Jeremy Clarkson has just lopped off his privates in public.
It wasn’t an edifying sight.
I’m trying to think of an analogy that captures the enormity of what Clarkson has just done. In terms of sheer cringeworthiness, I suppose it would be that sick but oddly compelling documentary I saw the other night called Dan’s 80lb Testicle, about a man with an unfeasibly large growth on his undercarriage which he had to lumber round the streets of LA using an upside down hoodie.
In terms of pusillanimity, it would be something along the lines of Sir Francis Drake on the bowling green at Plymouth looking down at the Spanish Armada and saying: “You know what, me hearties? Let’s get in our ships, sharpish, and sail off somewhere nice and safe, like the other side of the world. It’s plain as a pikestaff that England is lost.”
In terms of nauseating, oleaginous, social climbing disgustingness it’s like Uriah Heep on his knees ever so ‘umbly presenting a BBC tribute to the late Princess of Wales, filmed at Althorp with hour long interviews with Earl Spencer and Tony Blair with songs by Sir Elton John performed by the children of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, entitled “Still Queen of All our Hearts.” On Brown Nose Day.
Really, though, there is no metaphor or image or simile on earth quite dramatic enough to capture the shaming spinelessness, the platitudinous vapidity, the intellectual feebleness, the surrender-the-pass cowardliness of the piece Clarkson wrote yesterday in the Sunday Times “explaining” why, all things considered, he thinks it’s a good idea for Britain to remain in the European Union.
Here is an extract to give you a taste.
Whether I’m sitting in a railway concourse in Brussels or pottering down the canals of southwestern France or hurtling along a motorway in Croatia, I feel way more at home than I do when I’m trying to get something to eat in Dallas or Sacramento. I love Europe, and to me that’s important.
I’m the first to acknowledge that so far the EU hasn’t really worked. We still don’t have standardised electrical sockets, and every member state is still out for itself, not the common good. This is the sort of thing that causes many people to think, “Well, let’s just leave and look after ourselves in future.”
I get that. I really do. And after I’d watched Hannan’s speech, that’s briefly how I felt too. But, actually, isn’t it better to stay in and try to make the damn thing work properly? To create a United States of Europe that functions as well as the United States of America? With one army and one currency and one unifying set of values?
So Jeremy Clarkson’s arguments for Britain remaining in the European Union boil down to two things.
- The fallacy that the EU is the same as “Europe”. Which, duh, it ain’t.
- The fantasy that if only we just try that little bit harder we can function just like the US. This theory is very plausible, so long as you completely ignore everything that has happened in the EU to date (especially with regards to the Euro and the “European army”) and so long as you pretend that the EU’s 28 member states aren’t entirely different entities with no common language and with discrete national identities which don’t go back many centuries.
There are lots of piss-poor columnists out there who you can easily imagine churning out this kind of bilge. But Clarkson really isn’t one of them. For a start, he has forged his entire career on tell-it-like-it-is-outspokenness and political incorrectness (especially where uppity foreigners are concerned). Also, he’s not stupid. The reason his collected columns tend to go to the top of the bestseller lists is partly because they’re funny but partly because they’re true. He has a gift for boiling down the political concerns of our time into a punchy but chatty style, replete with colourful images, witty asides and broad jokes which make them accessible to everyone.
Here, though, he’s not doing any of that. There is no way – in the unlikely event that he could ever bring himself to reread those words – that Clarkson will ever be able to look at that column and go: “Yup. I really nailed it, there.” Because he patently hasn’t. This isn’t just a fail. It is, by some margin, the worst Jeremy Clarkson column ever. Or at least the worst of the many I have read and (invariably) admired.
In fact what strikes me most is that here is the very exemplar of the kind of column you write when your heart just isn’t in it, when you’re making an argument you simply don’t believe in.
I noticed this fall off in quality in Boris Johnson’s columns after he became a politician. You can be a good columnist or you can be politic but you cannot be both. (Which incidentally was the theory I was going to tell you about why, apart from personal ambition, I believe Boris decided in the end to opt for Brexit. I think it was the instinct of a professional columnist who knows he cannot shy from the truth any longer).
We’ve all done it from time to time – usually for the money – but the experience when you sell out is so hateful, I find, that you rarely repeat it too often, even for the thirty pieces of silver.
By odd coincidence, one piece I vividly recall turning down was a commission from the Mail about ten years ago slagging off one Jeremy Clarkson. I love writing for the Mail because the money’s good. But on this occasion I said no because I considered Clarkson such a heroic ally in the war on political correctness it seemed quite wrong to pick him up on some venial slip he’d made.
Once a columnist abandons these principles, I believe, he is lost.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to look at Clarkson in the same way again, however good his Top Gear replacement series is, because all I’ll be thinking is: “You had a choice, Jeremy. Either to go to the wall for the cause you believe in. Or to sell your soul to something you don’t believe in just because you live near the Prime Minister in the Cotswolds, share the same circle of posho friends and want to curry favour with the smart set.”
Luckily, a solution presents itself which I think will make the parting process much easier. Apparently there’s a new series of Top Gear coming out on the BBC, presented by one of the most annoying, hateful people on TV, and so often in the news because of its ongoing disasters and rising budgets and cast fall-outs that it is less like a TV series than a slow-motion car crash.
There can, I think, be no more fitting punishment for Clarkson than that we completely ignore his new series and cast our loyalties with the Chris Evans imitation. Yes, the new Top Gear will be hateful and rubbish. But at least it won’t involve having to look at the bloated wreck that is Jeremy “Quisling” Clarkson.