And now, in a very minor but unsettling way, it's my turn.
I just had a call from a Sun on Sunday 'reporter', to whom I declined to talk: he turns out to be the political editor, and was formerly (surprise surprise) in the same post at the News of the World. He, or someone with his phone number, has read my Twitter feed or blog (it's not entirely clear which) and has discovered that (shock, horror) I've utilised these media to make exaggerated and striking analogies about Conservative politicians for satirical effect. One of them was this tweet, in response to Theresa May's vow to make Britain 'hostile' to undocumented migrants, and her appalling appearance on the Today programme during which she completely failed to provide any evidence for the scourge of 'health tourism'.
Apparently I've also said something disobliging about Iain Duncan Smith, which sounds very likely. After all, who hasn't cursed this proven dissembler? It doesn't matter particularly that I didn't make the statement, but passed on a picture of this letter to the New Statesman by one of IDS's old teachers:
Their crack investigative team has also discovered that Labour Party Member And Academic Doesn't Think Much Of Paul Uppal And Margaret Thatcher. They're very upset that I accuse MP Paul Uppal of playing the race card, while overlooking my point that he once referred to the campaign for racial justice as 'the McCarthyite race relations industry'. Even more hilarious, they're really upset that I called the Daily Mail evil.
‘Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has finally gone off the deep end. It's always been evil, but now it's added wild and vicious idiocy to the mix’Just to remind you: this is the Daily Mail that accused Ralph Miliband of being 'evil' for disapproving of the public schools and the monarchy, but who nevertheless fought for the UK against fascism. Intellectually and socially, I'll never reach the heights of Ralph M, but I'm proud at least to be smeared in a minor way by his phone-hacking, thieving, pornographer enemies.
I'm just disappointed that it's hack David Wooding on the case and not the Fake Sheik. Oh well, to be monstered by the Sun is reward enough for me. Though you do wonder whether Jimmy Savile, for instance, would have been exposed earlier if the Sun etc. had dug as deeply into stories about him as it has for non-stories about little old me.
Hold the front page. It must really be a slow news day. The Sun on Sunday also tells its readers that I call myself 'vile' and 'emotionally dead', which regular readers will recall was a comment made about me by a friend, and which I reproduce from time to time in the spirit of humorous self-deprecation.
‘Oh. Vile is what I'm aiming for. And 'emotionally dead' is what I was once called. I saw it as a compliment’It is shocked to discover that I a) have a job and b) am a member of the Labour Party (about which, I should point out, I'm regularly critical). The Sun has also contacted the Labour Party and apparently I'm being 'investigated'. What that means, who can tell?
What does matter is that while the Sun on Sunday is calling press regulation an attack on press freedom, it seems to have decided that I shouldn't simultaneously have opinions it doesn't share and keep my job. In support of this slightly bizarre position, it's wheeled out a rather tragic little Tory MP by the name of Conor Burns, who is calling for me to be sacked. The Sun claims the MP came to them (that's right, a Bournemouth MP who doesn't like the views of a person from nowhere near Bournemouth automatically phones a national tabloid to draw attention to me).
But what's this? An informant draws my attention to a newspaper article about poor sensitive Conor, the man who thinks people who make tasteless jokes should lose their jobs:
A FOUL-MOUTHED Tory candidate sparked outrage by branding hecklers "spastics" and calling a woman a "hunchback."
First, he described a woman who edits the student union magazine as the "hunchback of Glen Eyre," after the name of her hall of residence. Then, as barracking continued, he turned his venom on his audience calling them "spastics."What was Conor's defence?
"I was exasperated by the preposterous Left-wing views and disorderly behaviour of the Labour party. "There was an extremely hostile and intimidating atmosphere. I did remark that they were spastics - but I immediately apologised."Did he resign as a matter of principle?
But I am a fighter and I will certainly not quitI don't think I've been that offensive, so I don't think, on balance, that I'll quit either. I use 'Plashing Vole' as my online identity not to hide myself from criticism, but to distance my employer from my sharper opinions. I occasionally grumble about The Hegemon and its quirks, but I love working here and feel respected as an academic and colleague. It has never sought to silence me and I try not to embarrass it. The university's view is that I can be as idiotic as I like on my own computer as long as I'm not claiming to speak for the institution. For a newspaper to decide that citizens with opinions should be hounded out of their jobs seems frankly McCarthyite: the Red Scares in 1950s America included a sustained assault on academic freedom. For what it's worth though, I apologise whole-heartedly to my colleagues from the VC down for wasting their time with this nonsense today. With HE under such pressure from all angles, they don't need to be distracted with this stuff.
So when the Sun and its allies complain about assaults on freedom of speech, this is what they mean: that minor academics buried in the provinces should be fired from their jobs and expelled from their political parties because they pithily express their opinions. O Brave New World!