Unless you have been on a series of long-haul flights recently, or don’t use social media, you will have heard by now that erstwhile darling of the alleged unheard underdog, purveyer of perversions of truth and justice, and dogwhistle dogmatic, Katie Hopkins, has been unceremoniously given the heave-ho from that bastion of truth and fairness, the Daily Mail. Following a series of carefully manufactured outrage-generating (and ostensibly damaging) ‘articles’, it seems Hopkins has been deemed too much for even a publication whose print sibling has been accused of hounding a transgender teacher to her death, has metaphorically dug up Ed Milibands dead father, and dedicated a whole page of fury to same-sex traffic lights in Oxford Circus (after they had been up for several months, I might add, but months behind is pretty good going for a newspaper still mentally circulating in the 1930s). ‘What would Nelson say?’ the headline exclaimed, clutching its black and white pearls. ‘Kiss me Hardy, I presume’, I mumbled as I turned the page.
For the past three days, since the news broke, my timeline, text messages and email inbox have been flooded with messages of congratulations, celebration, and asking me how I feel about it. I steadfastly ignored every one, unwilling to add my voice to the public mix of jubilation. I started to type a ‘hoorah’, but deleted it; it felt hollow, and I didn’t mean it. Having famously taken her to court for libel in a costly and emotionally exhausting 18 month landmark trial, our names and fates are inextricably linked, a tapestry of turmoil and warring words, eternally pinned down below the surface of the internet, a hideously decaying pair of copulating butterflies joined together on a rotten corkboard in a moment in time.
The truth is, I knew that she was going to lose that job from the moment the court verdict was announced. And her slot at LBC. I’ve been around the block long enough now to know how this media bollocks works, and losing her second big libel trial – that we know about – in a matter of months was an embarrassment to her employer. The sackings would be staggered, I predicted, so as not to lose face and to hold off the baying mob of ‘free speech campaigners’, but they were coming. Rumbling away on the horizon, and all we had to do was watch and wait. The ‘final solution’ tweet came, and the LBC shot was fired. And now, the Mail.
When she lost her job at LBC, I joked about sending her a wreath of flowers, twisted to spell the words ‘Fuckety Bye’. People laughed. I laughed. I was raw, and hurting from months of abuse from her followers (including, as evidenced in court, threats for ‘one clean shot to the back of her head’, ‘I’m going to put you in a wheelchair’.) But looking back, it was callous, cruel, and unkind. A race to the bottom for commentary helps none of us. Competing to make jokes at someone elses expense does not contribute to filling the kindness vacuum that her own words leave behind.
I am aware that I sound like a bleeding-heart, liberal lefty here, and with a byline in the Guardian, I suppose I am guilty as charged. But her sacking is nothing to celebrate. She will not lose fans, nor followers, by being driven underground. She will be welcomed with open arms by even more extreme platforms, with just as many devoted fans, but fewer editors, fewer checks, fewer balances. The Mail may be one of the widest read print publications in the UK, but sneer at Breitbart at your peril; it was one of the major cogs in the machine that has walked the new breed of fascism into the White House. To underestimate the impact of such divisive and violent rhetoric, is to sit here in a few years time as World War Three rages around us, wondering why we didn’t see it coming. Creeping radicalisation on all sides leads us all up the same mountain, eventually, and then bombs the shit out of it. By stripping her of her accountability – whatever little there seems to be at the Mail as it stands – she is not disempowered. Her brand, that of the renegade outsider ‘just saying what you’re all thinking’, is strengthened in its martyrdom. ‘Too controversial for the Mail’ would sit squarely with her ‘I fired Lord Sugar’ in her twitter bio, for example.
My position is not one of particular compassion (although, think of the children, etc), but a warning shot fired across the bows of Bollinger and complacency tonight. This new breed of ‘fake news’ and ‘clickbait’ and ‘hate-follows’ is a hydra; and cutting off its heads only allows more to grow in its place. The Mail will replace Hopkins, and it won’t be with me or any other lefty wanker. It will be some hot new darling of the outrage brigade, another Clarkson, another Littlejohn, another Trump, another white-right-wing (white-wing?) furymongerer to drive us to click click click click share share share share as their profits from their advertisers rolls in in the background. Meanwhile, the Tommy Robinsons and the Milo Yiannopolous’ set up their own channels, answerable to nobody, unchecked, galvanising their followers to demonstrations and riots and god knows what else. Empowering teenage boys in their bedrooms to send graphic gore porn to women they doxx on the internet. I know. I’ve received it.
I think it is right and proper that a hatemongering anti-Islam anti-women anti-feminism anti-puppies (probably) commentator should not be given regular airtime in the national press, but getting fired to be replaced with another one, while the original runs amok underground, is not a victory.
I’ve said some things that I live to regret, online, like that now-infamous tweet in 2014 about David Camerons ‘misty-eyed rhetoric’ when talking about his son, Ivan, in NHS debates. I was angry about what I perceived to be a stonewalling of any other voices in that debate, but my use of a parents grief to level that anger was obscene, immature, and cruel. I immediately wrote a personal letter of apology to Samantha and David for my thoughtlessly expressed words, and spent the next few months, as contracts were cancelled and brands pulled out of deals, examining my behaviour and vowing to be better. I’m not perfect – I bandy around a good c*nt as much as anyone who has spent any time in a mess room – but I do take responsibility for my words, and try to be better.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is to beware the underground forums and networks that those of us in the lefty liberal mainstream media may not even see or be aware of. There are armies in waiting, on both sides of the pond, to be galvanised by their latest martyred Messiah. One more among their ranks is nothing to celebrate, and certainly not one with almost a million disciples as they veer towards the rankest of extremes. Yet if Hopkins had kept her job, but had developed it into a column for the compassionate wit and insight and reasoned argument that she is genuinely, truly capable of, then I’ll crack out the champagne, because that truly would be worth lifting a glass to. But for now, we have nothing to cheer about. She thrives on hate, feeds on it, retweets it to her fans. I invite you instead to merely pity her, and rise above it. But do not be complacent. This is just a battle in a war of decency, and nobody can possibly win it.
A heavily edited version of this article appeared in the Guardian on 28th November 2017.
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