On Milkshaking

The recent EU parliamentary election campaign saw the birth of a particular form of political expression: milkshaking.

The practice began when a man in Leeds, irate at having to talk to UKIP candidate and race-baiter Tommy Robinson, threw milkshake over him.

Other people started throwing milkshakes at other right wing candidates. Nigel Farage refused to disembark his campaign bus in one location, having been ‘milkshaked’ at a previous stop.

The phenomenon prompted a wave of political discussion, hot-takes ans hang-wringing. Was it akin to ‘punching a Nazi’ or other types of political violence? Or was it in the tradition of that time-honoured tradition of throwing eggs at politicians?

At the time I posted the following thread to Twitter:

Regarding the milkshake phenomenon. I’m sympathetic to the arguments of @SpillerOfTea below and @sunnyhundal, that extreme right wing rhetoric is in special class of politics. #

However, the fact that *I* am persuaded by that doesn’t win the ‘well what if the situation was reversed’ argument. Because a right wing twat can easily convince themselves that (say) Stella Creasy, Jess Phillips or Diane Abbot are pursuing ‘hate’ policies against men. #

Meanwhile, others will claim that the milkshake throwing direct action approach should also apply to a wider group of politicians, not just Farage/UKIP/Robinson types. Very easy to argue that TERFs should be included, for e.g. Or the parents protesting LGBTQ education in Brum. #

Also easy to argue that Tory social policy is just sufficiently damaging to people as alt.right racism and sexism. That right wing climate change denialism is just as harmful. #

So the list of people for whom it is ‘acceptable’ to throw milkshakes over will grow and grow. You’ll always find someone willing to give themselves ‘permission’ to expand the group who ‘deserve’ it. #

Similarly, you’ll always find people willing to give themselves permission to ‘improve’ upon the milkshake protest. Throwing *blood* on someone doesn’t actually hurt them, for example. Easy to rationalise that as a political act. #

Similarly again you’ll always find people willing to give themselves permission to widen the targets beyond the politician. We’ve seen MPs offices and staff get targeted in the past. Soon we’ll see Farage’s staff get ‘shaked too. And why not: “They chose to work for a Nazi.” #

We’ve also seen the families of politicians receive abuse. Even Jacob Rees-Moggs kids, and plenty on the left excused that. Why not Nigel Farage’s wife? After all “she chose to marry a Nazi. If I ever marry a Nazi you have my permission to ‘shake me.” #

Put all these together and you could have a situation where political staff and their families start receiving incredibly scary threats and suffering physical, symbolic acts, because their boss supports an “obviously” treacherously policy like #Revoke or abortion. #

It’s rare that I post anything saying ‘I told you so’ but I think the predictions above have been vindicated by subsequent incidents.

On the day of the election, images circulated of an old man who had been canvassing for the Brexit party, covered in milkshake. There was some doubt as to the veracity of the incident (was he in Aldershot or Lincoln?) and I was uneasy that many people on the progressive left were quick to try to discredit the reports, as if their earlier applause for the ‘shaking of Robinson and Farage had not given tacit permission to other activists to go out an do the same to Brexit party activists. If it was a ‘PR stunt from the Bannon playbook’ then it was effective precisely because of the left’s earlier enthusiasm for the practice when directed at Farage.

Today, footage appeared on social media of a crowd of anti-Trump protestors shouting at a Trump supporter in their midst.

This an ugly scene, which anyone who claims to be anti-Trump and anti-racist should condemn.

Many people might have posted a subtle opinion online, noting the Karl Popper paradox that ‘intolerance cannot be tolerated.’ Others will have affirmed that the dairy products should only be aimed at politicians, not activists or bystanders. And still others will have said that the throwing of a milkshake is a small thing compared to the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016.

Yes to all these points. But such delineation gets lost in the hullaballo of street politics. This crowd’s intimidation of this man is the predictable and inevitable end result of all our guffawing about milkshakes. These people are supposed to be on ‘my side’ of the political debate, and yet they are behaving like precisely the people we claim to oppose. They distract from the thousands of sensible protesters who were no doubt waving ironic placards nearby, and they invite an equally aggressive response from the other side, next time around.

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