There I was, about to start watching 'Politics Live' yesterday, when my partner walked in and said "Fern Britton is on 'This Morning' talking about her new book". Some years ago I interviewed Fern about a novel she had written and we ended up getting on like a house on fire. So I thought, well if she's got a new book out, I'll invite her in for another interview. So I switched over to ITV and watched Fern indulge in some lunchtime banter with Ruth and Eamonn. At 12.25 I went back to 'Politics Live' which I was recording on Sky Plus. So I was about ten minutes behind everyone else.
And then I saw who was on the panel. Will bloody Self. If you're a regular reader you may have seen a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago titled Seven People I'd Like Never to Hear From Again. Will Self was one of them. I wrote...
Is there anyone more irritating than Will Self? I only ever really see him on Question Time, and boy is it a struggle not to hit the off button. He's one of these North London types who appears to believe that he is so intellectually superior, that anyone else might as well shut up. His claim to fame is that he took heroin while on a plane with the then PM John Major. He was fired by The Observer but didn't see it as a big deal, commenting: "I'm a hack who gets hired because I do drugs". Nice. He's a Corbyn supporting socialist who sent two of his children to private school. Go figure. He can't be all bad, though. As a hobby he collects vintage typewriters. Marginally up from manhole covers, I suppose.
Anyway, I watched the show for ten minutes or so, getting increasingly irritated at the utter bollocks Will Self was talking, and how he kept interrupting the other guests as if he was the only one that should be heard. Eventually I had had enough and tweeted this...
Will Self being the utter cock that he always is on #PoliticsLive. Not sure I can watch the rest of it. Mark Francis doing very well to keep his cool.— Iain Dale (@IainDale) March 8, 2019
Where to start. Well, obviously I went against my own advice to make Twitter more polite, so accuse me of being a hypocrite on that and I couldn't really argue. But he IS an utter cock. And of course I do realise it's Mark Francois, not Francis. That's what autocorrect achieves. At that point, it was uncontestable that Mark Francois had kept his cool with Will Self.
That tweet was posted at 12.45pm. I then switched off and turned on Sky News. I couldn't stand it any longer. And then, this happened at 12.55...
And then the Twitter torrents flooded my timeline. "How can you possibly side with Mark Francois?" "I used to respect you but blah blah blah..." Here are a selection of the hundreds of tweets I had thrown at me...
Watch it again and delete your tweet Iain -— neilbaskerville (@baskers_ct) March 9, 2019
I used to respect you as the only reasoned voice who was pro Brexit. This tweet terminally undermines that view . Listen, @IainDale, listen to what Will Self says and then try to defend Francois. You can’t.— John Fryett (@JohnFryett) March 8, 2019
It was perfectly clear what Will Self meant. Mark Francois made a choice to misinterpret it. By agreeing with Francois, you appear to be reinforcing the misinterpretation.— Jan Bird (@Janspics26) March 9, 2019
Just goes to show how selective and blinkered people can be around ideological issues. People see what they want to see and ignore anything that challenges their world view. Fascinating really.— Munchkin (@Palumpawump) March 8, 2019
That last tweet from Munchin is one I would often agree with, but not in this case because I hadn't at the point I tweeted seen this exchange!
So I've spent the last 24 hours or so meekly replying to people explaining the circumstances, but I might as well have saved myself the effort.
So, what did I make of the spat? Well, the 'stare-out' was creepy in the extreme. On the substance of what Will Self said, I'd agree with Mark Francois that it is preposterous for Self to allege that all racists and anti-semites - every single one of them - voted Leave. I suspect we can all name racist people of our acquaintance who didn't. However, Mark Francois certainly went totally OTT in his response and undermined his position by grandstanding in a ludicrous manner. He lost his cool.
So as a consequence, anyone who saw my tweet after this spat will have no doubt assumed a) I had posted it after the spat and b) I had taken leave of my senses by asserting that Francois had kept his cool.
I didn't and I hadn't.
Incidentally, I thought it was telling that Will Self kept saying "racists and anti-semites" as if anti-semitism was somehow a lesser form of racism. It's the stance people who tolerate anti-semitism often take, as we've seen in recent weeks.
Some people said, after I explained the timing, 'why don't you just delete the tweet?' The answer is I don't really believe in deleting tweets just because they turn out to be ones you wish you hadn't written because of the hassle they cause. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of tweets I've deleted over the last decade.
Anyway, just for the record, I still believe Will Self to be an 'utter cock' but in this case, I'll admit that Mark Francois came over as 'a bit of a cock' too. But not quite so much as when he ripped up the Siemens document on Sky News a few weeks ago. That really was displaying all the attributes of a 'complete and utter cock' - and I said so at the time.