I've toyed with the idea of writing this blog post for some time, at first deciding that I didn't want to add to the press that Katie Hopkins would be glad to receive, but after reading Rob Atkinson's blog on why we can't ignore her, I have decided to go ahead and write it.
Last week's war of words on Twitter between Hopkins and Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, has resulted in her being reported to the police for inciting racial hatred. The spat was sparked when Hopkins responded to Danczuk's tweet about raising the Pakistani flag as a symbol of community cohesion in Rochdale with a series of inflammatory posts which linked the entire Pakistani community to the Rochdale child abuse scandal.
I'm not going to profess to be an expert on the scandal or on Danczuk's effectiveness as an MP, but after I responded to one of Danczuk's tweets on the issue where I pointed out that Hopkins was using the issue to generate more attention for herself (a feat which she has evidently achieved) I can say I have experienced the type of hatred Hopkins has been accused of inciting. After I sent my tweet, I was inundated with tweets from her fans which accused me of being"everything that is wrong with our country. Pathetic and weak" as well as accusing me of being a sympathiser to the rapists who were convicted in Rochdale. Several of the tweets used both racist and homophobic slurs towards me and the Pakistani community, leaving me with no option but to report them to Twitter.
I have been on Twitter long enough to have learned to take anonymous derogatory tweets on the chin, but the evening of incessant notifications left me with an understanding of the level to which Katie Hopkins can influence the opinions of her followers, of which she has over half a million on Twitter. Although it is up to the Police to decide whether her comments were an exercise of her right to freedom of speech or were indeed inciting racial hatred, I can attest to the ability she has to incite anger amongst her followers.
I haven't always been a Katie Hater, I thought she was right to call out Perez Hilton on his antagonistic behaviour on Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year. On previous occasions I have believed that Hopkins' opinions have had some truth in them, but that she has to sensationalise and radicalise what she says on Twitter and on television to live up to the loud-mouth image that receives the attentions she needs. On this occasion, the dangerous manipulation of the anger surrounding the Rochdale abuse case has meant that a whole nationality and sector of British society has been branded as outsiders and rapists, and I think this is unforgivably racist. When I read those tweets, I thought it was abhorrent that she would use a terrible crime to raise publicity for herself, and I still feel this way as I see her give interviews as an attempt to justify what she has done.
Katie Hopkins is not a stupid woman. She knows exactly what to say to spark outrage and raise her own profile, tapping into misconceptions and prejudices in our society and creating an image for herself as a crusader for 'common sense'. She uses broad generalisations and simplifications of significant issues in the media - such as immigration, obesity and mental health - and creates a space in which prejudices against people can thrive. The danger with Katie Hopkins is that her followers see her as a fighter for justice, forgetting that it is controversy that she needs to create to stay in the limelight and continue to secure appearances and commissions. Hopkins must out-do herself and be more outrageous, more controversial and more harmful to people in our society to ensure she stays relevant.
For these reasons we can't let Hopkins create a circus around political issues, especially during the lead up to a general election. Despite my strong feelings towards her opinions, I respect the right she has to express them. I believe that our freedom of expression and our democratic traditions is what makes Britain great. Therefore this means that we have a responsibility to offer reasoned arguments against the dangerous opinions those like Katie Hopkins are keen to express. It's up to all of us, young and old, to think critically about the debates people like Katie Hopkins trigger and engage with issues such as community cohesion in a manner which is constructive rather than dangerous and sensationalist.