Culture / Politics

What Katie did (badly)

The departure of Katie Hopkins from LBC Radio this week – ‘by mutual agreement’ – was achieved with a minimum of teeth-gnashing and wailing on the part of the public. Even, so far as I can tell, on the part of the LBC audience.

For those who don’t listen to LBC, let me explain why this might be. Put simply, she’s not very good at presenting a phone-in programme.

This is not the consequence of her opinions. Indeed on LBC, confronted by members of the public, she tended to downplay her more rabid assertions. It’s much easier to be ‘edgy’ and ‘controversial’ from the privacy of a computer keyboard or in the company of other media figures than it is in real life. I know that phone-in shows aren’t quite real life, of course, but on commercial radio they last so long that they feel like they might be. Poses and posers get found out pretty damn quick.

The point is that the art of being a phone-in host does not depend on holding the right political beliefs. Nigel Farage, for example – who remains one of LBC’s hosts – is actually quite good at the job. So too, on the opposite side, was George Galloway when he had his regular show on TalkSport.

Neither is ever going to gain admittance to the pantheon of greats, where one will find the likes of Brian Hayes, Vanessa Feltz and Clive Bull, all presided over by Tommy Boyd. But both men do really believe what they’re saying. Which means they can argue from a position of confidence. They’ve been fighting their corners for many years.

More than that, they’re genuinely interested in politics. They don’t need – or appear to want – simple agreement and praise. Not when there’s a debate to be had. Ultimately, they want to change minds through argument. (Listeners’ minds, obviously, not that of the caller in question: callers take great pride in refusing to change their minds.)

Hopkins didn’t have any of that. The impression she gave was one of insecurity, that she needed the embrace of the converted to sustain her. It was hard to believe that she believed in anything much, other than her own career. Consequently she lacked the authority that is a prerequisite of being successful at the job, along with almost (but not quite) endless patience and the ability to draw people out. Without these elements, standards slip, the audience drifts away, and the quality of caller falls very rapidly.

Presenting a phone-in show is much more difficult than it sounds. That’s one of the reasons why TalkSport have so few phone-ins; apart from Danny Kelly, they don’t have anyone capable of hosting one. Even those who are good at it – say, James O’Brien – need years of experience to shore up their talent.

So Hopkins was shown the door at LBC as a consequence of a tweet she sent in the wake of the Manchester bombing, in which she suggested that we needed a ‘final solution’ to the problem of terrorism. But I doubt that her bosses were particularly upset at having to let her go. Because the truth was she simply wasn’t up to the job.

It would be wrong to say that she’ll be sorely missed.


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