Once, it took effort to protest. Now, fury can be whipped up so swiftly, it threatens free speech
There have always been people who have found reasons to take offence. In moments of high tension, you have always been able to find people who are offended if you will not give them reasons to take offence. But the heresy hunters who took offence at the feeble joke Andrew Neil used to introduce the BBC’s This Week are a novelty. They belong to a new breed of digitally enabled puritan the internet has unleashed.
In case you missed it, Neil began his political show by mocking Gordon Brown for failing to answer an inane request to name his favourite biscuit. He then turned to his guests, Diane Abbot, who is black, and Michael Portillo, who is not, and said: “And here we have our very own chocolate HobNob and custard cream of late-night telly.”
A few viewers complained, not because they thought that if the imperious Ms Abbott were a biscuit she would be a Bourbon, but because the accusation stirred in their ever-suspicious minds that Neil was a racist.