Friday 18 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'In political shake-up who chooses which politicians to attack?'

Shaken up: Nigel Farage after a Corbyn supporter doused him in milkshake
Shaken up: Nigel Farage after a Corbyn supporter doused him in milkshake
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

So, that dude who chucked the milkshake at Nigel Farage - what a hero, right?

When the leader of the Brexit Party was in Newcastle this week, a 32- year-old Jeremy Corbyn supporter called Paul Crowther bought a milkshake, threw the contents at Farage and instantly became a hero to the kind of people who are impressed by such a thing.

The reports were, in themselves, actually quite amusing.

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McDonald's had apparently acceded to a request to stop selling milkshakes while Farage was in the area, which prompted Burger King to tweet that they 'were selling milkshakes all weekend'.

In the end, our hero Crowther didn't bother going to Burger King.

Instead, we were breathlessly informed that he had gone for the more expensive option with a Five Guys banana-and-salted caramel milkshake that cost £5.25.

I must confess that I'm not up to date on the going rate for a milkshake these days, but it must have been a pretty good one if they can charge more than a fiver for it.

When the pictures of a rather woebegone looking Farage emerged, suit covered in the shake and a face like thunder, people erupted with laughter.

Oh what a jape! How very daring!

Except it wasn't. It was just the latest example of the kind of cowardly bullying and social-media posturing that we have come to expect.

It doesn't take any guts to throw a sugary drink at a stranger; not when that stranger is hated by so many of the 'right' people.

In much the same way that Will Connolly, the so-called 'egg boy', recently found fame in Australia when he threw an egg at a politician he didn't like, it's hard to escape the impression that these people just do it to become Twitter idols for a day, before the news cycle moves on to someone else.

A surprising number of commentators have held up Crowther's attack on Farage as the funniest thing they've seen all year. They think Crowther is a legend. They have hailed his 'courage'.

But it doesn't take a lot of courage to douse someone. It just takes a lot of neck and a cynical desire for attention.

It also opens the door to more, and more extreme, incidents in the future.

It really shouldn't matter what you think of Farage or his brand of politics. That's entirely beside the point. Surely, however, once you accept that Farage is a democratic politician in a democratic country, it should become clear that hurling sugary treats at politicians is a Very Bad Thing.

But while that would have been obvious even a few short years ago, it now appears that the very people who loudly call themselves liberals don't actually seem to like democracy very much.

Or, to put it another way, they quite like the idea of democracy but when it's put into practice and the ordinary people vote in a different way to their supposed betters, that veneer quickly drops. Then we're just left with a bunch of whining babies who think it's acceptable to throw a tantrum, waste a fiver on a shake and destroy a perfectly good suit.

It's important to put this all into perspective, of course. The incident with Farage was obviously nowhere near as horrifying as the murder of British Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, for instance.

But it reminds us how quickly the veneer of non-violent protest - the bedrock of any free country - can drop and be replaced by violent bullying and worse.

One leading British charity worker, Ruth Townsley, was forced to quit her post this week when she tweeted: "Bravo to Paul Crowther, well done, mate. Great that milkshakes have become a thing when it comes to the racists in our midst. I'd prefer acid but milkshakes will do for now."

She'd 'prefer acid but milkshakes will do for now'?

Is this what now passes for grown-up debate and discourse?

There has been a growing trend called 'bash the fash', which encourages people and groups like the cretinous extremists in Antifa, to attack so-called fascists. And who are these fascists? Well, a fascist is anyone they don't like.

So the 17 million people in the UK who voted for Brexit are all fascists. Closer to home, there was much of the usual huffing and puffing that anyone who voted for Peter Casey is a fascist, as is anyone who wants to retain control of our own immigration policy.

Of course, nobody likes being called a fascist. But the word has become so devalued in recent times that it's now virtually meaningless; a spell cast by fanatics to demonise people who hold an opinion that deviates from their own rigid orthodoxy.

But if we are to accept that it's OK to hurl food at politicians - the guy who threw an egg at Jeremy Corbyn was recently jailed for a month and that sentence was welcomed by the very people who are now lauding Crowther - then who gets to choose what politicians are fair game?

You? Me? Some eejit on Twitter?

The most basic thing we have is a general agreement that violence of any kind against a politician is a big no-no.

Once that goes out the window it's open season on anyone and everyone we don't like and the people who cheer Crowther have lost the right to complain when their own favourite politicians are attacked.

Still, as the old saying doesn't go, there's no point crying over spilt milkshakes.

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