Jeremy Clarkson prompted more than 30,000 complaints when he said on BBC1's The One Show that striking public sector workers should be shot. But media regulator Ofcom has cleared the programme of breaching broadcasting regulations, saying viewers should be familiar with the Top Gear presenter's "provocative and outspoken nature".
Yes, folks, you could have expected Jeremy Clarkson to say something disgusting and right-wing about striking trade unionists, just as much as you'd expect the broadcasting establishment and press to back him to the hilt... but that's missing the point. Why should we expect it? Why should people have to put up with it? Jeremy Clarkson is a symptom, albeit a prominent symptom, of the coarsening of public life. Thanks to people like him public debate has become ever more scabrous and deceitful (e.g. Clarkson, in between calling for ironic death-squads, had the gall to describe public sector pensions as "gold-plated"... last year Clarkson earned more than £2 million).
What is going to be done about this decline in public debate? Clarkson certainly hasn't given pause for thought... why would he? We need to teach the upper class yahoos who rule us some manners... more strikes more frequently would help.
But there is another dimension to this. Jeremy Clarkson has provocative and outspoken views... really? So what? I have provocative and outspoken views. Many, many people have provocative and outspoken views. Why does a supporter of the hard-right English Democrats get a free pass when, for example, a Labour party councillor is suspended for liking rambunctious facebook statements regarding Margaret Thatcher and the IRA...? A rough example, but you get the picture.
In this world coarseness, prejudice and abuse is allowed, so long as its directed downwards.