One of the speakers most likely to raise eyebrows at The Cambridge Union this term will be Katie Hopkins. The Sun columnist, former apprentice candidate and business woman is best known for her strong, if somewhat confused, attitudes towards acceptable names for her children’s playmates– remember the infamous debate featuring Hopkins’ claim that children with ‘geographical names’ are unfit to interact with her daughter India.
But she doesn’t confine herself to monitoring her children’s friendship groups lest they pick up bad habits or nasty diseases from a Brooklyn or a Chardonnay. Pick any issue and Hopkins, self proclaimed ‘Jesus of the outspoken’, will be ‘telling it like it is’ – so long as she’s standing up to one of those well known scourges of society: mothers, overweight people, the working class and so on.
Hopkins’ views are, as a rule, offensive, ill-considered and objectionable. It’s safe to say that there are very few points on which she and I agree. But that isn’t what makes her a bad choice of speaker. What makes her a bad choice is that so much of what she has to say is utterly banal. Plenty of the Union’s more controversial invitations have been defended on basis that there’s a value in hearing and challenging views with which one disagrees. The point is, quite simply, that Katie Hopkins has very little of interest to say. The Cambridge Union Society claims to mount a “historic defence of free speech and…participatory democracy… through the use of rational argument and credible intellectual exchange” – is any of that really advanced by such pressing debates as ‘Can you be fat and happy?’ and ‘Is it ok to miss your child’s birthday?’
Hopkins makes a living being rude about other people’s lifestyle choices. She’s got to fund that private education somehow, I suppose, lest the kids be exposed to the “broad mix of children from very different social backgrounds” that she complains her local state school features, and it’s better than being one of those benefit scroungers, eh Katie? But does that really make her one of the ‘speakers who shape our world’? Sure, it’s exam term, and I imagine the Union was aiming for a little light, highly offensive relief for its members, but an appearance at what is a fairly prestigious debating union only adds to Hopkins’ credibility and public profile, without even contributing anything of interest to any debate of importance.
‘Trollumnists’ like Hopkins add nothing to credible intellectual exchange. But I don’t wish to suggest that they’re harmless. They pick the easiest targets to direct cheap, hateful shots at and in so doing add to the prevailing narrative of scapegoating the most vulnerable that is peddled by so much of this country’s press and politicians. Inviting Katie Hopkins to the Union is like sharing that Daily Mail article you’re so outraged by on Facebook.