Offensive jokes are a lot less frequent than they used to be in my youth when open racist and homophobia stories were the norm. They still exits. I've written before how Ann and Nicholas Winterton, the disgraced Cheshire MP's, have behaved. You will recall that Michael Howard felt compelled to dismiss Mrs Winterton from the shadow cabinet for telling a very sick racist joke.
When I was PPC for Congelton in the 87/91 General elections I dealt with their offensive behavior at civic events by not joining in any laughter and not hiding my obvious discomfort. This usually brought forth a lot of 'tutting'. Their 'hangers on' clearly thought my reaction rude and for them rudeness was the greater crime. I still feel ashamed that I did not find an appropriate and effective way of challenging them
I was brought up short recently when I found myself feeling exceedingly uncomfortable in the presence of someone -who believed themselves to be a grand personage- starting to telling a story every bit as offensive as the Wintertons. This story poked fun at people with a mental health problem. It was presented as an example of 'scouse wit'. The teller clearly had no inkling that her crass tale could possibly cause offense. She either assumed we all shared her prejudice or felt that those suffering from mental ill health were fair game. I did not laugh nor hide my discomfort. Again I left feeling annoyed that I had not dealt with it better. I was lost in my own reflections on the matter when after the event one of the other people at the table came up to me and shared her discomfort. I was not alone. She was clearly as annoyed as I was. We had both held back from confronting the person.
I must find a better way of dealing with these events-no matter how important the person thinks they are...