Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Current craze for drenching politicians on the far-Right only makes them stronger

Making Nigel Farage a 'milkshake martyr' is trivial but ultimately counterproductive, says Fionola Meredith

Nigel Farage (right) after being hit by a milkshake during a walkabout this week in Newcastle
Nigel Farage (right) after being hit by a milkshake during a walkabout this week in Newcastle
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

Nobody has ever thrown a milkshake at me - so far - but I can imagine how it feels. First the shock of the sudden cold splash, as the cup hits you, then the rising smell of sickly-sweet dairy, and finally the mortifying realisation that you look as though you've been dive-bombed by a flock of incontinent seagulls. And then the aftermath, when the horrible stickiness soaks in and starts gluing your trousers to your legs. Nasty.

Just ask Nigel Farage, who was milkshaked - or should that be milkshook? Either way, he was thoroughly doused - as he performed a political walkabout in Newcastle this week.

An opportunistic bystander, hovering nearby, took the chance to lunge at the Brexit party leader, wielding a Five Guys banana and salted caramel milkshake and - splat! Got him. Nige wasn't happy. "Complete failure," he grumbled, as he was hustled off in his soggy suit, the thick white liquid pooling and squelching in his man-of-the-people brogues. "Could have spotted that a mile away."

Indeed. How Farage's security staff missed Paul Crowther, who has now been charged with common assault and criminal damage, I can't imagine. Crowther had all the usual external attributes of a certain type of Remain-fuelled Jeremy Corbyn admirer: a chunky 30-something bloke with beard, bald head, rectangular glasses and a manga t-shirt. Check, check, check and check. I mean, it's practically a uniform. All that, plus the milkshake in his hand, should have marked him out as a potential splat-merchant.

And it's not as if it hasn't happened before. Assorted flavours of milkshake have been flying through the air lately and landing on Right-wing politicians. McDonald's in Edinburgh even temporarily stopped selling them, at the request of police, when Farage came to town. The far-Right thug and aspiring EU parliamentary candidate Tommy Robinson - or, to give him his real name, the much posher sounding Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - recently took a strawberry one to the face, the second time in two days he'd been splattered. Meanwhile, Ukip's Carl Benjamin has been positively dripping with dairy, clocking up four milkshakings in a week.

What has been so extraordinary is the anguished reaction. Like I say, I understand that it's not nice to be intimately acquainted with the contents of a stranger's McFlurry. Politics should be about democratic debate, not childish stunts - yes, yes, I know. But for God's sake, we're only talking about milkshakes here, nothing worse. Get a grip.

Neil Hamilton, the disgraced former Tory MP and current high-profile Ukipper, tweeted that Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was attacked with cake in 2002, before being shot dead two months later. This is hysterical and highly confused talk. You can't imply any kind of causal connection between someone throwing cake and somebody else subsequently wielding a gun.

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Hugo Rifkind, a columnist in the Times, claimed that the craze for dousing political opponents was not so very different from punching them. Eh? Here's the crucial difference: one is violent, painful and might break your nose, the other merely makes you look like a bemused toddler at an out-of-control ice-cream fight. The only thing that gets bruised, in the second instance, is the politician's vanity. Their pomposity is instantly punctured, nothing else.

Politicians, whatever their colours, used to be made of tougher stuff, mostly shrugging off the odd egg that came their way - and to be fair an egg, especially at close range, could be pretty sore. Milkshakes are way more comfortable. John Prescott actually thought that somebody had punched him when he got egged in 2001, which is why he swung round with a right-hook of his own.

Going still further back, when Ted Heath entered Downing Street, a woman threw red paint at him. Apparently he invited her round for tea, many years later, and she told him that if she'd known how awful subsequent prime ministers would be, she'd never have flung the paint in the first place.

Frankly, I have zero sympathy for fascist tub-thumpers like Yaxley-Lennon, or for the odious Carl Benjamin, who has "joked" about raping the Labour MP Jess Philips. As for Farage, the worst part of the business is that it only makes him stronger. He's become a kind of milkshake martyr, bravely soldiering on through the slings and arrows of strawberry, banana, chocolate and vanilla to lead his people to the promised immigrant-lite land. And that's profoundly depressing.

Given the growing popularity of milkshaking as a form of political dissent, I'm surprised it hasn't happened in Northern Ireland yet. Perhaps it's because we're too civilised - or too smart to waste a tasty drink by throwing it at a swaggering bloke in a suit.

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