy and sense, reason, and - not least - privacy are in very short supply.