Nigel Farage has fallen victim to milkshake attacks, following Carl Benjamin and Tommy Robinson. Farage is paying the price for milking populist Brexit sentiment.

With voters deserting the major parties, desserts now appear to be making a splash. A straw poll suggested Mr Farage could scoop a victory and cream off votes from the Conservatives. However today, Mr Farage was taken to the cleaners.

But the key take-away, is that Brexit does comes in a variety of flavours and consistencies: from soft to hard. With a plain vanilla Brexit now unpopular with voters, the debate will continue until the cows come home. Whatever the outcome, UK politics has been shaken up.

Enter ‘Milkgate’

Those on the left complain about Farage as a politician whose rhetoric and vitriol assisted in leading to an MP Jo Cox being shot and stabbed, while he complains about a milkshake being the wrong flavour. For some, he is a far-right demagogue and aspiring dictator, desperate to turn the UK into a carbon copy of the US, replete with privatised healthcare.

Incidentally, we were a reasonable and tolerant society. Note, past tense. We overlooked Liam Fox abusing public expenses to bring his friends on a free holiday while alleging to be on government business. We tolerated other MPs stealing money from the public purse by expense fiddling. Before that we tolerated the government closing factories and mines and leaving millions of people without rehabilitation, retraining or hope. And we tolerate a quarter of UK children living in poverty and 14 million in the country according to the UN Poverty Report for the UK which only 14 MPs debated.

Perhaps some have had enough?

Today Milkshakes, Tomorrow Bike Locks?

Maybe some individuals are not tolerant at all. They may claim they are. But they are not. And this need not be exclusive to ‘far-right’ activists. It could be applied to those on the ‘far-left’ or religious groups that brand you a ‘fascist’ or similar for not automatically agreeing with their worldview or accommodating theirs. You are simply out to stir up discontent and spread hatred.

If today is milkshakes, then tomorrow is drain cleaner; the day after battery acid, and then before you know it is terrorism. It’s a slippery slope, but it should not be taken lightly considering Britain is one of the few nations on earth that enjoys such high tolerance.

Brits are generally a reasonable bunch. What is curious is that even when people do lose the plot, the UK’s weapon of choice is egging, cream pies and now the milkshake. Politicians know the risk they are running, that from time to time they are likely to be peppered with some soft non-lethal foodstuff.

Other countries elections involve guns, knives and bombs. Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro’s election campaign saw him stabbed while in a parade march.

Britain comes from a long history of heckling and clearing out the kitchen pantry on politicians we disagreed with. Not so long ago, ink was the projectile of choice. Such visceral discontent with a viewpoint drives people to resort to such public displays of hostility. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader of the opposition, was egged in a Mosque; through to Tommy Robinson and Conservative campaigner Colm Lock at the Conservative Party Conference. It doesn’t matter what the politics is – it is about demonstrating in a physical manner, their dissent of the views expressed.

Should we be tolerant of this at all? Perhaps we would be better off being an intolerant society. Intolerant of violence no matter how seemingly trivial.

Generally, the perpetrators are caught by the various police overseeing and then serve a short jail spell or community service to ensure these events don’t go further.

The man who threw the milkshake over Farage in Newcastle, Paul Crowther, has been charged with common assault and criminal damage for the incident.

It seems an accord was reached in England after the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 that violence would not be tolerated on British soil. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists had one of their members blinded by being struck with an iron bar by anti-fascist demonstrators.

The Lactose Intolerant Society – An Exercise in Moral Relativity?

We have already lost Jo Cox and UKIP’s Carl Benjamin has been talking about raping MP Jess Philips.

Just this week Tory Councillor in Lanarkshire, Scotland, Graeme Campbell and wife Fiona had their BMW firebombed outside their home, destroying some of their house and damaging their neighbour’s home. Were a passer-by not banging on the front door alerting them to the danger, they may have all suffocated or been engulfed by flames. Mr Campbell commented, “Whoever did this is trying to bully me and get me to shut up and back off from a particular case.”

To say “it’s only milkshakes” is to use moral relativity and self-proclaimed moral superiority to justify aggression by branding opposition as evil and you as virtuous. Moral relativity believes there is no universal standard of right and wrong, but judgements are based entirely on the context of time and place: when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

When you do this, the standards as to how we should all equally operate in political discourse disintegrates, and all bets are off. It started with Pim Fortuyn having food thrown at him in 2002. He was later assassinated. The reality stands that throwing a milkshake at someone is a violation of personal space and therefore a violence act. The trouble with moral relativity, is its potential to escalate. One day it is milkshakes, the next it is bike locks. You give a mouse a cookie, it will want a glass of milk.

There isn’t really a good justification for progressives to radicalise others against these political bogeymen, all on the basis they have subjectively deemed all who do not think like them as fascists. Such a strict stance becomes problematic because it only makes sense if everyone to the right of them is by default a fascist. Were they to admit none of their opponents are fascists, or even all that fond of big government (Farage), never mind a totalitarian one (Robinson), their whole ideology falls apart. Then they would be faced with the reality that far from being the paragons of virtue they see themselves as. Instead, they would have to come to terms with the reality of being a rather unpleasant bunch of people.

