This article first appeared in slightly different form, and under a slightly different title, in the Huffington Post on Tuesday 31 March 2015.
As Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything is only too well aware, there are certain well-worn theories about the best approach when faced with persistently offensive loud-mouth types. “Just ignore them” is one – the idea being that, starved of the oxygen of attention, they will simply fade away, snuffed out as easily as a guttering flame. Anyone who blogs as much as I do about Leeds United knows to their cost that these motor-mouth types are out there, reading every word, waiting to pounce. Some are Leeds fans, some are not; some pretend to be, just for the sake of being a thorn in the poor, innocent blogger’s side – surely the lowest of the low. Fortunately for me, I can simply push the spam button and, lo – they are silenced, their time wasted. Lovely. But, in the wider world – what do you do about a pain, a nuisance: one that is just everywhere and simply won’t shut up??
Arguing with these serial jaw-wobblers is pointless – especially when they have already achieved a certain level of public notoriety. Given that platform, they become almost immune to the slings and arrows of the outraged unfortunates who lack such a public voice. From their artificially-elevated pedestal of popular infamy, they are able to speak without having to bother all that much about listening to another point of view. You do get pests on here, but it has lately been borne in upon me that the problem out there in the big bad world is much more acute than the mere pinpricks of irritation I sometimes feel as a Leeds United blogger.
I’m talking here about the type that has two ears and one mouth, but uses these vital organs in an inverse proportion – far preferring the sound of their own noise to anything anyone else might have to say. And, more specifically, I’m talking about the sharp (if not particularly acute) end of that group of people – the ones who feel free to express themselves in lavishly offensive terms, insulting anyone they feel like insulting with gay abandon. To refine it yet further, I’m talking about those who use terms that skirt dangerously close to and sometimes even cross that perimeter of the law that concerns itself with hate speech. And, ultimately, I’m talking about one person in particular who has used a public failure to gain her own industrial-strength virtual megaphone, the better to pollute the ether – and further sully the gutter-end of the press – with some of the rankest and most offensive views we have heard outside of the House of Commons. Yes, indeed. I am talking about Katie Hopkins.
So what can we do about Katie? Katie the failed “Apprentice”, Katie the Met Office drop-out, Katie the shameless ‘media-tart’ – loathe her or hate her, you cannot deny that she is an assiduous placer of irons in her own particular fire. The trouble with la Hopkins is that – having clung on to the coat-tails of “S’rAlan” long enough to make her distinctive mug instantly recognisable in public, but having jumped off the Lord Sugar rocket-ride just before she could be sacked – she is vested automatically with a fund of fame and the platform that unfortunately goes with it. For someone as frankly gobby as Katie, the opportunity was there, finally, to capitalise on that gobbiness – and boy, oh boy, has she ever capitalised.
That alone would of course be no great sin – there is even the possibility that there could be some ongoing entertainment value. But the trouble with Katie is that she’s simply not very good at expressing herself in a subtle way. Not for her the sly punches, craftily-aimed, slipping under some target’s guard and leaving them dazed, bewildered and out on their feet. Nope – Katie’s weapon of choice is the ten-pound metaphorical mallet, which she wields against one and all, indiscriminately and in broad daylight – concerned only with increasing the level of her public profile. Where a proper journalist or columnist might employ satire, use hyperbole, perhaps – or simply slide the literary knife between the victim’s ribs so subtly that hardly any warning pain results – Katie just gaily blunders in, swinging that bloody mallet. Then, with a grossly personal insult, a gratuitously discriminatory blast, a complete disregard for taste and tact – or just anything that will ensure that the name of Katie Hopkins gets right out there again, to her immense satisfaction and personal gain – she chalks up another little mark of shame and infamy.
The latest in an alarmingly long catalogue of her crassly ignorant comments is to point out that Justine Miliband is “the least popular of party wives” – then going on to observe that husband Ed, himself of Jewish extraction, might want to “stick her head in the oven and turn on the gas”. It’s not easy to do much, having just read that, other than gape and gesture feebly while you try to collect your scattered wits. You think – has she really just said that? It’s the kind of thing you have to read a third and maybe a fourth time, convinced you must somehow have misunderstood it. But no – it’s just as you see it. Astounding, repulsive. And it’s not as if it’s anything like her first offence. You see, Katie has serious form for this sort of thing.
The fact of the matter is that she’s now so ubiquitous – so simply all over the media and the internet like a cheap and nasty suit – that it’s virtually impossible to ignore Katie Hopkins. This means that the one big, traditional defence against the omnipresent, omnivocal, offensive bore is taken from us. You can’t just shut your eyes and your ears and hope she’ll go away. She’s not going anywhere, and the media – who know a good, profitable oddity when they see one – are content to shovel more ripe and rank Hopkins at us every day, like a frantic gardener determined to see some perverted variety of rose reach roof height and maximum visibility. And there’s no point entreating people to ignore her. Such pleas are heard, if at all, faintly at best; almost imperceptible against the white-noise “Wall of Sound” of the Hopkins rhetoric blitzkrieg.
So – she’s everywhere, she’s crassly offensive, she’s impossible to ignore and she sets the worst possible example to the credulous and easily-led rump of society most vulnerable to the worst excesses of the more lurid press and the dregs of Twitter. She also seems determined to show that she can say what she likes, to whom she likes, in whatever terms she likes – without any real fear of being brought to account. There have been murmurings of police investigation with a view to some sort of action or at least a warning – but again, these have been diffident cheeps of protest against her formidable output. The question still abides: how do you solve a problem like Katie?
The tone and content of her public pronouncements have long been sliding downhill like a greased pig, but in the eyes of many, she has finally gone a step too far and has crossed the last boundary of common decency – by suggesting that the Jewish son of refugees from the Holocaust might like to push his wife’s head into a gas oven. That out-offends Clarkson, it out-dumbs the dumbest Tory back-bencher – it’s the kind of unpleasantness that might even have a UKIP lady covering the ears of a “ting-tong” acquaintance, lest they be shocked at how certain British people comport themselves. Katie Hopkins may now be quite beyond the pale.
The thing is, there are laws in place to deal with this sort of thing. Free speech is always trotted out as an excuse, but that’s simply to misunderstand the law. Free speech comes to an end somewhere short of inciting hatred, insulting people with the horrors of the all too recent past and generally conducting yourself like a person who believes they are a law unto themselves. It has to do – or we are faced with anarchy. Katie Hopkins has surely gone too far; it is difficult to see, in the light of what she has said – both recently and going further back – how a responsible newspaper editor could possibly continue to employ her. The same might conceivably apply to the editor of The Sun. But it’s worse even than that; after all, what has been said cannot be unsaid and the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has now to live with whatever the gutter-minded might make of a jibe about gas ovens against the background of a family who once had to flee from just that fate. General Election campaigns are not clean fights; it’s to be hoped that no-one else sinks quite that low.
It’s time that Ms Hopkins got the old short, sharp, shock treatment. A salutary lesson to teach her that she cannot just say anything, to anyone – and get away with it. Arrest, charge and maybe some time contemplating her folly in a prison cell might just be the sort of thing to change the course she currently appears set upon. And that would be good for her, though she would doubtless disagree. And if it wasn’t, then really – so what? She can hardly be made worse; at present she’s a carbuncle on the backside of society – one ripe for popping. The rest of us deserve a break from her too-frequent pronouncements and her habit of going for the jugular in the crudest terms imaginable. We deserve a holiday from her constant, publicity-hungry attention-seeking, all over every medium, everywhere.
We all, finally, deserve an extended break from this rather vapid and stupid woman.