If social media is anything to go by, it is likely the number of Google searches for the lyrics to Kelis’ well-known hit, “Milkshake” will have increased dramatically. As Nigel Farage, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and Carl Benjamin (aka Sargon of Akkad) have been repeatedly doused in milkshakes from a range of different outlets while campaigning for the European elections, so more and more memes based on her lyrics have appeared.
What is interesting about the ‘milkshaking’ phenomenon is how it appears to have developed quite organically: an act of protest against the presence of the radical right by ordinary people in their own towns and cities. While the first incident doesn’t appear to have been planned – an allegedly spontaneous response to seeing Yaxley-Lennon in Warrington by local man, Danyaal Mahmud – the spectacle clearly caught the attention of the public (and the world’s media). Since then, others have felt compelled to do the same as part of their planned protest. To this extent, police have recently begun asking nearby outlets not to sell milkshakes when certain radical right figures are planning to visit for campaign events and rallies.
While so, the latest milkshaking incident involving Farage has drawn condemnation. Of those milkshaked, the response has been obvious. Farage used the incident to make a point about Brexit by suggesting that some ‘Remainers’ had become “radicalised” while Yaxley-Lennon again offered himself up as a martyr, claiming that “no amount of punches, milkshakes, attacks or anything is going to stop me”.
Others have joined in with the condemnation. These include the former Prime Minister Tony Blair who claimed milkshaking to be “horrible and ridiculous and people shouldn’t do it“, Change UK’s Anne Soubry who denounced it as “Unacceptable. Wrong. Unjustified”, and the Home Secretary Sajid Javid who condemned it for being “just wrong at every level”. Elsewhere, Brendan Cox – the widow of murdered Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox – has suggested that milkshaking “normalises violence and intimidation”, a sentiment shared by former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, who added “I’m not laughing along with the attack on Farage. Violence and intimidation are wrong no matter who they’re aimed at”.
Those claiming milkshaking to be political violence seem to be overlooking that this is in fact merely the latest incarnation of a long held British tradition. Back in 1970 the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson had a raw egg thrown at him after which he told onlookers, “If the Tories get in, in five years no one will be able to afford to buy an egg”. Around the turn of the century, the former agriculture minister, Nick Brown had a cream cake pushed into his face while a few years ago, Ed Miliband was egged when campaigning in south east London in 2014. Farage too was egged in the same year while campaigning in Nottingham.
What is important here is context. Those being targeted for a good milkshaking have, for years, been saying and doing things that many feel have contributed to a climate where hate crime figures have risen to record levels and where major political violence has been manifested. Just this week – albeit with far fewer column inches attributed to it – research has shown that Britain’s ethnic minorities have been facing rising and increasingly overt racism since the Brexit referendum.
Take Farage. During the last European elections and on the day Farage himself unveiled UKIP’s now infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster, the aforementioned Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death on a Yorkshire street by Thomas Mair. Mair was himself someone who had been inspired by radical right ideologies. Insensitively, Farage went on to claim a few days later that the success of UKIP in the elections had come “without a single bullet being fired”. Seemingly having failed to learn anything, Farage has more recently claimed he will “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the frontlines” if Brexit isn’t delivered.
As regards Yaxley-Lennon, he came to prominence as the former leader of the English Defence League (EDL) and Pegida UK both of which – somewhat ironically – sought to take political action to the streets. Both movements not only had extreme and overt anti-Muslim views but so too went some way to ensuring those same views found a way into the mainstream. While leader of the EDL, Yaxley-Lennon not only declared that “every single Muslim…got away” with murdering and killing on 7/7 but so too threatened every Muslim with violence if other similar terror attacks occurred. And barring a brief period of contrived penitence, Yaxley-Lennon has a long history of repeatedly making hateful comments about Muslims.
As Aditya Chakrabortty witheringly puts it, Benjamin’s most notable life achievement has been to make a ‘joke’ about the MP Jess Phillips getting raped. While West Midlands Police are currently investigating whether an offence was committed, Phillips claims she has since been confronted on the street by someone asking why Benjamin isn’t allowed to make ‘jokes’ about raping her. Benjamin too has a history of using slurs including the ‘N-word’, ‘faggot’ and ‘retard’ among others. Elsewhere, Benjamin has been accused of being anti-semitic and misogynistic. He is also being investigated by Wiltshire Police after comments he made online about the age of consent.
In this context, it seems farcical to claim that throwing a milkshake is ‘violence and intimidation’. Even more so that milkshaking will ‘normalise’ violence when those being doused routinely espouse explicit messages of hate and violence.
Because of this, milkshaking has to be seen as a form of political protest. More precisely, a form of political protest against the radical right and the wholly divisive views those affiliated with it routinely espouse. It is not and cannot be argued as political violence on the basis that milkshaking does not intend to harm or injure anyone: it merely sets out to make people feel silly and look embarrassed in front of the media’s cameras. At its worst, milkshaking humiliates a very small number of people who for many years have derogatorily targeted vast swathes of people for no reason other than their ‘race’, religion, gender, sexual identity or disability. It is this, surely, that deserves the greater censure and condemnation than a few errant milkshakes.
Dr Chris Allen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and an Associate Professor in the Centre for Hate Studies at the University of Leicester. See his profile here:
© Chris Allen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).