It doesn’t take much to shake up the stuffy main chamber of the Oxford Union during a debate. Katie Hopkins chose a unique way to start her speech – she insulted almost everybody in the room, including Stuart Webber, the Union President.
Just mere metres away from Hopkins’ bounding spectacle, attendees – both newcomers and seasoned hacks – had sheer surprise in their eyes: everybody knows Katie Hopkins is one of the more unconventional speakers the Union has hosted, but nobody expected Hopkins’ crudity in such abundance.
It isn’t clear whether Hopkins knows just how far she violated the formalities and the etiquette of the Union. During the first proposition speech, by Standing Committee member Fran Varley, Hopkins stood up and walked across the chamber to pour Varley a glass of water – a friendly move, but nonetheless unexpected. Hopkins then took it to the next level: when frequent speaker Brian Wong rose during the floor speeches, Hopkins walked over to the Secretary’s bell and repeatedly rang it until Wong sat back down. Her speech seemed ad hoc, and she regularly stopped to take points of intervention – only to refuse such an intervention to Wong on account of his scruffiness.
“It’s important to try to lift the room. I like it when students feel like they’re involved. I didn’t see that during [Varley’s speech] and for me it’s much better if we’re having a debate rather than being talked at by people with scripts. I really don’t see the joy in that. When everyone’s up, it’s fun in the room and there’s a real atmosphere – that’s what I was trying to do.”
The motion – on the belief that positive discrimination is the best solution to an unequal society – was denounced as nonsensical in her very first sentence on the floor. For Hopkins, however, the crux of the motion was in the phrase ‘unequal society,’ and the very notion that such a thing needed a solution. Positive discrimination in itself was not a bad thing, but the desire to correct inequality was anathema to the core principles by which she lives her life.
With a fundamental world view as simple as ‘life is not fair,’ Hopkins certainly seems the archetypal middle England conservative. Born into a middle class family in Devon, Hopkins went to a private convent school and followed this by studying Economics at the University of Exeter. She applied to Oxford, but was turned down.
“I didn’t get in here,” she says. “My school actively put me off applying. I got through the exam, got to interview and then didn’t get in. I wasn’t good enough, and that’s absolutely fine. I saw what you needed to be good enough and it wasn’t me. I accepted that and it taught me a massive lesson: suck it up. Massive, hard, brutal honesty – that’s how I live my life.”
The problem with the modern world, according to Katie Hopkins, is just that – a lack of brutal honesty. The questions of equity and fairness which dominate news reporting of Oxbridge are met with a surreal rebuttal; the typically Hopkins-esque proclamation of her love for elitism, and her worry that not enough is being done to protect the elite nature of Oxford and Cambridge.
“I don’t have a problem that this is a completely elite institution; I think really that we should be protective of elitism. When people started talking about grammar schools having a certain percentage of free school meals, or Oscars having a certain percentage of black nominees or this university having at least 75 per cent of students from state schools, I just think – what’s all that about? The Oscars are for excellence, not for which black actor was the nicest and has an angry wife called Jada. Same with grammar schools and the Russell Group – it’s about differentiating yourself.”
Hopkins seems to be aware of the implications of the under-representation of minority groups. Given her belief in strict admissions standards at places like Oxford, the underrepresentation of groups such as black and minority ethnicity students would imply, in the absence of positive discrimination, that either the criteria are racist or the students simply are not as smart as the majority group. Without going so far as to explicitly claim the latter, Hopkins seems to implicitly reject the former, describing the system used to select Oscar nominees as “fairly equitable”. Though typically 12 per cent of Oscar nominees are African-American, which is broadly representative of the United States as a whole, the Academy Awards significantly under-represents Asian-Americans and Hispanic Americans, with just three per cent of nominations going to Hispanic Americans despite the fact that they make up 16 per cent of the population. When challenged on this, however, Hopkins dodges the point, retreating to her preferred question of how she believes minorities subjected to discrimination should behave.
“Black actors and those passed over should have this brilliant attitude that ‘I did great at the box office, screw the Oscars.’ You shouldn’t sulk just because you didn’t get nominated. That’s what I’d tell my children not to do. They should take it like a man. For me it’s just really important that we maintain standards. If Oscar winners were 50 per cent black, they wouldn’t really have won – you would just have screwed up the Oscars.”
Hopkins is particularly worried about the debate in Oxford over free speech. When the radical Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary was invited to the Oxford Union in Trinity last year, Hopkins described the protests as giving her “a bit of a sad-on”. A frequent defender of free speech – without it she would be out of a career – Hopkins described noplatforming as “dangerous”. Returning to her inability to feel offence, Hopkins praised the students at Brunel University who, late last year, walked out on her just before she started speaking.
“I quite admired them. I wasn’t offended, because I quite liked the idea that they didn’t no-platform, they just chose not to listen. Admittedly they chose not to listen in a kind of crap way, even when I gave them the opportunity later on Radio Five to respond, but at least they didn’t no-platform.
“I suppose if I came out as trans or a lesbian, I would do a lot better with free speech. It was really interesting in Cologne, there was a vacuum of sorts at The Guardian. On the one hand there was The Guardian’s ‘feminism, never blame the rape victim’ circle and the on the other there was ‘always support migrants, migrants are brilliant, I love an inflatable,’ and the two circles could not make a Venn diagram. So they just couldn’t write about Cologne, it really hit the spot.”
Hopkins likes to see herself as a “conduit for truth” and as a lone voice in the media railing against the smug, metropolitan elite. According to Hopkins, she doesn’t “court controversy”, as her critics often have claimed. Rather, she bills herself as “telling it how it is.” Showing no regard for sensitivity, she has called migrants “cockroaches”, describing refugees from Iraq and Syria as “spreading like the norovirus”. The Cologne sex attacks, in which more than 1,500 sexual assaults were reported in seven sites across Germany, were an indictment of a flawed liberal attitude to migrants.
The Guardian’s “vacuum” of reporting reflects her stated perception of an incompatibility between liberal attempts to prevent Islamophobia (Hopkins has been accused of Islamophobia) and the liberal defence of women’s and minority rights. The fact that Hopkins does not support The Guardian and liberal line on either of these points was irrelevant.
Hopkins appeared at the Union debate as an imposing yet ultimately comedic figure: somebody who in private took her public persona with more than few pinches of salt. In her glittery dress and guffawing tone, it’s very clear that Hopkins could be one of the friendliest people in the world.
Despite herself, Hopkins is, admittedly, capable of being funny, entertaining and captivating. She defines herself in terms of her personal mission – to tell it how it is – and there’s no easy way of stopping her any time soon