MPs, free speech and British security

About 10 years ago my brother-in-law was giving me a lift through the early morning Washington traffic when he suddenly gave a whoop of joy. “It’s Howie!” yelled Ivo, turning up the radio. “We gotta listen to Howie!” And it was with mounting disbelief that I listened to the next 20 minutes of the Howard Stern show, a shameless and cynical attempt to scandalise the ear.

That morning Howard was appealing to his listeners to ring in with the most tear-jerking hard-luck story. In return he was offering a nude massage at the hands of an attractive nude masseuse. In a display of Oprah Winfreyesque exhibitionism, the audience was competing for that massage. We heard of divorces, and bereavements, and embarrassing disfigurements. But the winner (I advise sensitive readers to faint now) was a man who rang in to say that he had just been diagnosed with cancer, and might lose his gonads, but had not yet had the courage to tell his girlfriend.

Howard Stern pounced. “What’s her number?” he said. With lightning efficiency his producers patched the caller through to his girlfriend, and soon she was being told – live on air – that there was good news and bad news.

The bad news was that her boyfriend had cancer, and the good news was that he was the winner of a nude massage. The poor woman gasped and sobbed. I sat there in exactly the state desired by the producers of the Howard Stern show – appalled, disgusted, but also thrilled by the horror of what was apparently (and I stress apparently) taking place on the radio.

We just don’t have shows like this in Britain, I said to Ivo. That’s right, he said, and he told me about the shock jocks. He explained the tactics of men such as Stern and Rush Limbaugh, how they shamelessly chased after ratings by causing outrage, how they goosed the secret prejudices of their listeners. Some people tuned in because they actually agreed with what was being said. Most people just enjoyed the theatre, the vehemence, the provocation.

These shock jocks were national institutions, with millions of weekly listeners. They were a new and important part of the American constitution, and that is my first objection to the utterly demented decision by Jacqui Smith’s Home Office to announce that Michael Savage, America’s third most popular radio show host, is banned from entering this country. It just makes us look so infantile, so pathetic.

Every day the American airwaves are churned by the paranoid rantings of Michael Savage and his kind. Has this stuff warped America, or deformed its political psyche? On the contrary, the Americans have just had the good sense to elect a supremely gifted and eloquent black man – when the prospect of a black British prime minister still seems some way off. What are we, some sort of kindergarten that needs to be protected against these dangerous American radio shows? Does Jacqui Smith think we are all dimwits, who can’t tell when a man like Savage is talking rubbish? Why can America take it, and we can’t?

The answer is that America still has a constitutional protection of free speech, and I have been amazed, over the last few days, to see how few people in this country are willing to stick up for that elementary principle. Across Fleet Street, swords have stuck in their scabbards, swords that normally leap to the defence of liberty.

I am not aware that a single MP has spoken on this subject, apart from David Winnick, who went on Newsnight to agree with Jacqui Smith. Harold Wilson once called Mr Winnick “the stupidest man in the House of Commons”, a reputation he did nothing to shake with his performance. Mr Winnick said that Savage should be banned from this country for claiming that many children with autism were “brats”. That is indeed an odious and ill-informed opinion. But surely it should be blindingly obvious even to David Winnick that it is possible to despise the things that Michael Savage says, and yet to think that it is very odd indeed to bar him from this country.

Such is the terror of being associated with Mr Savage’s ugly ravings, that no one dares speak up for common sense and proportionality. To exclude someone from entering this country is a serious act of state. We have not been told how the decision was taken. We do not know which criteria were applied.

All we can say for certain is that there was no attempt to consult our elected representatives in the House of Commons, engrossed as they now are in defending their expenses, and it looks very much as though the list of banned persons was rushed out to cover up the hoo-ha over the Home Secretary’s taxpayer-funded bath plug.

Michael Savage has said ignorant and unpleasant things about gay people, autism and Muslims. But it is far from clear that he would be in breach of any law, even in this country. The world is full of loudmouth media berks with views that we would all like to keep to themselves, but we can’t ban them all from entering Britain.

