Katie Hopkins is good for the British soul

There was a theory doing the rounds a few weeks back that the Joker was actually the hero in The Dark Knight. The logic went that by his actions he united the Gotham City and gave it the motivation and excuse to tackle its social ills and injustice head on. Without the Joker there would never have been the convergence of Harvey Dent, the Batman and Commissioner Gordon. What looked like anarchy was actually a grand plan by The Joker to spur people of Gotham to take back their city.

Or so the logic goes.

Is the same true of today’s great villain, Katie Hopkins? A devilish, disgusting pantomime villain who seems to delight in coming out with the most inflammatory and reactionary comments that she can about everything from children names to dead refugees. I spat out my coffee with laughter when I read UNILAD’s reaction to her condemning the family of a murdered policeman. In one headline they wrote her epitaph.

There are two schools of thought about Hopkins. The first takes everything that she says literally. They believe she is sincere and ultimately is a reprehensible human being with idiotic views.

The second is more nuanced. Hopkins, they argue, may very well mean what she says, but it’s an irrelevancy because her notoriety has turned her into a cash cow and her comments are a business effort to fill her pockets. The fact that The Sun and now the MailOnline have hired her seems to confirm this.  Clicking on her articles and reading and retweeting her tweets generates revenue; the more people love to hate her and talk about her, the more public zeitgeist perpetuates and the more her affiliates prosper.

But is there a third category? Is Katie Hopkins actually good for the British soul?

There is a strong body of evidence that says she is. How is it that we think back to the Second World War and remember an era of collective endeavour? How did the Falklands War win a second-term for Margaret Thatcher? How is that the BBC, NHS and HM Armed Forces imbue a pride in all us? And how are the battle lines being drawn for both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns for the EU?

A basic psychological tactic to unite people is not to tell them what commonalities we share, but to juxtaposition us against ‘them’ or ‘it’ and let the facts speak for themselves. The Nazis were murdering thugs, we were not. The Argentines were wrong and we were right to defend ourselves in the Falklands War. Our national institutions are beloved and treasured because we look around the world and see few things like them. The EU campaigns are being set in terms of ‘what they do to us’ or ‘what do we get from them’.

It’s not just politics. A shared history, a shared suffering or language can unify people not just in politics but in sport. Think of every national occasion or every great sporting event. It is an essential and persistent strategy that always works, whether we realise it or not.

Hopkins vs the British people is precisely the same principle because she gives us a brutal, stark contrast that helps people see the similarities in each other and across the country.

She is a canary in the mine, the tester of foods and the sonar for public opinion that helps us realise our own views and the views of the country in a reactionary fashion. By being so reprehensible in what she says, whether in her views on race or suggestion of theatrics in the death of a Syrian child or calling refugees ‘cockroaches’, her controversies help us confirm our own views because we can contrast them so clearly with what is hateful.

She is doing nothing illegal. What she says is free speech in its purest form of testing our sensibilities as a society. Some called for her to be sacked from The Sun, although she was elevated to the MailOnline and gained her own television show If Katie Hopkins Ruled the World. Others call for her prosecution, while some accept her as a mild storm: to be avoided, but temporary if it hits.

So in short, don’t let her wind you up. Every time she does she makes money off you; every article to every Tweet is an engineered exercise of self-marketing to promote her own brand.

In many ways, you can see the difference between her and Jeremy Clarkson. Both are mired by their controversial views, but whereas Clarkson is excusably impish and foolish and is established by his presenting career, Hopkins has a public lifespan that is wholly contingent on people remembering that she exists. The more hateful she is, the more she prospers.

Ask anyone to sit down and explain what it means to be British and they’ll probably come out with the same generic answers. Ask most people to respond to something Katie Hopkins has said and you’ll have a tangible map of what we really believe as a country. It might lack the political reliability of polling, but it’s as good as any barometer for how the public feels. It transcends the traditional measurements of voting political affiliation or splits in left and right and gauges what we are a country.

Of Hopkins I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said when asked why he didn’t send his predecessor, Stanley Baldwin an 80th birthday greeting:

“I wish Stanley Baldwin no ill, but it would have been much better if he had never lived.”

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