It’s one way to keep in touch with people. Each morning, somewhere between the first coffee of the day and the first drink, I open my computer, log on to social media and see which of my friends or colleagues is ‘trending’ today. ‘Ooh,’ I think as I see their names flash up, ‘I wonder what Julie/Charles/Allison/James/Rod (usually Rod) has done now’. Then I click and read all about their crimes, usually through a filter of people labouring under the impression that a writer’s job is to say what everyone else has already agreed on. The howls, incidentally, mostly emanating from people who in no sense subscribe to the organ in which the crime is said to have occurred.
This is one of the brightest moments of my day. For at these times I feel a huge surge of communal pride. I do not know if it is the same in all professions. I don’t know if chartered accountants love other chartered accountants, taxi drivers love other taxi drivers, or actors love anyone other than themselves. But I do love hacks, journos and opinion-mongers. Whether their views are in alignment with my own matters less and less with the years. The fact is that the more I see them attacked, the more grateful I am for this strange, disputatious, disagreeable tribe.
Take Peter Hitchens. I have no idea whether Peter is right or wrong in his claim that this country has done the wrong thing in locking itself down to avoid coronavirus. But every time I see him sally forth in print or on screen to argue his case, I thank God for whatever it was in the Hitchens milk that produced such argumentative, un-intimidateable sons.
Just as the desire to speak up transcends politics tribes, so the temptation to shut things down is not confined to any one political side.