The ‘Thought Police’

A lot has been written about the sacking of Andy Gray and the forced resignation of Richard Keys, with some papers printing articles suggesting that men are the real victims of sexism, punished for being the perpetrators of it whilst no-one has sacked the Loose Women team. You can read an excellent blog post here on why that is not an argument, but this post is going to try and unravel the latest Peter Hitchen column which as usual takes a rather unique view of the situation.

The headline pretty much sums up his argument: ‘Think it was right to sack Andy Gray? See how you feel when the Thought Police come for you’. Peter is adamant that ‘Mr Gray and Mr Keys should not have been sacked, or disciplined in any way’. His reasoning is that:

The things they said were not intended for broadcast and they were not transmitted. They were private conversations. I don’t care that those conversations were leaked. Any remotely public figure has to assume this will happen nowadays. But if Mr Gray and Mr Keys didn’t intend their remarks to be broadcast, they shouldn’t be judged professionally as if they had intended it.

It is quite simply unjust to condemn a man for having his private conversation transmitted to the world by someone else.

In your own time, amongst your own friends you can say what you like. If you hate blacks / gays / whites / women / Coronation Street / the Daily Mail / the Guardian or whatever you will normally end up with a group of friends who share the same values as you do. Conversation amongst your social can cover whatever topics you want because you know they will not be offended because you know they think / feel the same way. The world might not like racists, but it makes no attempt to ban their thoughts, stop their congregation or conversations and it allows them to form groups such as the BNP or EDL. There is no such thing as the thought police, and no barriers to private conversation – or indeed public expression, just visit Youtube, message boards, blogs and comment threads for evidence. If you want to publicly be a misogynist, you can be and you will not be alone.

However, sometimes in life you will be forced into situations in which you must sacrifice your personal opinions. Every single person who has a job must for the hours they are in work comply with the ethos of that company and the company must conform to set standards of behaviour – yes, specifically with regards to equality (be it race, religion, sex or sexuality etc). This is not about having a ‘thought police’ or preventing said employee from holding private conversations with friends about how they would love to ‘hang out the back of that bird from HR’ or ‘smash that bitch from the call centre’ or whatever the hell they want to say amongst friends. No, it is simply the acknowledgment that when in work you are not amongst your friends. Instead you will be forced to work with people who may not share your values, who have no desire to be your friend or even like you. Likewise, you might not like them or share their values and you would never consider being friendly with them outside work. That is their right and that is your right.

This is why a company must have policies in place to let every employee know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the work place – after all, you are being paid to perform a role and to represent a company, as soon as you accept a contract of employment you give up your right to be yourself to some extent for the period of time when you are in work. When you are in work you change your behaviour because the people around you are likely to be far more diverse in thoughts / feelings / beliefs than your social group. Every individual reserves the right to choose their friends, media (newspapers, TV news, entertainment, websites etc) to suit their own tastes. All an employer asks in return is that when in work people just switch off their strong views and instead just treat everyone with a neutral respect. If you wouldn’t choose to go drinking with a misogynist, why should you be forced to listen to one whilst you are in work? If you don’t choose to read the Guardian in your spare time, why should you be forced to be constantly heckled by a Guardian reader in work?

It is called ‘being professional’. Andy Gray and Richard Keys can meet up whenever they want outside of work and privately discuss who they’d love to smash, or what jobs women are not suited to and so on. However, when they are in work they cannot, it is that simple. In reality, when you are a public figure, paid handsomely to be the front-men for Sky Sports you do give up some rights to even do this, as your job involves you having a public profile I’m sure Sky would want them to represent the corporation positively outside of work. Much-maligned public sector workers have to conduct themselves responsibly in their private lives for this reason.

If you are in work it is just common sense to restrain from making racist comments, or grinning at a female member of staff picking something off the floor before greeting her with the line ‘while you’re down their love’. It is not acceptable behaviour, it is that simple. It is obvious that the kind of comments made by Gray and Keys are repeated all across the country because a lot of men are still in the grip of a deep-rooted misogyny, but no-one is interested in stopping these conversations taking place. There is no thought police. All that this story represents is that this behaviour is totally unacceptable in a professional environment, which should be apparent should anyone spend a few minutes reading their contract of employment. You wouldn’t turn up to work in Bermuda shorts swigging lager, so why should you reserve the right to turn up to work and be racist, sexist or whatever else.

