Worst Take of the Week: New 'Non-Woke' Political Party vs Protect Alex Jones
It's a free speech bonanza!
Screen shot: Infowars / YouTube
Welcome to Angus Take House – a weekly column in which I will be pitting two of the wildest takes the world's great thinkers have rustled up against each other. This is your one-stop shop for the meatiest verdicts and saltiest angles on the world's happenings. Go and grab a napkin – these juicy hot takes are fresh from the griddle.
What's the story? Boris Johnson described Muslim women who wear burqas as looking like letterboxes.
Reasonable Take: A grim moment that gets more malevolent the longer you think about it.
Chicken Liver Pate: A great moment that gets more exciting the longer you think about!
We hopefully don't need to spend too long dwelling on Boris Johnson's "burqa bit". I hit my personal threshold of listening to people talk about the subject pretty early this week, as I listened to John Humphrys and Eric Pickles discussing the likelihood of seeing someone wearing a burqa in the pub on the Today programme. "Unlikely to be seen in your pub, to be fair," Pickles softly chuckled. "Unlikely to be seen in the pub, admittedly, I'll accept that…" Humphrys chuckled back. "Aha," I chuckled also, as I tried to fit my clock radio into my flatmate's Nutribullet.
It's basically been an exhausting week of hearing from largely non-Muslim voices as to whether or not the jokes were funny, or jokes at all. Rowan Atkinson even stuck his oar in, writing to the Times to describe the joke as "a pretty good one". Look forward to the "Mr Bean Says It How It Is" special on BBC1 this Christmas, then.
The comments have sparked conflict within the Very Woke Conservative party as to what the appropriate response should be, with many calling for disciplinary action to be taken against Johnson. Some, of course, feel the opposite, arguing that while his comments might not have been tactfully phrased, he was more than entitled to make them. And then there's the Spectator, which ran with: "Britain needs a party for the gammon vote." These are the conversations we need to be having! This is why free speech is so important!
Reacting to the news of a new centrist party, "United for Change", launching in the UK, Ross Clark set out his conviction that there is a "gaping hole" in the market for a new party, but not a centre-left one, rather a Conservative party that isn't fussed about "metropolitan liberal causes" – AKA: an outwardly xenophobic one. He reckons David Cameron set a bad precedent by "grovelling" over issues like "Bloody Sunday, the Amritsar Massacre, Alan Turing and so on". Cameron, by the way, called the Amritsar massacre "deeply shameful", but stopped short of actually apologising on Britain's behalf. Bloody virtue signaller!
Instead, Clark reckons the Conservatives should be working harder to fill the big racist gap left by UKIP – the gap Theresa May quite famously tried to fill in the 2017 election when she lost her parliamentary majority.
With its title's reference to the "gammon vote", this Spectator column is written in much the same tone that Boris Johnson delivers his "jokes": full of tongue-in-cheek nodding and winking, enough to pass the whole thing off as "a bit of fun", but deep down absolutely endorsing the sinister content of its agenda. When all is said and done, this cheery little op-ed is basically a call for a far-right resurgence. Clark even concludes: "And no, Boris would not be the ideal man to lead it. On burqas as on many things, I would say, he is far too liberal."
Of course, there's an awareness here, and it's an awareness shared by Boris Johnson – there is a voter-base who will be drawn to him by comments like this. Yet we shouldn't get carried away. Burqa gags aren’t a foundation for a political movement, and the old chestnut about Boris Johnson’s clownish behaviour making him more popular is largely bollocks. His popularity among Conservative voters is about as stable as it is among his fellow party MPs. And as the saying goes: you can't build a movement using only the political will of Johnny English and the racist blokes who phone into LBC every day.
What's the story? Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been banned from Facebook, Apple and YouTube – but Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has refused to follow suit.
Reasonable Take: Alex Jones is not a journalist.
Brain Force: It is the job of journalists to prove that Alex Jones is not a journalist.
More excellent content from the Great Big Completely Meaningless Free Speech Conversation that appears be defining our current epoch. This week, Apple, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube all took a stand against Alex Jones' Infowars, kicking him off their platforms. It's a first and important step towards big tech companies acknowledging the role their platforms play in spreading disinformation and hate speech. Most of them, that is.
In a #thread that has earned him a lot of big fans with sweaty map-plastered bedrooms, Twitter's Jack Dorsey defended his decision to let Alex Jones stay, arguing he hadn't violated the website's rules. He went on to say: "Accounts like Jones' can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best." Yes, the best use of journalists' time is proving "Pizzagate" isn't real. Cheers, mate.
This obviously relates to the conversation about whether or not platforms like Twitter are publishers, responsible for what happens under their watch, or just lawless rolling timelines of data. Clearly they see themselves as the former. They're happy enough to be publishers when it comes to compiling "moments", curating the stuff they want us to see, which is why it's an absolute fantasy to suggest they have no responsibility to deal with accounts which "sensationalise issues and spread unsubstantiated rumours" to millions of people under the banner of widening the debate.
Alex Jones, predictably, has a blue tick. Which sort of encapsulates the problem. Twitter don't just let him have his say so others can "debate him in the open" – they professionalise him. They let him use the word "journalism" in his bio and give him a big badge of verification, a man who claimed the Pentagon is poisoning the water and turning frogs gay.
Dorsey has tried to characterise letting Jones stay as an act of political impartiality, but this isn't about political sides. It's about people who make stuff up and people who don't. People who encourage the idea that Hillary Clinton is a demon, and people who don't. There's nothing political about banning someone who pretends to be a journalist, but in fact openly lies in order to stoke anger – someone who calls the families of dead children "crisis actors" in order to sell diet pills. Banning them is actually the most basic action a website that bangs on about "serving the public conversation" can take.
PRIME CUT: Jack Dorsey… consider yourself unfollowed!