Gaby Hinsliff: Why ‘milkshaking’ might not be so funny after all

This is what the so-called Milkshake Spring is really all about, says Gaby Hinsliff


by Gaby Hinsliff |
Updated on

What’s thick, usually white, and driving people in politics bananas?

The answer, of course, is milkshake, and its unexpected role in the European parliamentary elections.

The vogue for throwing drinks as a form of political protest stems originally from a standoff on a Bury street in early May, involving the far-right wannabe MEP Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and a passer-by holding a cup of McDonalds’ finest. Police are still investigating, so let’s just say that Yaxley-Lennon ended up dripping, the whole thing went viral, and a milkshaking phenomenon was born.

Carl Benjamin, the UKIP candidate who once tweeted that he ‘wouldn’t even rape’ Labour’s Jess Phillips, was next to get doused. Then Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage last week found himself in the sticky stuff, courtesy of a £5.25 salted caramel and banana number. Dairy products haven’t been so big on the internet since the summer of the milkshake duck meme.

But for all the sniggering, this phenomenon started in a fairly scary place – a young Asian guy on his way home from work, stumbling across a convicted thug seeking power in his home town - and some fear it could end in one, too. What protestors often forget is that the other side can protest right back, and in the current climate it's not hard to imagine things turning nasty. The pro-referendum campaigner Femi Oluwole had water thrown over him outside a pro-Brexit rally last week. Would it be funny if Jess Phillips had drinks tipped over her by misogynistic thugs insisting that it’s just a harmless prank? Or if Change UK's Anna Soubry was soaked by yellow vest protestors? What distinguishes the milkshake spring of 2019 from a long history of protestors egging politicians is that post-Brexit, everything has taken a darker turn.

Being pelted with food isn't fun, but in the past it meant nothing worse than a dry-cleaning bill. Ed Miliband laughed off an egging in 2015, but when it happened to Jeremy Corbyn this year, supporters were outraged and the egg-thrower was jailed. In the current toxic climate, anyone under police protection is likely to be shaken by a stranger getting close enough to strike - and there's always the possibility of something worse than milkshake ultimately being thrown. Brendan Cox, whose Labour MP wife Jo was murdered during the Brexit referendum campaign, tweeted that much as he can’t stand Farage’s politics, 'I don’t think throwing stuff at politicians you disagree with is a good idea. It normalises violence and intimidation and we should consistently stand against it.'

Yet others have drawn exasperated comparisons between the fuss over milkshakes and the woeful failure to act over far more serious threats against women politicians. When Farage complained about 'radicalised remainers' disrupting campaigning, co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party Sophie Walker retorted: 'I wish you’d shown this level of outrage when Jo Cox was murdered, rather than when you got milk thrown at you'. Voters who feel personally anxious at the prospect of hard-right, anti-immigrant parties rising to power may also struggle to sympathise.

With the Brexit Party topping the European parliament polls as Grazia went to press, debate about when and how it's best to protest may well continue. But if nothing else, it’s clear that the most controversial thing you can do with a shake is no longer to stick an environmentally-unfriendly plastic straw in it.

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