Why I am sad Katie Hopkins has been sacked by LBC

For the record, I don’t like Katie Hopkins. As Mitchell & Webb so rightly point out, pretty well anyone who is happy to go on the apprentice is, by definition, an idiot:

Since those halcyon days of reality TV, she has carved something of a niche as some sort of modern-day harpy, feasting on the misery of others. She is paid exclusively to write articles and make TV appearances designed to stir as much controversy as possible. Her output is generally odious and the views she puts across are, more often than not, repugnant and pernicious. I sincerely doubt she believes even half of what she says. But you’ve got to pay the bills somehow, right?

Hopkins was sacked after tweeting the TV presenter, Philip Schofied, following the Manchester bombing:

22 dead – number rising, Schofield. Don’t you even dare. Do not be a part of the problem. We need a final solution #Machester. [sic]

The Independent report:

Complaints were made to the Metropolitan Police about Hopkins’ tweet, which she later said she stood by, but claimed the use of “final” was a typo, changing it to “true” in a new tweet.

I do not, for one minute, believe Hopkins made a typo. There is no doubt that she intended to allude to Hitler’s “final solution” and was applying it to Muslims.

Given all of that, it is hardly surprising that most people are pleased about the termination of her LBC Talk Radio job. There is certainly no denying she brought it on herself. Many are happy to have yet another unpleasant voice off the airwaves. So why am I sad about it?

Certainly I shed no tears for Hopkins herself. I am saddened that it is yet another example of speech being limited. I do not like the views, or insinuations, that Hopkins offers. Many of the things she says are ignorant, crass and unpleasant. But I don’t think that should stop her from being able to say them.

LBC are entirely within their rights to get rid of her. If they no longer wish to give her a platform because they believe she is damaging their ratings or whatever, that is up to them. But I think it a shame that controversial views are a basis for removing someone from post.

As I have mentioned many times (such as here and here amongst others), arguments for free speech are always easier to make in respect to a sympathetic victim. In Katie Hopkins, we have no such person. Many despise her, and understandably so, and I do not like the things she says any more than they do. Her views may be offensive, unkind, even unpalatable, but free speech means nothing if we aren’t prepared to defend her right to air them.

I don’t have to like Katie Hopkins’ views to defend her right to say them. If I don’t defend Hopkins’ right to spout her odious bile, how can I expect somebody to defend my right to speak freely if and when I say things they may find offensive? I’m not saying Katie Hopkins is trying to be polite and genteel – clearly she is trying to provoke and offend – but if we don’t defend her right to do so, what is to stop anybody shutting down my right to speak if and when they find my views offensive?

The answer to unpleasant words and views is not to ban them. The answer to nasty comments isn’t to give them no platform. The answer is more words and more talking. We bring the views into light and we answer them, openly and publicly. Sadly, we seem to have a knee-jerk reaction in this country that anything we don’t like we ban and any views we don’t like we no-platform.

I’m not suggesting that Hopkins should have a radio show by rights, of course not. But what happens to the views she espouses when she is sacked (maybe not for her, because she probably doesn’t believe half of it, but for people who genuinely do hold them)? The views don’t simply disappear. People continue to hold them and propagate them, only now they are given the ability to do so away from any public scrutiny.

What seems better: the views espoused by Katie Hopkins being spread quietly, without challenge, outside the glare of the spotlight or, her views being aired and robustly rejected in public debate? Shutting such things out of public debate won’t make them go away, it will simply push them to where they can go entirely unchecked. If Hopkins’ views are really so repulsive (and I think they are), what do we have to fear about letting her give voice to them? Given so many people were upset by her words, it rather suggests her views have not taken root in the wider public domain. So let her speak, let her say what she will and let the public debate be truly free.

The truth has nothing to fear from scrutiny and good comment has nothing to fear from being aired. Ironically, it is by shutting her down this way we inadvertently imply she might have a point. If she has no point, nobody will listen and we wouldn’t care about letting say whatever she wants. Stopping her from speaking freely either implies everyone listening is a cretin who will be taken in by her evident wrongness or she, in fact, has a legitimate point for which we have no answer. In either case, impeding what she can say – rather than letting her get on and say it – probably lends more credence to her views than they warrant. That is what makes me particularly sad.