Unions jump the shark over Clarkson

Free speech campaigner Councillor Michael Harris explains why it is wrong to arrest far-right Tory Jeremy Clarkson for his sickening anti-trade union rant.

For a brief moment, I felt the union movement would garner some public sympathy from Jeremy Clarkson’s ignorant comments on shooting trade union members.

I was delighted Clarkson had once again acted like the class buffoon – his comments showed the true nastiness of anti-union sentiment, and the bully-boy tactics of Tory strikebreakers.

Yet, incredibly, the trade union movement managed to shoot itself in the feet with both barrels.

UNISON sent out a press release stating they were:

“…taking urgent legal advice about what action can be taken against him and the BBC and are considering whether there are grounds to refer a complaint to the police.”

Joel Taylor, the deputy news editor of the Metro, spoke for Fleet Street when he tweeted:

“GMB want Clarkson to make a donation towards the education of the child of a murdered Guatemalan trade unionist. I don’t think it’s a joke.”

As David Allen Green points out in the New Statesman, UNISON has actually called for a BBC employee to be dismissed immediately:

“Here we have a trade union calling for someone to be summarily sacked. No disciplinary procedure, no due process, no contract rights: the man should be fired immediately.”

The culture of ‘being offended’ now permeates the left. When Jan Moir made her nasty comments about “there being nothing natural” about Stephen Gately’s untimely death, the PCC received 22,000 complaints, more than it had in total for the previous five years.

As my colleague Padraig Reidy points out, Twitter is now a rent-a-mob for those wishing to be offended by racist people on public transport, or right-wing opinions in national newspapers:  and what’s worrying is that the solution to finding yourself angered by words is always to remove the offending content so no one can see it. UNISON’s threats of legal action are particularly sinister and would, if pursued in Court, be thrown out thanks to the right to freedom of expression.

A union – whose core function is to protect the rights of workers – should understand better than most why freedom of expression is important. The long march to the Left All this is indicative of a wider, more systematic problem.

The union movement has a serious image problem. Unions 21 the think tank surveyed union leaders, a huge 90.2% felt the negative bias against unions was growing. Almost all press coverage is negative. In turn, the movement itself is retreating into the retreating public sector. The US has a larger share of private sector employees unionised than we do.

The reasons are blindingly obvious; Luke Akehurst hit the nail on the head with his piece on the link between the Labour party and the unions:

“In most of the main unions elections for national level posts have become a contest between candidates from the Labour left and insurgents from even further left forces like the SWP.

“This distorts General Secretaries’ perceptions of the political spectrum: instead of worrying about how Labour can win over swing voters, who are probably not unrepresentative of their members, they worry about fending off (or in the worst cases appeasing) ultra-left activists who can give them a hard time at conference.”

The union movement is now internally insulated from mainstream Britain. The six million people who watch Clarkson’s bigoted opinions on Top Gear and laugh, the people who don’t understand a reference to Guatemalan history, those who look at picketers shouting through microphones on the TV and turn over.

Today UNISON threatened to sue one of the most popular TV presenters in Britain for an offensive joke. Will anyone in the Shadow Cabinet say publicly that this sort of behavior has to stop?

See also:

Watch Cameron’s pathetic ‘condemnation’ of Clarkson’s sick commentsShamik Das, December 1st 2011

How to be Jeremy ClarksonAlex Hern, December 1st 2011

Jeremy Clarkson: A ‘birther’ born yesterdayDominic Browne, May 3rd 2011

Scumbag Clarkson’s racist attack on MexicansShamik Das, February 11th 2011

Message to Clarkson: Don’t come backWill Straw, November 9th 2009

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28 Responses to “Unions jump the shark over Clarkson”

  1. graham

    Unions jump the shark over Clarkson: http://t.co/qkmo71T8 says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  2. Political Planet

    Unions jump the shark over Clarkson: Free speech campaigner Councillor Michael Harris explains why it is wrong t… http://t.co/fe1UJkzG

  3. Barry Webb

    You Left wing, socialist, commi, politically correct, miserable person !
    if you see the whole interview, watch carefully ….. balance the whole thing…. look at the
    body language, can you see Jeremy’s eyes ..grinning..he nearly burst into luaghing himself.
    The intervievers, both were laughing, they were thinking Jeremy, your a nuaghty boy.
    …… then they seem to get some direction or instuctions in their ear peices
    and then all of a suden they started to look serious…..

    Still I suppose this will keep a very poorly supported strike in the headlines a bit longer.
    I find your stance is very understandable, very, very understandable.
    Free speach for everyone , but NOT for people who dont share my views.

