‘I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It hits below the intellect’ – Oscar Wilde.
Several weeks ago, in what we can now regard as the peaceful waters before our country hit a political iceberg, I sat on an uncomfortable stool in a TV studio and looked professional loudmouth Katie Hopkins directly in the eye.
“Do you believe it?” I said, with a bluntness that surprised even myself.
“What do you mean?” she replied, knowing exactly what I meant.
“Do you believe the things you say?”
I didn’t get a straight answer.
There came a garbled defence of her even being in the room. Something between “I know I’m being completely ridiculous, but it seems to be working, doesn’t it?” and “Yes, I absolutely believe it, who’s asking?”
There followed a farcical television debate in which she claimed young people shouldn’t bother to vote because that means we’ll likely leave the EU and that’s exactly what she wants.
I kept calm. I knew what was going on. I knew the game she was playing and so did she.
Then came immigration.
Etched in my mind was a newspaper column in which she suggested turning our ‘battleships’ on innocent migrants in the Mediterranean as they sought a life away from conflict.
I went for her, my cheeks reddening and my heart pounding through my chest.
I did what I’d wanted to do for a while ... and it was exactly what she had hoped for.
In an environment in which the media, including myself and, at the risk of it being removed by the editor, this newspaper, are clambering around to cut through the noise and get your attention, it is all too common for facts and reason to be thrown out in favour of outlandish claims.
This disregard for truths has created a vacuum in which politicians and commentators can say what they please, without ever being held to account.
When a friend of mine declared his intention to back Leave in the days before the vote, I had to explain his anticipated £350m a week for the NHS was unlikely to actually happen – and that we only really send £190m to the EU anyway – information that astounded him.
He hadn’t heard that before. “It was the side of a bus,” he said. Questions will be asked of Remain in their failure to counter these points, but when you stand in a room, trying to make a reasonable case, and somebody throws buckets of mud over everything – what can you do but spend your time mopping it up?
Giving it the attention it craves. I know first hand, I did exactly that with Katie Hopkins.
Instead of being allowed to make a reasonable point, I was sucked into her alternate universe in which there is no reason, there are no truths and anything can be said without consequence.
We were told, too, that the UK has no veto over Turkey joining the Union and that an EU army was inevitable – despite both of those points being complete lies.
People who were struggling to decide between right and wrong took these points at face value, no doubt innocently, but we never had a debate.
We were never afforded a reasonable conversation and we didn’t do enough to demand it.
Now we find ourselves in a post-facts age, in which Katie Hopkins’ fantasies are taken as truths.
Until we stop and escape this vacuum, anything could happen.