It seemed like a match made in heaven: Katie Hopkins, professional big mouth; and Mail Online, internet behemoth. By signing her up as a columnist two years ago, the world’s biggest news website bagged itself arguably Britain’s most provocative commentator. Hopkins for her part, gained an even bigger audience for her extreme views.
Now, however, the partnership is at an end, the decision not to renew Hopkins contract made by “mutual consent”. Having previously parted company with The Sun and with the LBC radio network, it is tempting to wonder what bridges are left for Hopkins to burn.
In many ways, Hopkins’ tale is one for our times. She got her break by being loud and rude on reality TV show The Apprentice, then gradually found a niche as a pundit by tapping into fears about immigration and the perceived “dilution” of traditional British and Western values. Muslims became the primary focus of her ire. In the era of the “alt-right”, Hopkins became its UK poster girl, willing to say things that others were not.
Some of the rhetoric used along the way has been grimly redolent of the right’s most extreme manifestations. In April 2015 she used her Sun column to describe migrants as “cockroaches”, pronouncing herself unaffected by the sight of dead refugees “floating in the water”. Five months later, she resigned from the paper – not that there was any great sadness there at her departure.
After the Manchester Arena bombing, Hopkins tweeted about the need for a “final solution” for Muslims in Britain. She claimed that the use of the phrase, so closely associated with the Holocaust, was a mistake. But either way, her LBC show was cancelled soon afterwards.
Hopkins columns for MailOnline have been every bit as controversial as her previous work. The publisher had to pay out £150,000 to a British Muslim family who Hopkins wrongly accused of extremism. In a separate libel case, Hopkins was ordered to pay damages to the food writer Jack Monroe over two defamatory tweets.
Given that Hopkins’ track record speaks for itself, some have questioned what has prompted the end of her spell with MailOnline now. Her pieces for the publication were, at least initially, well-read; although that does not mean necessarily that they were driving new audiences to the website. A large salary may simply not have been worth the return.
It was notable that earlier this month Hopkins gave a particularly divisive speech in America, claiming that parts of Britain were in the grip of a “Muslim mafia” and that there was “institutionalised discrimination against whites”. Most troublingly, she referred to the need to “commit to arm ourselves, not just with the help of the NRA [National Rifle Association]”.
Was this the tipping point for MailOnline? Well, perhaps, although Hopkins has made similar remarks before. What’s more, rumours have abounded for months that plans were underway to ease her out. A more pertinent question may be: what next? No doubt Hopkins will be hoping that her new book, Rude, will be a bestseller. After that, maybe she can find a home with like-minded people at Breitbart?
Plainly Hopkins likes the idea of being a global star. When she signed with MailOnline, she cited its global reach as the primary attraction. With Donald Trump in the White House, she may feel there is now a greater affinity for her views in the US than there is in the UK. There is also less regulation of the media.
The greatest conundrum, however, is whether Hopkins herself believes everything she says – or is simply playing up to a marketable persona. People who have dealt with her directly describe her as charming in person, and yet seemingly genuine in her antipathy towards both Muslims and liberals.
The rhetorical flourishes may be for the benefit of creating a social media storm, but the central articles of faith appear to be deeply ingrained – just as they are among her followers.
Ultimately, Hopkins’ problem may have been that if you aim for bombastic extremes and hit them, you have nowhere left to go. What initially felt shocking now seems for the most part either repetitive, overdone or just plain weird. If America wishes to open its arms to her, then so be it. If that means less of Hopkins’ vicious noise is heard on this side of the Atlantic, so much the better.
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