Perhaps Jacqui Smith thinks that it “sends out a signal” about the kind of Britain we want. On the contrary, it reinforces a culture – created by this Labour Government, and its addiction to political correctness – where people are increasingly confused and panic-stricken about what they can say and what is forbidden, a culture where a police officer can seriously think he is right to arrest a protester for calling a police horse “gay”. Our courts and tribunals are clogged with people claiming to have suffered insults of one kind or another, and a country once famous for free speech is now hysterically and expensively sensitive to anything that could be taken as a slight.

The final absurdity of the Home Office ban is that huge numbers of British people have now listened to or watched Mr Savage, when they might otherwise have rubbed along without even knowing he existed. They will have found a boorish, excitable man who addresses his callers as “moron”, who is much less gifted than Howard Stern and who is certainly no threat to this country.

[First published in the DailyTelegraph on 11 May 2009 under the heading: “Michael Savage poses no threat to British security so why won’t MPs say so?”]

29 thoughts on “MPs, free speech and British security”

  1. Purely in the interests of research (OK, I laughed myself sick) I have read Howard Stern’s autobiography, sensitively entitled “Private Parts”. I have also seen the movie of the book (starring Howard himself), and listened to a lot of his shows. “Private Parts” is a no holds barred intimate account of Howard’s childhood and career, in which Stern describes himself as “an obsessive/compulsive, anal retentive, miserable neurotic, because I was raised by a mother who ran her household with the intensity of Hitler”.

    Howard loves his mother, but was driven crazy by her cleanliness phobias, the Jewish guilt over sex she ladled on him with the chicken soup, her daily practice of taking his temperature with a rectal thermometer, (not so bad, you might say, but she continued the practice until he was 18), and so many of the cooky, crazy, love inspired controlling devices of a hyper dysfunctional family.

    Needless to say, Howard grew up to be quite an unusual person, riddled with phobias and fears and ruled by the need to carry out daily rituals to assuage the fears that tormented him. His radio show became a way of exorcising his demons and also a way of fighting hypocrisy, dishonesty, and any form of bigotry and prejudice concerning sex, religion and practically anything else you can think of.

    Some of Stern’s rap is for shock value only, but it is all stunning in its raw honesty. We need shows like this, we need to be made to think, we need to look at conventional things from a million different angles. Far from being protected from shows like this, we should be listening to their explanation of Smeargate, their views on MPs expenses and their views on exactly what we are doing with a Home Secretary like Jacqui Smith.


    This is Howard being really naughty laughing at Beyonce because she is singing all off key. Bad boy, it’s not funny!!!!

    There is a really hilarious Youtube of Howard interviewing Russell Brand. Russell describes how he was abused at the age of seven….. shocking the shockmeister, who doesn’t get the joke. Stern keeps saying “but being abused is an awful thing, right?” and Russell says blithely “Oh well you might as well laugh about it!” and then he adds “Of course, it’s only abuse if you are seven – after that, it’s like, a date!”

    “We just don’t have shows like this in Britain, I said to Ivo.” points out Boris.

    We don’t have shows like this, but we do have Jeremy Kyle, There is no redeeming humour or social satire, but you do see couples taking lie detector tests to confirm whether the guy is the father of the tearful girl’s baby. He is usually denying paternity, and hassled into facing his responsibilities by bully boy Jeremy. Faced with any opposition, Jeremy snarls “Put something on it if you don’t want a kid!” or “Keep your knickers on! Don’t lie down for anyone who asks you!” to negligent mums.

    Having your paternity confirmed on national t.v. in front of an audience of millions, knowing later in life that your father didn’t want you…… now that’s really shocking.

  3. When will the likes of JS realise, we don’t need or want a ‘Nanny State’?

  4. Instead of banning people from entering this country based on a simple dislike of what they say, how about we throw out the ones that are already here. Quieter country, anyone…? Anyone…?

  5. “how they goosed the secret prejudices of their listeners”.

    Very funny way of putting it, but that is exactly what they do. They ran a poll on why so many millions listen to Howard Stern and the overwhelming answer was “I just have to hear what he dares to say next!”.

  6. At least with you in charge, Boris,we need have no fear of Jackboot Jacqui closing down Speakers’ Corner. Recently it seems to have acquired an importance never before granted.

  7. The Home Secretary wished to exclude certain foam-flecked Islamists from this country and felt that she had also to exclude one or two foam-flecked anti-Islamists, for balance. Was she right? Is the Pope atheist?

  8. I’m proud of Britain, just not that shower who dare to pretend to rule in my name. A spell in the Tower for the lot of them followed by a slice to the neck with a blunt axe.

  9. Thanks to the details of Jacqui Smith’s expenses we now know for sure that if husband did enter Howard Stern’s competition with ‘a tear jerking story’ of his own – such as being married to Jacqui Smith; he most certainly did not win the prize.

  10. This list of Smith’s lacks names that should be on it. Those listed mostly are persons SHE dislikes. Ignore it, she will be gone soon, along with the rest of the greedy f***s, Labour and Conservative, mixed up in the current sleaze. Any Libs qualify? The BNP are wetting themselves with mirth. Britain is behaving like a Third World country: a disgrace! And Gordon is morphing into Frankie Howerd. Bring on Joanna as PM with the Gurkhas, and the rest of the British Army, and let’s have a coup. Clean out The Commons and Lords of the piss takers, leaving the good ones to rebuild the system. Or, Mrs Queen…intervene!

  11. Well I am reassured because David Cameron really kicked ass today. Somebody needed to take strong decisive action, and he stepped up, huge credit to him.

    For a moment, my faith in politics wavered, I was so downhearted at the dreadful spectacle of all those Labour MPs mouthing hypercritical platitudes over the weekend without a word of regret. And we have the unbelievable Boris Johnson as our Mayor to speak up for free speech. If you read Boris’s article on MPs’ expenses, he explains everything very clearly and that absolutely sorts out Stephen Fry’s ridiculous remarks. (I twittered the link of the speech to Stephen today, didn’t want him to miss it, because he is obviously very confused).

    There is hope ahead, believe me.

  12. Well said Boris a well thought out and amusing article. Having said that I’m a British voter and therefore too stupid to see the difference between outrageous and tongue in cheek satire. Thank you nanny Jaqui for deciding for me and making Britain and its people look a laughing stock. What happened to the basic democratic principal that, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight for your right to say it.”
    Mind you why should we be suprised when we have a so called goverment run by a make up wearing clown. I’m sure Krusty out the Simpsons could do a better job. New Labour new bullshit

  13. “That’s over. Now the kids have stopped squabbling the adults can get back to fixing the real problems.”
    about 18 hours ago from web.”

    On twitter, David Miliband on David Cameron’s speech on parliamentary expenses.

    “Broken politics! What?! As #stephenfry says, at the end of the day it’s just not that important.”

    David Miliband reveals how in tune he is with the mood of the country.

  14. It is quite worrying when our second most astute politician (sfter our genial host) is Joanna Lumley and our most trusted political party is the BNP.

  15. joanne Lumley campaigned really well for the Gurkhas, but she is far from being the country’s most astute politician and the BNP are the skidmarks on the underpants of society.

  16. Any Honourable Members of the House of Commons caught fiddling with their expenses claims must give their DNA samples to the police as they are fraudsters. Or thieves. Which is the same.

    ‘Honourable’, indeed! ‘Members’, indeed! ‘Commons’. indeed!

    A few days ago, Jacqui Smith declared that even DNA samples of wrongly accused people would be on Scotland Yard’s DATA base for 12 years.

    Everybody knows that Jacqui Smith has been fiddling with her expenses claims. The police must take her DNA samples ( her urine, dandruffs, stool or her finger prints on the porn DVD films cases they watch together at home ) and keep them for exactly 12 years like they do anybody else. And do her husband, too.

    But, thing is, do you still trust Scotland yard and the police these days? After all, Scotland Yard refused to investigate ‘Lord’ Truscott and other Labour ‘Lords’ involved in the ‘Lords For Sale’ scandal few months ago – claiming ‘ it’s tooooo complicated ‘.

  17. Awful though so many of the recents events have been, in a way I feel hugely positive and encouraged. The revelations about MPs expenses are ghastly, but they are being aired. The public finally knows the whole truth. We must also never lose sight of the fact that there are still many MPs who would not dream of fiddling their expenses, they are honourable and they do a great job.

    David Cameron is also being very purposeful in the way he is tackling the revelations.

    I do have faith that in the end, justice will be done and we will have a better system out of it. And we still have Boris, David Cameron, Ann Widdecombe, William Hague, George Osborne, to be proud of. (And also Dominic Grieve). This all had to come out, before it could be put right. It is for the best.

    ps. Just heard that Douglas Hogg is paying back over £2K for the clearing of his moat after all….. at first he said it was all above board. Well done David!

  18. ps. I don’t want No. 10 Downing Street to be Gordon’s first, second or third home! Joke!

  19. Gay Gordon has been claiming £6,000 a year to pay for a house cleaner whom he claimed he shares with his brother, blah blah blah… Yeah, whatever!

    BUT any adult knows that the simple way to do it is: Just find his own house cleaner to clean his own house only, pay her by cheque and show the bank statements to the House of Commons whenever he claims the expense back. Easy.

    Why taking the trouble taking the taxpayers through the maze in order to fool them? Sharing a cleaner with his brother? Nobody knows for sure if his brother chips in to pay for his own share of this house cleaner or not. So far, Gordon Brown’s brother has failed to show any bank statements or proofs to show that he has been paying his share in order to clear Gay Gordon.

    I watched Questions Time last night where lots of people in the audience were vowing to vote BNP – not only to teach all MPs a lesson but also because they no longer trust them. The MPs sitting on the panel were pleading with the public not to vote BNP as ‘ it’s a bad party of bad people ‘. Well, after reading all reports on those MPs’ expenses claims fiddling, the public are not sure who are really the good guys and who are really the bad guys. And who can blame them?

    Lots of MPs register their relative’s or even a wooden shed as their main home, then claim second home allowance ( £24,000 a year ) on their real house( or bought a rundown house ) and use the allowances to do up their real house ( or the rundown house ) then sell it. And then buy another rundown house and use the allowances to do it up again, then sell it. And start again. Geoff Hoon has done this 4 times!

    MPs also receive an annual cost-of-running-second-home allowance ( £26,000 a year ) to pay for their furniture, FOOD, council tax, utility bills, entertainment, blah blah blah… Some MPs bought 4 extra large sized, flat wide screen TVs in 4 years. Meaning they bought 1 TV each year!

    I’m glad Cameron is clean. But he must use this opportunity to show the public he is a leader not only to the House of Commons but also to his own party’s MPs.

    The public are saying Gordon has been scurrying around like a headless chicken.

  20. During the 90’s, I resigned from a local district council because of a criminal act my ex-husband committed. No one in The Party asked me and it caused a local by-election. However, I felt so ashamed of the fraud he carried out and the future political consequences for myself and our Party, that I thought it was for the best. It ended any future political ambition I had in it’s tracks.

    Looking at recent expenses revelations across all the main parties, I now wonder if I did right to push the political self-destruct button so quickly. My local MP at the time, had taken me under his wing. His tutoring, certainly did not include ‘robbing’ the public purse via abuse of The Green Book. I’m absolutely disgusted at what has occurred!

  21. The Daily Mail and the Taxpayers Alliance are taking the cheating MPs to court as the public fear that this expenses scandal might be whitewashed again by the government. Last night London City Mayor Mr Boris Johnson said on Sky News that there was a case for the police to be called in. Read more in:

    We don’t care who these sleaze MPs are, they need rooting out. Even Boris Johnson can’t stand them. You want to be a politician because you want to help your country or is it because you want to steal taxpayers’ money?

    *** Stephen Fry is a dishonest person.

  22. Bach, like you, I was truly disgusted at what Stephen Fry said. To hear him say “fiddling” does not matter and everyone does it was appalling. It is not the same as journalists fiddling their expenses, it is no excuse to slag off journalists, because there is a huge difference. MPs are taking public money, journalists are not.

    Anyway, in his excellent article on this website, “MPs’ expenses,” Boris Johnson deals with this very point. He explains that (a) journalists are sacked on the spot if they are found to have fiddled their expenses and (b) fiddling public money is a totally different matter.

    Why the hell the BBC thought fit to ask Stephen Fry his opinion beats me, National Treasure be damned, huge pain in the neck if you ask me, with an over-inflated idea of his own importance.

    What Fry is advocating is actually corruption. It is corrupt to say that it doesn’t matter if MPs “fiddle” and then he had the brass neck to dismiss the concerns of the public as “bourgeois”. Just because he has no standards or principle, does not mean we do not. It does not mean we have to listen to his claptrap when everyone is very worried about the state of our parliamentary system.

    I was equally shocked to read on twitter that David Miliband, Foreign Secretary of this country, considers the whole issue of MPs’ expenses to be “unimportant”. His sneering tone when discussing the SKY press conference given by David Cameron had to be read to be believed. All he did was make fun of Cameron (who was showing concern and leadership) in the most juvenile way, seeming not to have a clue how very disturbing it is to find we cannot trust many of the people in charge of our government because many of them are total hypocrites.

    These so called clever people are merely demonstrating how completely out of touch they are, and I hope with all my heart that David Miliband is never PM of this country. Luckily there seems little chance of that. Boris Johnson and David Cameron do realised how crucial this issue is, how important it is for Parliament and politicians to be respected by the voters, and how this respect for the moment has been dangerously eroded by the greed of certain MPs. They do understand about ideals, honour and principle and do not find these things laughable.

    What respect I formerly had for David Miliband is totally gone, and as for Stephen Fry, let him stick to his luvvie concerns and his ridiculous,superficial friends and leave politics to people who understand what is important.

  23. Wish we had Howard Stern over here. In the present political climate, he would be absolute magic.

  24. On the bright side, reading the press today, some MPs are so honest it brings tears to the eyes. Ann widdecombe. Theresa May. (Tories). Hillary Benn. Martin Salter, Geoffrey Robinson,Kelvin Hopkins, (Labour), Philip Dunne (Con), who refuses to claim for a second home because “It isn’t right”, and the shining example of Phillip Hollobone (Tory), who spent the least, takes the train for a round 400 mile trip to London, won’t even go first class, charged £100 for staff for the year and doesn’t employ a PA, saying well it’s public money. Kelvin Hopkins has a constituency next to Margaret Moran. what a contrast.

    There are at the moment 92 dodgy claims. OK that is a lot, but there are about 646 MPs. Very many MPs are hard working responsible people, and it’s easy to let the outstandingly crooked cases ruin the whole picture.

  25. Patel Justice Minister Shahid Malik now blamed that when he became an MP he had not been explained fully about how to do expenses claims correctly!!! Hahahaha !!!!

    How can we trust him as the nation’s ‘Justice’ Minister when he is a dishonest citizen?

    Crooked politicians must be jailed and have their DNA on the police DATA for 12 years and have a criminal record just like what the police do to a shoplifter. And this is Jacqui Smith’s rule for shoplifters.

  26. That Patel ” JUSTICE ” Minister (!!!) – where are his Muslim morals?

    Isn’t our Patel glad that we don’t have Sharia laws inserted into our British laws or his sticky fingers would have been chopped off for stealing from the taxpayers. His wife is a ” lawyer ” – she should know.

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