This week in an article for the Sun which has since been taken down due to the outrage it caused. Kelvin Mackenzie, a Sun columnist and former editor of the Sun, said this in an article on Everton footballer Ross Barkley in the aftermath of the footballer being punched in an unprovoked attack in a Liverpool bar:
- Barkley is “one of our dimmest footballers. ”
- In the opinion piece Mackenzie went on to write his eyes make him ”certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home”.
- He went on to make the comment which caused the greatest outrage “I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla a the zoo.” One of the reasons so much outrage was caused was because it turns out that Barkley’s grandfather is Nigerian.
- Mr Mackenzie then made a sweeping generalisation of all Liverpudlians by saying men with similar “pay packets” in Liverpool are “drug dealers” and “in prison”.
- Mackenzie then wasn’t helped by his sub-editors when the article was published with a picture of Barkley next to a gorilla on their website with one of the lame puns which seems to be the Sun’s stock in trade saying “Could Everton’s Ross Barkley representing the missing link between man and beast?”
I hold no candle for Kelvin Mackenzie. I think he’s a boorish, fat, red-faced thicko who undermines the journalistic profession and has all the intelligence of “Tim nice but dim”, only without the redeeming feature of being a nice bloke.
I think the way the Sun at the time of the Hillsborough Disaster, when he was editor of the Sun, slurred Liverpool fans by suggesting they attacked the police and that this was why 96 people innocently died was absolutely disgraceful. The fact he refused to apologise until 2012 for the way he had acted and in effect been part of a police cover up is why, quite rightly, the people of Liverpool hate him.
This obviously comes to the fore now, given that yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. The fact that in the week running up to this tragedy Mackenzie decided to take yet another pot shot at Liverpool and its people shows he has a distinct lack of sensitivity and quite how the Sun thought it a great idea to publish this article without checking it shows a lack of brainpower.
I believe Mackenzie to be a pound shop Nigel Farage (another person I detest), but I believe to have a lot more intelligence than Mackenzie. Mackenzie often whips up hatred and stereotypes on the basis of lies. I hold the Sun in the same regard as I do the Guardian and the Mirror, papers which make good toilet paper but little else. So if anyone wants a paean to The Sun and Mackenzie you are reading the wrong article.
However, I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, expression and an opponent of censorship. That means I will defend the right of any berk like Mackenzie to express their views, to offend and to provoke. I doubt the article from Mackenzie will cause mass riots, violence and deaths, so there is no grounds for censorship whatsoever.
I’d rather ridicule Mackenzie. Consequently, I think the Sun’s cowardly decision to take the article down is a victory for those who seek to regulate the press; have it write what they deem acceptable, in some sort of 1984 world. Let people read the article and judge for themselves, don’t take it down, for fear of people from Liverpool reading it and grabbing for the nearest knife. That in itself is making a parody of Liverpudlians as people who can’t handle being offended.
The leader of the anti-free speech movement in all of this is Liverpool’s Labour Mayor Joe Anderson, who judging by his humourless voice on Radio Five Live today is permanently miffed. Hearing him today was like hearing from the world’s grumpiest man “Victor Meldrew”. His first reaction to the article was to ask Everton Football Club to ban all Sun journalists from its matches, grounds, training facilities and to be refused pre-match and post-match interviews.
On top of this he called for Everton fans to protest against the Sun at the club’s match against Burnley today. In doing so, Mr Anderson is blaming all Sun journalists for the words of one idiotic individual, of which I am certain the majority of Sun journalists do not share his views. Mr Anderson is seeking to stop them doing their jobs by reporting on Everton and harming their livelihoods. He’s trying to act like the dictator of Liverpool, stopping anyone associated with a paper who has one columnist holding offensive views from doing their job of reporting and investigating.
The curmudgeon Mr Anderson has taken it further than this. He’s contacted Merseyside police calling for the article and Kelvin Mackenzie to be investigated for racial offence. Now to give Mr Mackenzie some credit I doubt he knew of Mr Barkley’s Nigerian roots, nor The Sun’s Editors. It certainly wasn’t something I was aware of and I don’t think as claimed by Anderson it was public knowledge.
Even if Mackenzie did know though the idea that being offensive warrants a police investigation is a joke. Since when did offensive words warrant being charged with a criminal offence and being locked up. Going down this path is very dangerous and would lead to dissent and being offensive being criminalised. If we followed Mr Anderson’s path freedom of speech which relies on freedom to offend would be severely compromised. As a democratically elected Mayor I would have expected more from Anderson. After all, fierce debate, speech and provocative articles are the lifeblood of British democracy.
The investigation that Anderson has triggered is also a monumental waste of police time and resources. I’d suggest that as Mayor Mr Anderson should be focusing on things which actually would make a difference to people living in Liverpool such as crippling business rates, the closure of pubs, education, crime, housing and attracting business to the cities. However, perhaps the actual job of being Mayor isn’t to Anderson’s liking and he’d rather be a minor celebrity.
It may not be comfortable but for all those who enjoy living in a democracy and being able to freely express themselves and cause offence we should oppose these attempts to stop freedom of expression and speech. After all, when it comes to defending freedom, we do not have a choice on what characters it causes us to defend, even if it is the pound shop Nigel Farage, Kelvin Mackenzie.
Stephen Hoffman is the Parliamentary Liaison Officer for Conservatives for Liberty. He tweets at @thehoff102
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty