Insulting political opponents is a spectator sport, and a fun one. The Australians do it best. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating had a talent for describing his political rivals with maximum rudeness: “a little desiccated coconut,” “a mangy maggot”, “like being flogged with a warm lettuce.” The public always lapped it up.
But how about the quip “who would want to shag that?”? That was how actor, would-be politician and TV presenter Laurence Fox described journalist Ava Evans during a live recording on GB News this week. Not very original. Not very chivalrous. The sort of insult you’d expect to hear from a belligerent drunk, not a supposedly serious public figure.
And, yes, the comments were probably misogynist too, which is why Fox has been widely condemned and suspended from his job, along with the presenter Dan Wootton on whose show the comments were made. And now the incident is being gleefully used as a stick with which to beat GB News – not least by Ava Evans herself, who has maligned not only the channel, but also any Conservative MP who appears on it.
I don’t feel especially sorry for Evans. As many amateur detectives discovered yesterday via the X (formerly Twitter) search function, she has used crude ripostes in political debate. And her comments about a “minister for men” – the incident that triggered Fox’s outburst – were sneery and unseemly. In this tabloid battle of the sexes, the Right-wing Fox took the boys’ side, the Left-wing Evans took the girls’ side, and everyone lost.
Not very edifying, then. But Fox’s antics are hardly a new phenomenon. The term “shock jock” dates back to the 1980s, after all, and there is a long history of “blue comedians” who peddle in bawdy and edgy humour. Back when the culture was far more conservative than it is now, the likes of George Carlin made a living making fun of Christians. Now that progressives are in charge, the best way to get a rise out of the establishment is by making fun of their idols.
Hence the success not only of Laurence Fox, but also the likes of Russell Brand, Andrew Tate, and a host of other contemporary shock jocks who make money from progressives’ outrage. I believe Fox when he insists that he doesn’t “care one bit” what people say about him. Commentators can get a very long way with a loud voice, contrarian opinions, and skin as thick as rhino hide.
Which is why we should expect plenty more of this from Fox. Even if GB News has kicked him off air, there are plenty of other independent platforms available, and potentially an enormous audience, particularly among young men who are leaving their female peers behind and veering to the Right. When a schoolmarmish progressive culture prevails, it’s hardly surprising that the naughty boys at the back of the classroom will rebel, and will be rewarded for their efforts with laughs and attention. Offending the girly swots is not an accident, it’s the whole point.
Although this girly swot isn’t offended, exactly. Embarrassed is probably a better word for my response to Fox’s outburst. He’s the class clown who failed to realise that the laughter was becoming a nervous titter, which is not to say that I dislike the class clowns per se – sometimes the professional provocateurs are the only people willing to speak the truth. But what we saw this week wasn’t sharp and witty truth-telling. Rather, it was the kind of empty boorishness that makes an audience wince. “All tip and no iceberg”, as Paul Keating would say. That won’t bother Fox, though, who is now well set to capitalise on an avid audience. He’s got exactly what he wanted.
Louise Perry is author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century