|The Future of Empathy?|
She was one of the main panellists on last night's "Big Benefits Row" on Channel 5. I wasn't going to watch it, really I wasn't. But a bit like Owen Jones (who reluctantly agreed to be one of the other guests having initially indicated that he would not go on) in the end I couldn't resist.
Hopkins is like a parody of a pantomime political villain. She started off by spouting a load of right wing cliches such as how there are 1 million disability benefit claimants who have been struck off (completely ignoring how many of those have since successfully appealed of course). She spent much of her time shouting at the audience about how they need to "GET A JOB" and other such delightful sound bites. She also took every opportunity she could to have personal pops at her opponents such as her claim that Annabel Giles was a "failed model". Giles was actually a very successful model so her slur didn't even make any sense.
But the producers booked her and others will keep booking her because she "challenges people". The fact that she completely derails everything she is on and acts like a caricature of a totally uncaring right-wing boor spraying ad hominem attacks left right and centre appears to be neither here nor there.
Contrast her behaviour with that of White Dee (Deirdre Kelly), one of the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham and a star of Channel 4's Benefits Street. She had never appeared on live television before and a few weeks ago was a single mother of two living in complete obscurity. Dee was politely spoken, articulate and did an excellent job of speaking up for those in our country less fortunate than the majority who have good health and jobs. She came across as intelligent, self deprecating and multi-layered explaining that some of what she was being criticised for on Benefits Street was being taken out of context and that sometimes she was being sarcastic. This point actually seemed to throw Hopkins who defensively claimed she "has a sense of humour".
But more than that, having watched the first episode of Benefits Street Dee comes across as an incredibly warm person. She helps out her friends and neighbours, filling out forms for the ones who are unable to read or write, making phone calls on their behalf and generally being there for them. She even acts almost like a counsellor or sponsor for one of her friends who is struggling with substance addiction, persuading him to let her be in charge of his money and only giving it back to him in small amounts to try and interrupt his cycle of buying alcohol and drugs and upbraiding him when she sees him with alcohol. In short she is exactly the sort of person that is rightly looked up to in communities.
Yes she is on benefits and yes she does not have a job. But that does not make her evil.
And if I had to make a choice between having one of these two people as my friend, the TV "personality" who spends her entire time in the verbal gutter insulting and trolling or the softly spoken and evidently very caring White Dee I know which one I would choose in a heartbeat.