Jeremy Clarkson is more than a belligerent television presenter—he voices the grievances of millions. And a coming Tory government won’t diminish his supportby John Lloyd / November 18, 2009 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2009 issue of Prospect Magazine
September saw the results of the Plain Speaking Personality prize, a public poll carried out by a brandy company. X-Factor judge Simon Cowell came runner-up, and Jeremy Paxman and Sharon Osbourne joint third. The winner was a figure pre-eminent in the public’s consciousness as the Man Who Speaks His Mind, alone in a desert of political correctness and cowardice masked as tolerance: Jeremy Clarkson.
Clarkson’s celebrity is based on journalism; geeky, scruffy, oily car journalism. But he has turned that unlikely beginning into a platform for fame. His hugely popular vehicle Top Gear started its 14th series in mid-November. But zany and dramatic as the programme can be, it was only a launch pad. For Clarkson now represents a larger constituency: the seriously pissed-off-with-Labour part of England which has not spoken yet, but will in the next election. It is a world where the walking-on-eggshells demeanour of many public figures is mocked, and ministers are steamrollered for hypocrisy, weasel words and corruption with a collective retch of theatrical disgust. A friend of Clarkson’s, who spoke anonymously, said that in his right-leaning suburb “everybody loves his fight against the euphemisms, the correct-speak. I went into a pub, and overheard a conversation in which three blokes were saying: we wouldn’t have anyone else for prime minister.” Last year a petition on the Downing Street website to give him the top job attracted around 50,000 signatures, while in a 2009 YouGov poll Londoners demanded Clarkson (or Alan Sugar) as their mayor.
The popularity of Clarkson’s political views stands in marked contrast to his own attitude to politicians. At a press conference in Australia in February, he called Gordon Brown a “one-eyed Scottish idiot.” Then, after a break of some five months, he followed up by saying “Gordon Brown is a cunt” during a recording of Top Gear. BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow then “had a conversation” with Clarkson, but the official statement—as opaque as any diplomatic communiqué—said only that “she holds both the programme and Jeremy in high regard. After the recording she and Jeremy had a discussion about the programme as controllers and presenters often do.”