Sunday, 23 November 2014

So, who is allowed to say what we're all really thinking?

Every time Katie Hopkins vomits a deliberately outrageous tweet or Nigel Farage says something about not wanting to live next door to a group of Romanian men or someone, almost always from a right-leaning perspective, creates an outrage, someone will always rise to their defence by saying: "They're only saying what we're all really thinking.".

Obviously, this statement is not literally be true. Nobody can ever say something that echoes the thoughts of every single one of us. But someone like Hopkins or Farage is frequently afforded the "TOSWWART" defence, as if they are speaking out for a silent majority too scared to say something that might cause offence.

But the TOSWWART defence is not applied equally. Witness the debacle this week over Emily Thornberry's ill-considered tweet that caused her to lose her job as Shadow Attorney General. All the tweet said was "Image from #Rochester" with a photograph of a house festooned with St George flags and a white van parked out the front. It was a tweet that was open to interpretation but the mob verdict - which was ultimately the only verdict that mattered - was: "Check out the north London Labour snob looking down her nose on a working class household." 

And Thornberry may well have rolled her eyes as she passed the house. Or maybe she was just sharing the sights of the electorate. Here is a tweet she cooked earlier. Whatever the case, she probably shouldn't have tweeted anything more controversial than a selfie with the Labour candidate, but what's done is done. Ed Miliband said the tweet made him "furious" - so furious, in fact, that she had to jump before she was pushed, thus keeping the story in the news cycle all bloody weekend. 

Honestly, Ed, there are million things more infuriating than that tweet, and now you've lost a woman from a working class background, an MP who is popular in her constituency and largely seen as someone who does a good job, from your shadow cabinet. Cue a slow hand clap for the Member for Doncaster North.

An apology would have been sufficient. That would be an apology to the same mob that routinely calls out the left for being nothing but a homogenous rabble of sandal-wearing, muesli-knitting professional outrage-takers. An apology to one stereotypical group that stereotypes another group who stereotypes those who disagree with them in return. And so we have a cycle of stereotyping that rinses around the news cycle and the world of social media and achieves absolutely nothing.

Predictably, The Sun pounced on Dan Ware, the flag-flying, white van man who admitted he doesn't vote and didn't know there was a by-election on in his own town, and published his stage-managed manifesto. It was an incoherent splattering of ideas that basically boiled down to: "Send 'em all back where they came from, lower taxes but make public transport cheaper and build better roads, and while I'm at it, let's bring back the cane in schools and spend more public money jailing anyone who burns a poppy!".

Good to see Ware surprised everyone by completely shattering the stereotype of the English flag-flying, white van man, then.

Is that ridiculous manifesto really what everyone is secretly thinking and only Ware has the courage to say it via The Sun

I doubt it. Ware is being used by The Sun to push their agenda in the lead-up to the election and it is one that plenty of people can see right through. The paper had Ware photographed outside Thornberry's "£3 million house" because apparently you can only live in a big house if you were born in one or you play football.

But why can't Thornberry also be afforded the TOSWWART defence? 

Either by accident or design, Thornberry shone a light on the thoughts that cross many people's minds when they see a house like Ware's. It is naive to think that none of us stereotype or make assumptions. We all do, regardless what our politics might be. I know people from across the political spectrum whose hearts sink when they are out canvassing door-to-door for their party and they come across the house with the St George flags flying. They expect a difficult conversation, possibly about immigration, and this is often precisely what happens.

Of course, the challenge for all the major parties is to find ways to engage with people whose choice of home decoration causes them to pause before knocking on the door, especially if they feel they are so far removed from the political process that they never bother to vote. Knee-jerk reactions, such as forcing someone out of a job over a three-word tweet and slamming that same person as a champagne socialist who would only have any political credibility if she lived her whole life in an unheated council house, are equally unconstructive. 

It's time we all grew up. Twitter is a great source of breaking news, of getting quick reactions and engaging with our politicians. But when the news cycle is bogged down for days in the fallout from one tweet, regardless of who sent the tweet, we have a serious problem.


  1. I don't mind that people react strongly to Tweets or any other communication - it's the idea that people need to be censored, thrown off air, sacked from a job, banned from a campus, petitioned by people that didn't even know who they were five minutes ago that's the problem. Merely stating an opinion is the essence of being free. We can all disagree with people. not vote for them or not watch them without seeking to have them shut up.

    Most of the calls for bans, sackings, grovelling apologies and the like have been generated by the Left recently.

    'I'd better not say or do anything at all in case there's trouble' is a totalitarian state.

    Hopkins is safe because she is PAID to stir up an outrage to attract clicks and Farage, until his party decide they don't want him anymore, doesn't have an Ed Miliband or a Cameron to sack him.

    1. Indeed. The "SACK HER AT ONCE AND BAN ALL THE THINGS!" mentality that comes with these sort of situations has raged out of control. And, yes, it is often the left that calls for such bans and assorted censorship. If this whole fiasco proves anything, it's that if you or your allies start calling for bans, sackings and censorings, there's no reason why it can't then be applied to you too.

  2. We must be the only country in the world not proud of our own flag, apart from despotic republics of course. How this happened would be a fascinating story to detail but somewhere between the Second World War and today, we let the small minded, rabid, anti-immigration minority hijack the Union Jack and, more dramatically, the English flag. Doesn't seem to have happened with the national flags of Scotland and Wales, or even the Cornish flag. Just this one. Trouble is, it's a self fulfilling prophecy - we see the George cross and think 'racist' which only deepens the connection.How we emerge from this I just don't know.

  3. My thougjts pretty much exactly. 4 days of headlines for a possibly off key tweet is beyomd absurd. Its a media construct for stupid people. The tweet itself told us very little, the reaction loads. Miliband is a coward, lets murdoch drive the bus.