Scandals pepper our history. Those in public life daily run a gauntlet of falsely conceived accusations of impropriety, as well as some genuine ones. The media, or hitherto the gutter press, has feasted eagerly on the carcasses of the luckless and the guilty, while those most adroit in the art of escapology survive.
Bad news, people. We are all ‘The Media’ now. Escapology is a science of the past.
A couple of centuries ago, the old lady who made the blacksmith ill by concocting the wrong herbal remedy would once have been able to start afresh in another village; now she faces a lynch mob of millions.
There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. The internet has given the vultures wings, and no crevasse, no shield of politics or faith can hide you from the rip and tear of their beaks.
Lynch mob? Witch hunters? Whatever soubriquet you give to those who get ghoulish pleasure from seeing their quarry squirm, they are very much among us. And the severity of the crime or the reliability of the evidence is of no concern to them, when it is set against the warped satisfaction of bringing their victim to ruin, without ever really questioning either the morality or the dire consequences of what they do.
I think the trouble started when it was deemed appropriate to include certain offences under the law that do not need corroboration. I am not saying this is wrong, although it is a very difficult area and one which should be applied with extreme care. The problem, though, is compounded by the inadequacy of the law in dealing with libel, still less with slander. Accusations that fall within that category, the more lurid the better, can be offered up to the hanging jury of Facebook without fear of redress. Are you a journalist in search of your Big Story? Have you an old score to settle? Do you personally dislike someone in the public eye, or are you simply hoping to make some money? Then start a rumour, begin the daisy chain of innuendo that will bring the object of your jealousy down.
I have always been uneasy with this situation because there is no proportionality. By aligning a minor transgression, a naïve or foolish misunderstanding with a real crime, some angry or lascivious act which inspires real fear or creates a scar, we demean those who are true victims – even discourage them from coming forward, because genuine people are naturally shy of administering such blatant excoriation. It is an erosion of free speech, and it is a breakdown in the rule of law.
This week a senior politician resigned from his position as Minister of Defence because he had to admit to patting a journalist’s knee ten years ago. To the tuneless thunder of other journalists’ feet as they jumped on the bandwagon, allusions to ‘other offences’ have been made, though lacking proof. Notwithstanding my personal view that any accusation made by a journalist should be discounted, or at least subjected to very close examination, there can be no doubt the man has shown fallibility. He has been, at the least, clumsy. But where once there might have been an acceptance that the ‘rules’ have changed in the last decade or so, an apology made and admonition given (even the journalist herself commented that she did not feel threatened and she thought the resignation ‘absurd’), that will no longer satisfy the ravening horde. Now it must be ostracism and ruin for a very talented man in fields where sexual ineptitude are irrelevant, and who might have had much to contribute. And now, of course, the pack is loose.
Any politician in the UK Parliament now has to walk in fear, lest a friendly pat or a playful remark made a generation since is brought from its closet and shaken out in the light of this burgeoning set of new ‘rules’ which the feminist movement is writing down as fast as it can think them up. Many are being accused who haven’t transgressed but that doesn’t matter. This thinly clothed hatred of the male sex is glaring out from under every stone and it does not care who it hurts, or how. Our political balance is at a very crucial point. When this kind of hysteria infects the slow-witted and the fast-persuaded it can have consequences that are extreme.
Meanwhile, the BBC played host on national television this week to a senior female politician from Her Majesty’s Opposition – a party aggressively seeking power – who told a very insensitive anti-Semitic joke.
I have always admired the Jewish community’s sense of humour, especially when they happily direct jokes against themselves; but I do not think any Jewish person I have known would have enjoyed this particular example (and no, I won’t repeat it, although ‘Harriet Harman’ on YouTube will produce what you need, if you must witness it). Yet there has been no further coverage of the incident on the BBC or, as far as I know, any other channel, despite concerns over the growth of anti-Semitism on the ‘Left’ of Ms. Harman’s political party. Ample grounds, certainly, to fuel another witch hunt if you have the taste for it – strangely though, no-one has.
So, where are we? Has the state of the world so altered that a few injudicious sexist remarks or examples of the latest regime of ‘inappropriate touching’ can bring down a government, altering the future for us all, and promoting to power a zealous party of neo-Marxists with an unhealthy hotbed of racism seething beneath? Is that really where we are?
Look, there are genuine cases – of course there are. I have been lied about – we all of us experience that from time to time. I have also been assaulted, compromised, victimised, and so on. But I am not scarred, not by any of these things. My scars have more to do with the viciousness of the mob, and its constant attacks on my freedom. I was once proud of my nation. Now? I’m not so sure.
I am beginning to wonder; if I were young and unattached again, how would I set about forging a relationship with the opposite sex?
The answer is, I think, only in the presence of witnesses.