Three quarters of Telegraph readers back Jeremy Clarkson in the row over his ‘execute strikers’ outburst. The Top Gear presenter’s remarks should not have been taken seriously, because he was only joking, they insist.
As Freud explained over a hundred years ago, tendentious jokes are a mask for socially unacceptable feelings, not least violent hostility. There is probably a level at which Britain’s most famous petrolhead meant exactly what he said.
And if a joke is defined as amusing story with punchline, or even just a clever witticism, then Clarkson’s ugly little rant doesn’t deserve that designation. He is hardly in a position to plead exoneration on account of his exquisite wordplay.
Yet as a lefty who believes in freedom of speech, I reluctantly find myself agreeing that an apology probably suffices here. Nobody can seriously contend that Clarkson was actually calling for public sector employees to be rounded up at dawn and made to face banker-led firing squads.
Even so, some 21,000 people – and counting – have lodged complaints with the BBC, which broadcast the diatribe. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said that he is taking urgent legal advice as to whether the he should be referred to the police.
By way of context, let me offer one further observation. Remember the outrage directed at BBC Scotland radio comedian Brian Limond a few weeks back, after a couple of Tweets in which he expressed his impatience for the death of certain former Conservative prime minister?
The reaction of the right was apoplectic. Tory MP Louise Mensch pointedly asked – and in the pages of the Telegraph, come to that – ‘why is the BBC using licence fee money to pay a man who wishes Margaret Thatcher dead?’
I do hope that both Ms Mensch and the newspaper she writes for will be consistent in opposition to deathwish wisecracks, especially given the respective body counts involved. They might like to note Mr Clarkson reportedly pockets £400,000 a year from Auntie. I suspect that is rather more than Limmy.