After UKIP general secretary Paul Oakley likened his party to the “Black Death”, social media users have responded exactly as you might expect.
Mr Oakley was speaking to Nick Robinson on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Friday morning after disastrous local election results for UKIP, which has been all but wiped out.
UKIP was established with one key policy – to leave the European Union. In 2015, the party won 12.6% of the vote at the general election. But since the 2016 referendum in which Britain elected to leave the EU, it has seen its support collapse.
“Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages,” Mr Oakley said. “It comes along, it causes disruption then it goes dormant. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
The unlikely analogy has captured the imagination of social media users, with the term ‘Black Death’ trending in the UK in the hours after Mr Oakley’s surprise comparison.
— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) May 4, 2018
End of Twitter post by @bbcnickrobinson
New Statesman deputy editor Helen Lewis, due to appear on Radio 4 immediately after Mr Oakley, suddenly found herself at a loss for words.
Pro tip: never go live on Radio 4 seconds after the man from UKIP has compared his Party to the Black Death, which he argued was a good thing because – AFTER KILLING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE – it led to the end of serfdom and thus the Renaissance.
— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) May 4, 2018
End of Twitter post by @helenlewis
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The Black Death is estimated to have killed tens of millions of people across Europe. So not everyone thought the comparison, or Mr Oakley’s apparent defence of the plague, was entirely apt.
The official Twitter account of the Wellcome Collection, a museum documenting medical and scientific history, had some simple words of advice for the UKIP general secretary.
Journalist Peter Thal Larsen was more circumspect. “Say what you like about the Black Death,” he tweeted, “but it addressed ordinary people’s very real concerns about overpopulation, which medieval elites had totally ignored.”
Even former UKIP chairman Steve Crowther, “hardly able to function through gales… of laughter”, described the comment as “the most perfectly UKIP-y thing I have ever heard”.
The political quote of the century from UKIP GenSec @PaulJamesOakley on R4 just now: “UKIP is like the Black Death”. Hardly able to function through gales – nay, spasms – of laughter. The most perfectly UKIP-y thing I have ever heard.
— Steve Crowther (@SJCrowtherUkip) May 4, 2018
End of Twitter post by @SJCrowtherUkip
But not everyone thought the comparison was entirely inappropriate. Journalists Jonn Elledge and Martha Gill both saw certain parallels. On the one hand, the joke runs, you have an unstoppable, infectious force which shook Europe. On the other, there’s the Black Death.
However, Mr Oakley appears to have taken it all in his stride. Shortly after his appearance on Today, he tweeted an image of the Twitter trends with a thumbs-up.