I sometimes think that when I die there should be two graves dug: the first would be the usual kind of size, say 2 feet by 7, but the other would be much, much larger. The gravestone should read: ME AND MY BIG MOUTH.
I suspect most of you will have heard of the shitstorm that howled about the head of Jan Moir, a journalist who wrote a beastly article in the Daily Mail about the death of Stephen Gately the day before his funeral. I don’t propose to stop and pick over the carcass of that epically ill-judged piece of gutter journalism. Its malice, stupidity, incoherent illogicality and crass insensitivity have been superbly anatomised by many others and besides, too much time has passed, a whole 24 hours at the time of writing and for the online world, which is still a child, a year is a decade and a day a whole month.
If I were to express sympathy for Jan Moir here some of you might think I had gone soft in the head. And yet I do feel sorry for her. There are those, there will always be those, who believe that she knew exactly what she was doing and that she is relishing her notoriety, that the sight of her name topping the Twitter trend lists will give her nothing but frissons of pleasure. I do not believe this. Yes, I expect that she will, in time, revisit her disaster. I dare say she will write the inevitable Vulnerable Frightened Piece in which she tells the world just how tyrannised, terrorised and victimised she felt; piling on the image of the concerned mum (if she is one) who was just trying to ask questions; the honest (and perhaps naive, yes, she’ll admit to that) journalist who sowed a doubt and reaped a whirlwind. Such articles always end with Serious Questions, in this case concerning the Future of Democracy Itself if it is to be left in the hands of the firebrands, hysterics and (Dark Hints) possibly sinister forces that patrol and control the internet. It will all be silly, distressing, disingenuous and ignorant, but then she is a tabloid columnist and that is her job. The reason I feel sorry for her is not that she is a journalist, or that she writes for the Daily Mail, I am quite sure she can do without my pompous, patronising sympathy. I feel sorry for her because I know just what it is like to make a monumental ass of oneself and how hard it is to find the road back. I know all too well what it is like to be inebriated, as Disraeli put it, by the exuberance of my own verbosity.
Only a week and a half ago I was asked to appear on Channel 4 news to comment on the Conservative Party and their decision to ally themselves in the European Parliament with the Polish Law and Justice Party, a nationalist grouping whose members have made statements of the most unpleasantly homophobic and antisemitic nature. I usually decline such invitations, and how I wish I had done so on this occasion. I think I accepted for the achingly dumb reason that I happened to be in the Holborn area all that day and the ITN news studios were just round the corner, so it seemed like an easy gig. The more probable explanation is that, as my father and squadrons of school teachers correctly reminded me throughout my childhood and youth, “Stephen just doesn’t think.” Anyway. Words tumbled from my lips during that interview that were as idiotic, ignorant and offensive as you could imagine. It had all been proceeding along perfectly acceptable lines until I said something like “let’s not forget which side of the border Auschwitz was on.”
I mean, what was I thinking? Well, as I say, I wasn’t. The words just formed themselves in a line in my head, as words will, and marched out of the mouth. I offer no excuse. I seemed to imply that the Polish people had been responsible for the most infamous of all the death factories of the Third Reich. I didn’t even really at the time notice the import of what I had said, so gave myself no opportunity instantly to retract the statement. It was a rubbishy, cheap and offensive remark that I have been regretting ever since.