nless 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, purveyor of perversions of truth and justice, and dog-whistle dogmatic, Katie Hopkins, has left Mail Online, apparently by “mutual consent”. Following a series of carefully manufactured outrage-generating “articles”, I suspect Hopkins has been deemed too much for even a publication whose print sibling metaphorically dug up Ed Miliband’s dead father, and dedicated a whole page of fury to same-sex traffic lights in Trafalgar Square (after they had been up for months, I might add). “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 two days, since the news broke, my timeline, text messages and email inbox have been flooded with messages of congratulations and 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 trial, our names and fates are inextricably linked, a tapestry of turmoil and warring words, pinned down below the surface of the #internet for all time, like 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 leave Mail Online 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 works, and losing her second big libel trial in a matter of months must have been an embarrassment to her employer.
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”), and hundreds more. 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 else’s 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. Mail Online may be one of the widest read news 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 fascists into the White House.
By stripping her of her accountability – whatever little there seems to be at the Mail Online 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 Mail Online” would sit squarely with her “I fired Lord Sugar” in her Twitter bio, for example. My position is not one of particular compassion but a warning shot fired across the bows of complacency. This new breed of fake news and clickbait is a hydra; and cutting off its heads only allows more to grow in its place.