Oh, Laurie, you just don't do irony, do you?

Laurie Penny has a right not to suffer an extreme level of abuse that breaks the law. But when she makes a career of provocation, she has to accept that abuse comes with the territory

Stalin? Mao? No, that's just Laurie Penny
Jonathan Bracey Gibbon
On 2 February 2012 15:44

Laurie Penny is being supported over what is perceived as an unacceptable level of abuse on twitter. This is not news of course, she has recently been defended against varying degrees of abuse from trolls at the New Statesman and The Guardian, and just about everywhere it would seem.

Only this week Yahoo hack, Brian Whelan sought to out a student who lost his rag with the provocative Ms Penny in a manner that was deemed unacceptable by, well, some people. Here’s what he said:

I consider myself to be a gentleman, a real man hardwired genetically to protect and sacrifice for the opposite sex. However, I genuinely believe I could strangle this woman to death without even a slight twitch of mercy. I’d just calmly smile as her life slowly leaves her body which turns blue beneath me. Back in five minutes, just need a quick wanna [sic]

The blog Anna Racoon duly defended Penny further with legal rigour also deeming the student's tweet beyond the pale and the law quoting the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act. The miscreant was summarily hunted down, exposed, threatened and duly apologised.

In the context of some of the stuff of which Ms. Penny has apparently been on the receiving end, this is pretty lame. But in the context of the cauldron that is twitter you see far worse tweets by their thousands, usually on Thursday night around 10.30-11.30 aimed at #c***ontheright, or something equally charming, on BBC's Question Time. Put Katie Hopkins on QT and the leftist invective moves so fast, Tweetdeck resembles an on-screen waterfall. This, by and large, is Laurie's online Tory-hating constituency.

At risk of being left castrated by the sisterhood in a quiet wood somewhere in the Home Counties, I'm not alone in suggesting Ms P develops a hide to complement her spleen.

Demonstrably illegal harassment is one thing, but does she really need chivalrous hacks to put the frighteners on a student who's had one snakebite too many? There's something distinctly hypocritical here. And it comes from Laurie herself and her turn-it-up-to-11 modus operandi.

Almost out of nowhere, Laurie Penny has ploughed a blistering furrow of activist polemic, evolving into a forceful standard bearer for the age of ignorance-driven angst. In the past few years one could be forgiven for thinking she not only provides PR for Protests-R-Us, but runs the whole franchise. If you're angry enough, you're old enough.

Acquiring vast amounts of Air Miles and generating a carbon footprint the size of Australia, Laurie criss-crosses the globe like a teenage Vanessa Redgrave on an extended gap year, searching out pockets of protest wherever they may be found. iPhone in one hand and shiny NUJ card in the other, she acts like an activist Bat-child, answering the call from her cave of solidarity.

However, unlike one of her heroes, Christopher Hitchens, you won't find her exchanging common cause with say, the unions brutalised by Saddam Hussein. No, that's the wrong sort of solidarity. She tends to head for easier fare like the Occupy movement for whom she has morphed into a sort of Agent Provocateur in DMs and piercings. Once there she finds common cause with protestors under real fire in real dictatorships. But if a policeman farts in Oakland, you'll know about it. This may be a tad unfair, but it's all good hysterical stuff if you, like me, derive a perverse enjoyment listening to the blind indignation of the new breed of youthful Stalinist.

And, though she is nothing if not genuine in her convictions, unlike Hitchens, a career-defining lurch to the right and contrarianism seems decades away, and alas, unlikely.

But all power to her. Her attempts at provoking police brutality during pointless demos on both sides of the pond have produced moments of comedy as she tweets her exploits from the barricades as Citizen Smith meets Tank Girl and emerges as Pilger in stripey tights.

Indeed provocation is Laurie's stock in trade and no platform is safe from her agenda. Only last October she was invited by Intelligence Squared to take part in a debate sold as 'Baby Boomers Have Stolen The Family Silver'. Proposing the motion with her was Universities Minister, David Willetts MP, lest we forget, author of The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future – And Why They Should Give It Back.

Doubtless the big brains at IQ2 thought it rather drôle to have Penny sharing a platform with a Tory MP. But did our Laurie conform to the niceties of the IQ2 debating protocol? Did she debate the house motion as expected by the paying audience? Not a bit of it.

When introduced by Chair, Jenni Russell - rather unfortunately, or intentionally, as the 'spokesman for the younger generation' - Laurie bounced up to the lectern, produced two sheets of crumpled A4 and within seconds tore into her own colleague as if Willets was Charles Manson on an exeat.

Two-brains rode the humiliation with barely concealed good nature, although who knows what his inner Manson might have been cooking up for the treacherous Ms Penny. Yes, it was a disgraceful piece of childish, opportunistic grandstanding which wrecked the format of the £25 a ticket debate. But then that was the point. Smashing the system. At The Royal Geographical Society.

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