Howard Jacobson: A love-hate affair with the ordinary bloke

We can be prejudiced and aware of limits: we can be pigs and still see that we have gone too far

Share
Related Topics

It's been said that when Cameron lost Andy Coulson as his communications director he lost not only a skilled operator but a link to the concerns of the ordinary voter.

Cameron, as we know, was born on a cloud, suckled on unicorn milk, and kept apart from untitled men and women until he assumed leadership of the Tory party, a position that guaranteed immunity from the contagions of the common air. Whereas Andy Coulson, as we also know, grew up on an Essex council estate, where he rolled in mud and faeces, hung around with drug addicts and prostitutes, and stole other people's mobile phones, an experience which stood him in good stead when he became editor of the News of the World. That Coulson was earning more as communications director than Cameron earns as Prime Minister, and would, as editor of the News of the World, have probably earned more than the entire Coalition Cabinet put together, only goes to show that when it comes to the ordinary Joe it is hard to be sure who we're talking about.

So are we for them, or not, the ordinary men and women of this country, whoever they are? I know that in principle we must be, because the loss of Coulson's link to ordinariness is considered to disadvantage Cameron, not just electorally, but in the sense that he will be a less complete and sympathetic politician without it. "No politician can govern well, we believe, who does not understand what it is to be ordinary." But what about when an actual example of ordinariness shows his head, tells us what he thinks, allows us a glimpse, inadvertent or otherwise, into his unexamined biases and assumptions? How do we feel about him then?

Let's pluck a name or two at random. How about Andy Gray? Or Richard Keys?

Keys went to a comprehensive in Coventry before co-presenting TV-am with Anne Diamond – than which you can't get much more ideologically ordinary. Gray was born in Glasgow, doesn't give out information about his education, and in his teens signed for Dundee United. That both have exceeded the common as far as fame and wealth (and in Gray's case footballing prowess) are concerned, goes without saying; but otherwise they would seem to epitomise the spirit of the ordinary British bloke. Wasn't it for this that Sky Sports employed and paid them sumptuously? Tone is everything in sports broadcasting. What will cut the mustard for athletics or tennis most definitely will not for football. And Sky in particular wants its viewers, when they're watching football, to feel they're watching it in the company of men like themselves.

Gray and Keys, in fact, did this very well. They reminded you how horrible football could be if you happened to be watching it with people who didn't have PhDs.

But I mustn't sell myself short. Despite not growing up on a council estate, or possessing any aptitude for the rougher sorts of ball games, I like to think I have a bit of ordinary bloke in me. Too much to drink occasionally, the shared appreciation of a woman's looks, a little gender teasing you would have to be entirely humourless (or a lesbian, nudge nudge) to take exception to – I know the pleasure there can be in these. Not least when the teasing is aware that it's going where it shouldn't, that things have changed, that you have to mind your language. There's a version of what we call sexism that's just provocation for provocation's sake. It's not only the professional comedian who feels the need to bust taboos occasionally. And this bit of me that's ordinary revolts from the orgy of sanctimony that Gray's and Keys's remarks about women in football, and women in general, has unloosed. Remembering that they weren't intended to be broadcast, do those words really amount to a sackable offence? Are they any different from what you would hear every night in every pub in Britain: attitudes routinely voiced by those ordinary voters we think Cameron is less the man for knowing nothing about?

But there's another part of me that's not an ordinary bloke, that hates ordinary blokes, that hates the pubs in which they gather, the beer culture to which they subscribe, and even the games they watch when those games become defined by ordinary blokishness. You don't have to be a woman to find men threatening when they jeer and leer in packs. But if you are a woman I can easily see why you would recoil from the unceasing suggestiveness, not just the invitation to put your hand down a fellow presenter's trousers – surely in this case the least enticing invitation ever proffered – but the syntactical employment of that patronising comma followed by the word "love" at the end of every sentence. For saying "Do me a favour, love", as Gray did on the night he will now never forget, a man might fairly lose more than his job.

Whether what I'm describing really is sexism, I don't know. My wife assures me it is. But "sexist" is a hand-me-down term, like "racist", "homophobic", "anti-Semitic" – it silences discussion. Between the full-blown versions of what those words describe, and the ideal state of harmonious acceptance to which we all aspire, there are many levels of offence. I know the continuum argument: you begin by asking a black homosexual Jewish woman to make you a cup of tea, comma, dear, and the next thing you are hanging her from a tree in Dachau. But I don't accept it. We can be prejudiced and aware of limits: we can be pigs and still see that we have gone too far. On the other hand, I do accept the case for our being educated out of thoughtless bigotry, taught to beware every lexical abuse, until we are all so screwed up tight with fear of words that we tiptoe through the minefield which is language, not necessarily kinder to one another in our hearts, but at least mindful of the effects of what we say.

So all right – off you go, Keys and Gray. You are a charmless pair. But we should beware the unanimity of our condemnation. A nation united in self-righteous outcry is no less odious than a nation united in prejudice. And then there's the question of freedom of speech. Not agreeing with what a person says but defending to the death his right to say it. Or is freedom of speech selective? Is it a luxury we withdraw when the person speaking is an ordinary boorish bloke expounding his philosophy of ordinary boorish blokishness?

Reader: what if the consequence of cleaning up our grossest attitudes is gross intolerance?



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker