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Character Assassination: The Last Resort of a Failed Campaign

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For those of you that don't read Polly Toynbee on a regular basis, Dr Eoin Clarke's blog, the Green Benches, is a poor man's version. Previous editions have included a blog (since removed, presumably out of embarrassment), complaining about the terrible quandary of choice in Starbucks and pilloried by Andrew Emmerson here. Emmerson also highlights the Eye's investigations into his hysteria over any attacks on Ed Milliband.

Predictably, Clarke now has another target in sight: Boris Johnson. In his latest offering, he starts grandiloquently:

"In this piece I wish to outline how Boris Johnson has spent the 21st Century mocking blacks, Muslims, Irish, women, AID victims [sic], Liverpool citizens, mourners of the death of Diana and environmentalists."

As others have remarked, he forgot homophobia. Even Clarke appears to recognise that Johnson's order to remove anti-gay propaganda from London buses and his favourable reception in the gay media have meant that that attack won't wash.

But Boris has, apparently, offended the whole phalanx of Londoners "Muslims, Blacks, Women, Irish, AIDS victims, mourners and countless other sections of society", he repeats unnecessarily (apart from the spelling correction). Significantly, Clarke says that "the man rarely apologises for any of his abuse, and shows no remorse."

Clarke takes particular exception to this 12 year old article about the 2000 fuel protests. Three of his eleven quotes are taken from it. It is a typical example of the Boris oeuvre: a rumbustious, alliterative fanfare of energy that explains why Boris Johnson's writing commands £250,000 a year where Eoin Clarke's po-faced offerings attract only ridicule and the admiration of a handful of Occupy activists. Clarke complains that, "reacting... to the institutional racism at the heart of the London Metropolitan Police after the way it handled the Stephen Lawrence murder, Boris Johnson called the police 'victims' of the MacPherson report." What Johnson actually said was this:

"Maybe I am alone in thinking this, but the police seem to have shown a studied lethargy in the first few days, a remarkable punctilio in their handling of the demonstrators. Some may be moved to speculate whether the drivers of the panda cars, and the victims of the Macpherson report, are themselves sympathetic to the first serious revolt that Blair has faced."

Whether 'victims', in this context, is an account of the 'lethargic' Met's perception of themselves or Johnson's considered view of the effect of the report, is not entirely clear. But Johnson had, in fact, written a Guardian article earlier that year in which he expanded upon his criticisms of the report. Among them is this paragraph, with which few supporters of free speech could disagree:

"Heaven knows why Macpherson made his weird recommendation, that the law might be changed so as to allow prosecution for racist language or behaviour 'other than in a public place'. I can't understand how this sober old buzzard was prevailed upon to say that a racist incident might be so defined in the view of the victim 'or any other person'. This is Orwellian stuff."

Johnson dealt, honestly, with the harmful effect of the culture of victimisation on society. One might disagree with his arguments. But they, or the 'victim' reference, are far from abusive or racist. Twelve years later Johnson welcomed Doreen Lawrence's call for an enquiry into allegations that police witnesses lied to the MacPhearson enquiry. But that is the real world, not an isolated word dredged out of an ancient newspaper article.

Clarke's other remarks about that article don't do anything to help the impression that the Left have a difficulty with humour. "You might be shocked to learn", he gasps, "that he also mocked the public's reaction to the death of Princess Diana as 'mass mania'". To think that the sight of grown men and women weeping and offering teddy bears to a woman they never met could ever be described as 'mania'. It is also abusive, apparently, to describe green taxes as "a bit of a joke".

The infamous Spectator editorial about Liverpudlians 'wallowing in grief' is predictably trotted out. That Johnson went on a tour of apology for an article written by another (Simon Heffer), without even naming him doesn't, of course, make Clarke's cut.

Bizarrely (and perhaps libelously), Clarke posts a link to an offensive poem that, he claims, was posted on Johnson's website. It is impossible to ascertain from that link for how long the poem remained or how and why it came to be removed. What is clear is that Johnson condemned it in strident terms and that the poem had also been posted on Adam Boulton's website. Not that you would know that from reading Clarke's blog.

This isn't the end of it. An article that describes Silvio Berlusconi as a 'sinister' and 'ruthless' leader who had "changed the law so that he cannot be prosecuted for his alleged corruption" is termed a eulogy. Johnson is accused of 'repeating a joke about AIDS suffers', notwithstanding that he described it as "tasteless in the extreme and politically incorrect to the point of insanity", that he could imagine "sensitive readers will be shuddering with amazement" and that it would ruin the career of any British politician saying it.

There are other supposed outrages, including a joke suggestion that "voting Tory will make your wife have bigger breasts", that apparently demonstrated 'wrath' towards women. Dr Clarke obviously spent a long time trawling through those old newspaper articles.

Clarke's only serious criticism is of Johnson's article about Tony Blair's visit to the Congo, in which he talked of 'flag waving piccininnies' and wondered whether "the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird". Johnson's language is, indeed, taken from another era and impossible to excuse. But it is used within an article replete with extravagant imagery, imagining a world leader who "like Zeus, back there in the Iliad.. has turned his shining eyes away, far over the lands of the Hippemolgoi, the drinkers of mares' milk." More important than the context, however, is that fact that Johnson has since said that "I feel sad that people have been offended by those words and I apologise for them." It is this remorse, entirely hidden from Clarke's article, that distinguishes a man who admits his mistakes from one who, to this day, considers his comparison of a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard to be a 'huge fuss about nothing'.

Context, content and apology are irrelevant in a character assassination so misleading it would be a worthy target for a writ. It is a sign of the desperation of Ken Livingstone's supporters that they can do no more than dredge out decade old newspaper articles, rather than addressing their own candidate's unrepentant support for suicide bombing propagandists, divisive ethnic politics, tax avoidance and dishonesty. They are the witterings of a campaign that knows it has failed. And that deserves to.