A Union invitation for Katie Hopkins is a step too far

Comment

The Oxford Union has by no means been short of controversial speakers over the past two terms; the chants of protesters can almost still be heard ringing through St Michael’s Street. While instinctively opposed to appearances such as that of Marine Le Pen, I nevertheless decided to exercise caution in wading into the free speech debate and so, undecided as to where I stood, chose to withhold judgement. However, with the scheduled appearance of The Sun columnist, Katie Hopkins, The Oxford Union has severely overstepped the line.

Now, I am aware that this is not the first time that she will have appeared at the Union, having visited for a question and answer session a year ago. Yet, in her ever-desperate struggle to remain relevant, since then, she has sunk to record lows of abhorrent bigotry. Particularly abhorrent acts include calling Palestinians ‘filthy rodents’ and suggesting that those suffering from depression are nothing but ‘attention seeking b*stards’.

The Union, themselves, know that they should not be giving a platform to such views and this is manifest in the fact that, in a cowardly move, they have opted to sneak her inconspicuously into a seemingly uncontroversial debate. This way, The Union avoids the immediate, unified uproar that would have come with her announcement as a speaker on her own, with members of the University instead not noticing her appearance until having closely read the latest term card.

Both Katie Hopkins and Marine Le Pen seem to hold similarly worrying views; if anything, Le Pen’s political influence renders her a much more significant danger. So why am I more decidedly ready to condemn Hopkins’ appearance than I was that of Le Pen?

To begin with, the title of the debate, and the side for which she is to argue, already implies some tacit approval of Hopkins. While simply inviting Marine Le Pen to speak in no way entails that The Union endorses her views, Katie Hopkins, on the other hand, has been invited to speak for the motion that ‘This house would rather be witty than pretty’. Let me put this into perspective: This is a woman who recently referred to migrants as ‘feral humans’, and The Union is implying she might be considered ‘witty’.

At least the appearance of Marine Le Pen could potentially be accounted for by appeal to the notion of freedom of speech and exchange of ideas through a figure who has been democratically elected. Presumably her opinions are formed by some sort of, albeit questionable, reason and are conducive to actual debate. Hopkins, on the other hand, seems to have no logical or reasonable basis for her beliefs at all.

The premise of her entire career is simply to spout the vilest hatred that is legally possible. If it’s offensive, she will say it – her own belief and substantiating of the view seems to be an afterthought. Opinions formed by no reason are not susceptible to criticism by reason, and so there is no debate to be had. So, while she has nothing to offer us by way of intelligent debate, Hopkins gains an invitation to another platform from which to spread her poison. It is only through such platforms that her toxic career is able to sustain itself, and The Union really needs to think about whether this is something they wish to be a part of.

I’m sure they are well aware of the criticism they will inevitably receive for this decision, yet they are mistaken if they believe the old saying that ‘any publicity is good publicity’. Inviting people such as Katie Hopkins to speak brings the integrity of The Union as a serious debating society into question. She must have been rubbing her hands in glee to think that the prestigious Oxford Union wants to hear what she has to say and, frankly, The Union ought to be embarrassed at the idea that others will also have this thought.

This childish game of ‘who-can-find-the-most-controversial-speaker?’ has to stop. There are people out there, within our university and beyond, of whose lives Katie Hopkins has attempted to deny the value. They are seeing her and her opinions being recognised, and therefore legitimised, by one of the most prestigious debating societies in the world. If I have so far hesitated to vocally criticise The Union’s controversial speaker choices, let me now be clear: this time my voice is with the protesters. Oxford Union, shame on you.

 

PHOTO/Harriet Bourhill

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