Mainstream Media Polarising Discourse

The irresponsibility of the mainstream media in failing to condemn these milkshake acts is damaging to the fabric of political discourse and encourages fundamentalism, polarising those across the political channels.

Tony Blair recognised the disservice it is doing to Remainers, showing they have lost the debate in resorting to such tactics.  He commented on Farage’s milkshaking with: “We’ve got to get out of this situation where if you disagree with someone, you stop them speaking, you disrupt their meetings, you throw things over them, it’s ridiculous.”

Asked whether he admired Nigel Farage, Mr Blair responded: “I think he’s an effective communicator, so I admire that bit of him, but I disagree with him.”

Ricky Gervais, another Remainer, thinks that they have “run out of good arguments”.

While mainstream media overlooks these attacks as innocuous, they also give far too much airtime to individuals like Farage. This leads to a sense of despair among those with alternative views who feel he is being given too much media exposure and have little other option but to use milkshakes to silence or suppress them. Exposure that is hate speech or in the case of Brexit campaigning lies and misleading the gullible voters astray with false promises. In so doing, dividing opinion further between Remain and Leave, while also being accused of spreading xenophobia and nationalist sentiment without rebuke.  

Whether or not our great-grandchildren are taught about the milkshake wars in school in 100 years or not, who knows. What should be acknowledged is the people that throw milkshakes and then appear shocked they have been hit in the face several times are the type of people that display awards for the parent finishing 6th in the parent’s egg and spoon race on their child’s sports days.

Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance

There is tolerance, and then there is letting foul beliefs propagate without being challenged adequately so the discourse balance falls out of equilibrium.

Karl Popper expressed the seemingly paradoxical idea in ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ during WWII that, “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.”

If a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. This can be animal right’s activists that would force everybody to be vegan, through to antifa demonstrators committing violent acts to suppress alternative thought, or nationalists presenting xenophobic speeches and marches. It is not an exclusive necessary condition they must be right-wing and ‘radical’. Popper believed we should reserve the right to suppress intolerant individuals if necessary, should they not meet us with rational argument.

Where we are not adequately prepared to defend against such an onslaught, for instance, by keeping intolerant individuals in check with public opinion and rational argument; we will eventually cede in giving them the freedom to remove tolerance themselves. Then they will dictate the terms of play and who gets to participate or engage in public discourse. History is littered with this descent into tyranny, with the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of Hitler being two notable examples.

While milkshakes are not very tolerant or respectful of different viewpoints, many feel it is hard to fight Farage & Co’s bombardment. This is largely because they are rather well-informed and eloquently persuasive as Tony Blair points out. They appeal with simple, easily digestible and memorable attacks that are difficult to counter with debate, especially for many who struggle to put their thoughts and feelings into such silver-tongued defences.

The danger that arises with giving too much freedom to intolerant people is radicalisation. Intolerant people spread propaganda, pseudoscience or brainwash you with religious beliefs to win you over to their cause. This can take the shape and size of anything from the echo chambers of small social media threads to terrorist organisations like ISIS.

European Election Campaign Bloodbath

While Mr Farage came back the next day with his suit freshly dry cleaned, his Brexit party has certainly swept the floor at the European elections. Whether his party is simply a protest vote against the shameful gridlock and in-faction bickering in the Tories is unknown. But if the 2016 Brexit Referendum is anything to go by, there is underlying nationalist sentiment to protect our small isle from hoards of African or Arabic invaders, including by those immigrants whose families migrated here after 1945 to help Britain rebuild.

How we deal with intolerance?

What is unlikely to go away anytime soon is some protester who’s prepared to spend some time in a cell for spoiling another politician’s suit. How we deal with intolerance will continue to plague British society. Whether it is banning social media access to individuals like Tommy Robinson, removing their platforms to campaign and effectively put across their message; through to tackling antifa or nationalist sects. We should take heed in Popper’s message from his paradox of tolerance. To suppress freedom of speech too much is a step toward authoritarian rule, and to allow its free rein to go unchecked may lead to demagogues seizing the microphones and rallying in the streets.

Whatever vision you may have for society, it is an intractable problem. Every way of thinking that now exists, ever has or ever will, is lodged deep in the minds of the designers of that way of thinking. There is no way out of the dilemma. Filter bubbles (echo chambers) from censorship, selective reporting and as we move further online, algorithms with the sole purpose of only reinforcing our belief systems; moral relativism is a fact of human experience that will never be solved. Thereby, to subjectively claim righteous superiority over another’s differing belief system takes us places we really don’t want to repeat from history.

Given the level of interaction going on today in cosmopolitan Britain, the moral relativists are signing us all up for WWIII or a more discerning yet seditious politician to pursue their own righteous vision that only they can see for British society, leading to authoritarian rule. The question of how to settle disputes between these cultures remains unanswered bar suggestions of ‘integration’ and ‘inclusivity’. It’s like cranking up the Fahrenheit for the frog in a pan of water being brought to the boil, just tell me when to stop…