Offensive remarks of Ukip MEP raise questions about what is acceptable
Opinion: Tide of irrationality and abuse not created, but facilitated by social media
Undoubtedly, some in the party are the gift that will keep on giving for headline writers over coming years, since there is little sign many Ukip people want to soften their language or change their views.
However there is an issue for others to address too. Nothing is more illiberal than liberal self-righteousness, even if it is a mote in the eye the media frequently fails to address.
For example, a Channel 4 News interview on Monday evening with Ukip leader Nigel Farage ended when newscaster Krishnan Guru Murthy introduced the next item about synthetically produced beef with“Talking about bull . . .”
Regardless of what one thinks of Farage, and he excites strong opinions, it is difficult to imagine that any other party leader in Britain today would have been treated in the same way, and with so little comment from anyone afterwards.
Stupidly chosen words
Equally there is the issue about the proper penalty for offensive, ill-thought-out or stupidly chosen words.
The BBC sports commentator John Inverdale was roundly criticised after he said Wimbledon winner Marion Bartoli was “not a looker”.
Besides failing at the first hurdle for not being a gentleman, Inverdale was wrong because his argument was illogical: Bartoli’s likely appearance as a teenager, on which he remarked, had nothing to do with whether she was going to beat Maria Sharapova. Having behaved idiotically, Inverdale was subjected to a campaign by people whose aim it seemed was not just to get an apology and BBC censure – both of which would be valid – but to ensure he never appeared on television again, which is not.
During the debate about same-sex marriage too, there were times when liberals failed the first test of the dictum attributed to Voltaire about defending to the death the right to express opinions, often portraying objectors in the most lurid language possible.
Many such objectors were and are bigots. Others, however, had genuine religious and social doubts, which should be acceptable as long as they do not seek to interfere with the rights of others or defy the law; others are just uncomfortable with change.
The problem is proportionality, or the lack of it. It is possible for us to disagree a lot or by the largest degree possible in the history of mankind; but sometimes we can disagree just a bit, reasonably, without the tiresome, high-octane invective that pollutes so much of our debate.