Putting a white, Tory-voting man on a diversity panel is going to be seen by some as a bit of a joke. I mean, even if we ignore the fact that this is the stereotypical senior position holder, soon enough the head of our government is going to be someone sharing those exact characteristics.
But Geoff Norcott was not appointed to the BBC’s diversity and inclusion group because of these factors. No, it was his working class background which qualified him to be there. And qualified he is – influential people are five times more likely to have been privately educated than the rest of us, making working class representation a more than justified priority.
So no, I’m not here to criticise this particular choice of group member. In fact, I’m not sure if the way he votes is of much relevance when considering his eligibility to represent a section of diversity in the UK.
What I’m actually confused about in all of this is Norcott’s frustration at the lack of diversity of opinion he sees on comedy panel shows;
“It must seem odd to the comedy-watching public that a 50:50 vote in the country has seemingly played out one way on the small screen. Like you woke up one day in a world where no-one liked Marmite.”
The thing is, it seems to be quite difficult to make a good joke about, to use his metaphor, “liking marmite”. I mean, clearly – when Norcott made it on to Mock The Week, the jokes he made which touched on this did not receive a warm welcome. So perhaps I would be right in saying that in this instance, diversity of opinion isn’t present because of its lack of comedic value rather than any deeper societal issue. The lack of representation of women, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and those with disabilities, on the other hand, is where the real issue of diversity lies. I’m sure Norcott is fully aware of this too, especially if he’s observed, for example, the incremental efforts being made to include more than one woman on the six-person panel of mock the week.
Back to his point, though – Brexiteers are not very well represented on comedy panel shows. However, as Dara O’Briain himself has said;
“Any time somebody [on the right] complains about this, the answer is, go and write some jokes”
And fair do’s to Norcott, he went and did that. To be fair to him, I can’t imagine that his jokes would be nearly as badly received if the vote had swung the other way.
In any case, there are more issues in Norcott’s eyes with regard to the way that he’s treated in the comedy world more generally. He seems to be most bothered by the fact that people tend to stereotype him when they hear his voting stance before they’ve even heard any of his stand up. Since we’re talking about diversity, obviously, it’s not usually a good idea to make judgements about people based on a single part of their identity. (I say not usually because Nazis do exist).
But there is a little sprinkling of hypocrisy there – he’s been quoted in the Torygraph as saying that it’s only “middle class metropolitan types” who vote Labour. Perhaps he hasn’t seen the YouGov statistics which indicate that in fact, class has little to do with voting patterns anymore. Either way, the figures also demonstrate that income is a significant determining factor. I wonder why that is?
I’d just like to touch on this in particular because, well. The Tories don’t exactly treat the working class well. Now obviously Norcott does not have any responsibility to vote any particular way simply because of the class he’s been born into. I’m just stating the facts. The party he advocates for has made welfare cuts to something as important as disability benefits in order to, as they claim, “incentivise” people who are disabled to work. (This is an article which explains why this sort of thinking is so wrong). Norcott actually mentioned that someone expected him to be making jokes mocking those who are disabled in his Edinburgh show a couple years back – this was especially shocking for him because he covered the fact that his own parents are disabled in that very show. Whilst again, I don’t always agree with prejudgement, cuts had been made to disability benefits in the months before his show came out. The party he supported were mocking the rights of disabled people, so in fairness it wouldn’t be all that much of a stretch to think that he might be joining in.
Of course, calling for increased diversity is never a bad thing. And there are Tories who vocalise their opinions in far more harmful ways than Geoff Norcott. I’d just love to hear why he thinks that cutting the welfare of the most vulnerable in society – members of groups who represent the diverse nature of our society – is in any way a good idea for the country.