Peter Hitchens – as always – is just utterly wrong. The fact that the recordings were never meant to be broadcast is completely irrelevant because they were still in work, they should have been acting professionally at all times – colleagues could be just as offended as the potential viewers. It is that simple. We would have no sympathy had they been drinking on the job, or if they had been berating an assistant referee for being black and therefore incapable of grasping the civilised rules of football. All most people want is the freedom to go to work and not face verbal mocking for their sex, sexuality, race, religion and so on. To me, this really doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but sadly – thanks to the twisted arguments of the right-wing media – equality has become just as evil a word as liberalism.

16 thoughts on “The ‘Thought Police’”

  1. I am still a bit unsure whether it is acceptable for someone to be sexist and/or racist in private and still be able to do their job properly in public. Just having those views must and does influence their public attitudes.

  2. did peter hitchens have the same opinion when gordon brown called a woman a bigot in his own private off the record time?
    i didn’t think so.
    good piece!

  3. My daughter’s school (like all of them) has a strict policy on unacceptable behaviour including being racist, sexist or just disrespectful. If any pupil was heard to state that there shouldn’t be girls in the football team (though that wouldn’t happen as it’s a girls’ school but you know what I mean) and that girls really can’t do football, and went on to call girls ‘it’ and ‘do me a favour, love’, that pupil would be reprimanded. Such behaviour would be considered out of order. Most people would agree with schools having this sort of policy. This behaviour can easily lead to bullying and schools would be keen to nip it in the bud.

    Same should apply to workplaces. Is it ‘thought police’ to prevent someone putting their thoughts out in public? No.

    1. @ Andrew

      Brooker still calls it a private conversation, but it wasn’t, it was a conversation in work. Gray and keys were paid millions as public figures and should put up with the consequences of this – I.e. promoting Sky brand values (no matter how hypocritical those values are considering other Sky output). Furthermore, Brooker’s argument about creativity is a non sequitur because clearly Gray and Keys were not involved in creative behaviour, they were engaging in childish misogyiny.

      if Brooker was keen on context he could watch Keys lack of irony or humour as he talks about ‘smashing’ and ‘hanging out the back’ of someone.

  4. @Uponnothing – so you can’t have a private conversation at work? That strikes me as fairly Orwellian. Is this a consistent principle? If they had been (privately) mocking a born-again christian work mate would you think it proportionate that they both lost their jobs? Is it just that we don’t approve of their opinions, which I don’t? Would we be comfortable if this rule was applied to someone recorded mocking/joking about something we didn’t feel strongly about?
    @sianushka – I thought the treatment of Brown in ‘bigot-gate’ was terrible, but that was also a conversation he was having while working. I would have no consistent opposition to Brown’s treatment if I said it was unfair for Brown’s private conversation to be leaked, but not Gray’s and Key’s.

    1. @ Andrew Of course you can have a private conversation, you just have to be certain that no one is listening to it – in the case of Gray and Keys it was obviously not as private as they hoped, hence why it is best avoided.

      Orwell’s vision of the future was one stripped of all thought and beauty so that people could no longer express disatisfaction or even imagine rebellion or revolution, it was not, I recall a treaty about men not being allowed to talk rubbish about women in work. As for what it was that they said, I don’t think it makes any difference what was being mocked, employers have clear policies that you should treat everyone respectfully no matter what their beliefs etc, so I would have no issue with people being sacked for not adhering to that policy whether they were mocking a creationist or a woman or a gay person.

      Again, you get paid a huge sum to do a very public job, to be a public figure then you have to act the part and expect to be under more scrutiny than the average office worker – I don’t think you’ll find Gray or Keys complaining about the renumeration they received for doing so.

  5. Actually the Thought Police are part of the Daily Mail and right-wing agenda.
    Just look at campaigns to BAN THIS SICK FILTH whenever a violent film or video game comes out. They believe we must be policied from seeing such things in case we are corrupted into becoming violent murderers.

  6. What everyone seems to have forgotten is that Gray did NOT get sacked because of the lineswoman comments, he was suspended for one weekend presumably as Sky thought the storm would blow over. He was actually sacked because of the sexist (possibly amounting to sexual harassment) comment he had previously made, on camera, to his female colleague when he said ‘stick this down here, love’ while holding the front of his trousers open!

    This totally changes the context. In my view it would have been harsh to have been sacked for the first offence but fair enough for the second and first combined. Once he’d gone it was untenable for Keys to stay, given the furore.

    You would expect a highly paid columnist such as Hitchens to get his facts right. Oh no, actually you wouldn’t though would you?

  7. As Joe says, he was sacked for sexual harassment, not for making sexist comments.

    Andrew – i also thought ‘bigot-gate’ was rubbish and brown should not have been castigated as he was, but my point is that Hitchens et al were probably calling for his immediate resignation because of a private remark he made.

    Also, what brown said was true! she was a bigot, whereas Grey and Keys were making sexist comments based on misogyny.

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