Monday, February 20, 2017
Must not suggest that a fat black female politician is unattractive
In Britain in 2017, you can be punished for your private thoughts. You can be ridiculed in public for what you say behind closed doors. You can be made to apologise to the world for something you said in confidence to a friend. Seriously. How else do we make sense of the scandal over Tory Brexit minister David Davis’s text messages about Labour MP Diane Abbott? Here we have a politician being demonised by the political and media set — branded ‘vile’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’ — for a private comment. That should worry you far more than what Davis actually said, for it suggests there is now no area of life where you can speak freely and frankly without risking sanction.
After the Commons vote on Brexit last week, Davis is said to have approached Abbott for a kiss but apparently she told him to ‘fuck off’. Later, a Tory friend texted Davis to ask him about the incident. Davis texted back saying he hadn’t tried to kiss Abbott, and wouldn’t, because ‘I am not blind’. In short, he thinks Abbott is unattractive.
It is tempting at this point to say Davis’s text messages were crude. But that would be wrong, because the fact is they’re none of our business. He did not say these things for public consumption. It was an off-hand, matey remark of the kind all of us make via text or email or WhatsApp or whatever. That Davis’s texts were leaked doesn’t make it okay to haul him over the coals for them, to insist that he retract and repent, because this still amounts to shaming someone for a private conversation. The correct response to the texts would be to say: ‘This is not my concern. People can think and say whatever they like in private.’
Of course that hasn’t been the response, because such is the stifling intensity of the ‘You Can’t Say That!’ culture that now even private speech, glorified thoughts in essence, are considered fair game by the shut-it-down brigade. ‘You Can’t Think That!’ — the next, logical frontier. So it was that Labour MPs ‘called out’ Davis for being ‘misogynistic’, a ‘total and utter disgrace’, a ‘vile, sexist man’. He should apologise, they said. And he did. ‘The secretary of state is very sorry for any offence caused’, said a spokesman. A man publicly apologising for private chatter — this is bad.