1 December 2011
Jeremy Clarkson is in hot water over his ill-judged comments about public sector strikers on BBC’s The One Show. His suggestion that strikers “should be taken out and shot in front of their families” caused consternation on parts of the internet and earned a mild rebuke from Mr Cameron. The public sector union Unison has called for Mr Clarkson to be sacked and is taking legal advice on other measures.
Now imagine if the interview had gone like this:
PRESENTER: So what do you think about the strikes?
CLARKSON: Public sector workers have every reason to be concerned about their pension rights. With many public servants’ jobs under threat and the spending power of their salaries being eaten away by inflation, the very least we can do is to ensure that our nurses, paramedics and bin men can afford a stable and secure retirement.
No doubt this would have delighted Unison, caused consternation on different parts of the internet and earned a mild rebuke from Mr Cameron.
But in the row over his comments and Unison’s response, no-one seems to be asking the most pertinent question: why do we care about Jeremy Clarkson’s political views at all?
Jeremy Clarkson is a motoring journalist and a light entertainer. He has an audience who appreciate his efforts to inform them about motoring and to make them laugh. So when did he become a credible commentator on politics, economics and current affairs? He’s got an opinion but then so do many people. Moreover, his position as an extremely highly paid entertainer means that Mr Clarkson moves in very different circles from most of the rest of us and likely has very different concerns.
Mr Clarkson’s comments earlier in the interview are telling:
PRESENTERS: Do you know anyone who’s out on strike today?
CLARKSON (dismissively): Of course I don’t. What, someone in public service? No I don’t.
Take aside the snobbish tone in which the remarks were delivered and you get to the heart of the matter. 20% of the UK workforce is in the public sector. If Mr Clarkson genuinely doesn’t know (or at least, count as a friend) anyone in public service his detachment from the reality of working life in the UK makes his views on public sector pay considerably less interesting than anyone on an average income, however they earn it.
Jeremy Clarkson shouldn’t be sacked. He shouldn’t be prosecuted. No-one should take legal action against him, no matter how offensive or unfunny his views are. A far better approach would be this: get him to stick to motoring. He can probably recommend a good value family hatchback, but don’t ask him about public sector strikes or the economy – he knows nothing about them. Don’t ask him about tax – he earns more in a year than just about everyone else earns in a lifetime. It’s probably best not to ask him about the radical theatre of the Weimar republic or the research opportunities afforded by the Large Hadron Collider. Just motoring.
If we applied the same principle to everyone that can sing, dance, act, cook a meal, play sport or has the dubious fortune of being related to the head of state we might just have a better informed and more civilised political culture in this country.
Adrian Short works to get people the information they need, when they need it, in a way that they can understand.