‘I think the politicians should sometimes tell those communists at Sage to get back in their box,’ said well known scientific expert Jeremy Clarkson
If there’s one voice we did not need weighing in on the pandemic, then by god it’s Jeremy Clarkson’s. The 61-year-old TV presenter, who’s been praised for his new Amazon Prime documentary series, Clarkson’s Farm, first swapped cars for cows and now appears to assume he’s an expert on Covid too, criticising “those communists at Sage” who urged against a full reopening after lockdown.
“When it started, I read up on pandemics and they tend to be four years long,” he said in an interview with Radio Times. “I think the politicians should sometimes tell those communists at Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] to get back in their box. Let’s just all go through life with our fingers crossed and a smile on our face. I can see Boris doesn’t want to open it up and shut us back down again. But if it’s going to be four years … and who knows, it could be 40 years.”
He added: “Well, if it’s going to be forever, let’s open it up – and if you die, you die.”
When I heard what Clarkson had said, I rolled my eyes and groaned a little, the way I did only yesterday, when I read what Matt Damon had said about using the “f-slur” for homosexuals – the actor claimed he had only just “found out” that it was an offensive term, after his daughter urged him to stop using it.
We should pay no attention to these men – but the problem is that people do listen to them. Certain sections of society love these men – the viewing figures for Top Gear and The Grand Tour (and the fact that the Dave channel exists) sadly proves that – and that’s what makes their idle mouthing off quite so dangerous.
Because even if Clarkson is pro-vaccine himself – he tweeted about having the Astra Zeneca jab in March – what he is saying risks being appropriated as a call to arms for every boorish anti-vaxxer who ever stood in Trafalgar Square with a placard, calling the pandemic a “hoax”; the very same lot I saw once, swaggering down The Strand, decorated in beer and bad face paint, megaphones in hand, telling those happily and quietly going about their business wearing facemasks not to do so.
It’s the kind of sentiment echoed by the guy I got chatting to outside the pub, this weekend, who described himself as a “young, proud, 31-year-old man” who “doesn’t need that vaccine rubbish”. When I asked if he cared who he might kill by virtue of not having it, he just shrugged and took another gulp of IPA. He might as well have gone the whole hog and slurred the exact same words: “If you die, you die.” That’s who’s listening to Jeremy Clarkson.
Clarkson (and those like him) might feel macho saying something like this. They’re probably proud that it comes drenched in braggadocio swagger, but what they perhaps don’t realise is how petty it sounds. How selfish. How childish. No different to my four-year-old son, stamping his foot, bottom lip stuck out because he doesn’t care if it’s dangerous to jump from the top of the stairs to the bottom, he doesn’t care because he’s got his Superman cape on, and he’s pretty sure the skimpy red supermarket-bought cotton makes him invincible.
Clarkson’s devil-may-care “if you die, you die” comments will also likely resonate with the kind of people who listened to Donald Trump contradicting scientists and administration officials about the severity of the pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States, comments designed to undermine public trust in experts on the disease. It is a mindset that also saw the former US president blocking funding for testing and tracing. They’re the kind of views shared at his superspreader rallies.
Clarkson’s comments are irresponsible – just like Trump, just like the anti-vax brigade who gather together and (as in the case of Kate Shemirani) hold public rallies to spread suspicion about those who have worked so hard to protect us from the effects of the pandemic: our NHS, its researchers, the government’s medical advisers.
If Jeremy Clarkson wants to take the laissez-faire approach to living and accept that “if you die from Covid, you die”, then that’s up to him. But don’t add fuel to the anti-vax fire by encouraging those to read between the lines and wilfully ignore precautions; and to take risks with the lives of others. Words matter – and they can wound. Just like Covid.
And plenty of us don’t want to die, thank you very much.