  4. Al

    @Barry Webb


    At least learn how to write literature English if you want to spew shit everywhere with it.

  5. Francis Hoar

    Another excellent post from @leftfootfwd by @cllr_mikeharris on thin skins and cant: http://t.co/XRkVDf3T #Clarkson #N30

  6. Matthew H

    Pretty much. The unions won't get far by behaving like the Guardian comments section. Not fit for purpose. http://t.co/ny6mCBzj

  7. jaydeepee

    Unions jump the shark over Clarkson: http://t.co/qkmo71T8 says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  8. Selohesra

    Barry – not often i stand up for the articles on this site but I think the point he was trying to make was that the left/media luvvies/unions have grossly overreacted with their faux outrage. Of course they knew it was a joke (albeit like many in the world in poor taste) – just like the mock excutions of bankers and relentless chanting for Maggie to die are not meant to be taken literally. The unions are just making this noise to disguise the abject failure of Wednesdays day of inaction.

  9. Phil Craig

    RT @leftfootfwd Unions jump the shark over Clarkson: http://t.co/pfHl0zvp says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  10. Chris Bristol

    Editor of this article/blog post needs to learn what ‘jumping the shark’ means. Jump the gun maybe? Definitely not jumping the shark.

  11. Anonymous

    People are struggling to live and I suspect they could not care a dam about Clarksons daft comments and yes he was trying to be funny.

    But yes the Unions have shot them selves in the foot for not saying well yes from a bloke who earns a million quid from the tax payers and leave it at that.

    But of course the problem is that Unions and Labour party are not of the left anymore they are to the right or as Labour says we are a center left party leaning to the right, hows that for political speak

  12. Yasmin

    RT for the late risers @leftfootfwd: Unions jump the shark over C****son: http://t.co/qkmo71T8 says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  13. Jez Wyke

    The best piece on this I’ve read so far.

    Perspective and sense. About time.

  14. Ben Jarman

    I am really, really pleased to see this said about #Clarkson: unions' call for summary dismissal is hypocrisy: http://t.co/vrisO7z4 #fb

  15. Nico Hogg

    RT for the late risers @leftfootfwd: Unions jump the shark over C****son: http://t.co/qkmo71T8 says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  16. dan

    a welcome bit of perspective: RT @leftfootfwd: Unions jump the shark over Clarkson http://t.co/OHGphYYJ

  17. Michael Harris

    RT for the late risers @leftfootfwd: Unions jump the shark over C****son: http://t.co/qkmo71T8 says @Cllr_MikeHarris #Clarkson #N30

  18. Zio Bastone

    I tend to agree that Unison handled this badly: withering contempt would have been better. But there’s a long tradition of bigotry dressed up as humour. (I remember, many years ago, Neil Hamilton passing off his address to the Italian fascist MSI as some kind of joke.) And it’s unhelpful, in a context where all three main parties remain simultaneously neoliberal by conviction and scared by the crisis brought about by the neoliberal policies they uphold, to refer to ‘insurgents’ who are ‘even further left’ or even ‘ultra left’. We don’t have a left at the moment, we haven’t had for many years and to refer to one as a sort of rubric for ‘here be dragons’ is (a) to repeat a neoliberal conceptual framing and (b) to relapse once more into the sort of branding anxiety that prevents any real discussion of ideas.

  19. Simon

    He just says what most of us think. Fair play.

  20. Dave B

    Wouldn't #Unison want a tribunal for #Clarkson not summary sacking? RT @leftfootfwd Unions jump the shark over Clarkson http://t.co/T55wULJ7

  21. Michael Gillman

    Have none of you people heard of irony or satire?
    His comments were clearly satirical, based on the ridiculous and over the top spite coming from the anti-strike mob.
    I have no special love for Clarkson, but to think he’s been made apologise for this and now people are calling for his head…

    When did people become so stupid?

  22. Anonymous

    So Jeremy Clarkson thinks strikers should be executed? What’s he got against footballers?


  23. Padraig Reidy

    Also reminded of this by @cllr_mikeharris http://t.co/E0BugcDm

  24. New European Industrial Workers Federation looms | Left Foot Forward

    […] Unions jump the shark over Clarkson – Michael Harris, December 2nd […]

  25. Michael Harris

    @mjhsinclair well, it gives me the opportunity to do 600 words on why the unions need to stop the censorious impulse.. http://t.co/spXrlzkW

  26. Michael Harris

    #Unionfail yet again with their heavy-handed attempt to expel @DPJHodges for saying what many members were thinking – http://t.co/spXmNZbM

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