Well, here we go again. The sense of déjà vu was strong this week, as the Oxford Union belched up its freshest controversy by inviting Katie Hopkins to speak. Hopkins is the latest fascist du jour to be invited, goose-stepping into the footsteps of Steve Bannon and Marion Marechal-Le Pen, both of whom (like Hopkins) were met with student-organised protests. The invitation will doubtless have been received by Hopkins with glee. Whilst it may feel as if she is an omnipresent force, spewing her bile from all the darkest corners of the media, the truth is that Hopkins is running out of major platforms. Barely avoiding bankruptcy last year, Hopkins lost her job on radio station LBC in 2017 and no longer writes for a national newspaper. Yet Hopkins needn’t have worried. The modern-day fascist can relax these days, knowing that when even the most reactionary media outlets have finally turned their back on you, the Oxford Union invitation can always be relied upon.
It is hard to shake the feeling that the Union’s invitation policy this year consists of googling Buzzfeed lists – “27 most DESPISED public figures” – and spinning a wheel. Despite the Union’s attempts to adopt the position of impartial arbiter, the motivation behind inviting speakers like Hopkins is transparently self-seeking. In fact, Hopkins and the Union are made for each other, in the sense that they share a breath-taking capacity for narcissism dressed up as moral bravery. In a recent interview with Cherwell, Union President Genevieve Athis had this to say on the controversy Hopkins’ invitation has created: “we aim not only to host [speakers], but to challenge, explore and criticise their ideas.” The disingenuousness here is somewhere between comical and chilling. The Union is about as committed to raising the tone of public discourse as I am committed to a happy, fulfilling heterosexual marriage. Athis neglected to mention perhaps the most important of the Union’s “aims” – namely, acquiring £278 off as many students as possible. When it comes down to it, this is what Hopkins’ invitation is all about. Controversy = publicity = a bigger profile for the Union = more member sign-ups (or so the thinking seemingly goes). The spectacle of the Union and Hopkins pretending that Thursday night is about a serious discussion of free speech has something particularly grotesque about it, not least because Hopkins (unlike Bannon and Le Pen) is not even remotely close to a position of political power.
This is a woman who is seemingly yet to come to terms with the fact that the Apprentice cameras stopped filming her in 2007. Media attention is oxygen for Hopkins, and it is this fact which the organised protest against her has perhaps overlooked. It is hard to imagine that anyone will be more pleased with the news of the protest than Hopkins herself. As demonstrated by her appearance at the 2017 Conservative Party Conference in a wedding dress, there are no lengths that Hopkins will not go to in order to wrestle an increasingly dim spotlight in her direction. The difference between Hopkins and the other far-right speakers the Union has invited recently, is that one gets the sense that Hopkins only half-believes the drivel she comes out with. Her columns and public statements are self-consciously fanatical in order to provoke a reaction, which nine times out of ten, she is successful in getting. This is not to say that the Oxford Opposes Katie Hopkins event is a waste of time, but if it results in more headlines which include the words ‘Katie Hopkins’, she will surely count the night as a win. At times it seems as if Hopkins belongs more within the realm of Greek myth than contemporary politics. She is the monster cursed with insatiable hunger, an unending compulsion for attention, a personality trait which most of us worked through at around the age of eight. Clearly, this rather crucial stage in the developmental chain eluded Hopkins, who continues to gorge on every media opportunity which comes her way. Luckily for her, the Oxford Union is happy to indulge Hopkins’ hunger and give her a platform – but be warned. The respite is temporary. Soon the monster will grow hungry again and come prowling in search of ‘columnist-at-large’ positions and appearances on This Morning. I, for one, will be double-locking the back door, making sure my wife and children are safe and sound.
If Hopkins still has the wedding dress from two years ago, perhaps it can still be put to good use. The Union and Katie Hopkins are a match made in heaven, a satanic husband and wife for the ages. The babies will emerge from the womb fully clad in formal wear, immediately ready for their first Union drinks event. The Daily Mail will have exclusive rights to the wedding photos, and us students will have to go on having opinions on the whole ego-driven orgy for all eternity.∎
Words by Jack Womack. All opinions are writer’s own. Illustration by Kathleen Quaintance.