The return of the Nasty Party: Now with added gaslighting

From backing the blatant hypocrisy of their leader-elect, to booing the media for confronting the facts, the Conservatives have gone all-in for Trumpism.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson at his leadership event today

Britain in 2019 is like watching a plane crash in slow motion. With every passing week, the very foundations of national stability seem to be disintegrating beneath us. Heavy industry and high street retailers are shutting down at a rate of knots. Manufacturing output has plummeted to its lowest level since 2002. Schools are turning to charities to make ends meet.

And amid the hastening devastation, we have a Tory leadership contest.

This is what crisis truly feels like, when problems are so obviously and outrageously beyond the wit of the people supposed to solve them. It’s not just the rank ineptitude and self-interest of the leadership frontrunners, as manifest in their failure to confront the realities of Brexit and the multitude of challenges facing the country. It’s also their collective embrace of cynicism bordering on malevolence.

The soon-to-depart Prime Minister Theresa May once urged the Conservatives to shed their reputation as the ‘Nasty Party’. Now her legacy includes seeing her party revive and cement this toxic identity. It’s back with a vengeance in the Tories’ callous indifference to the worsening plight of the impoverished and vulnerable, in their suppression of facts, scrutiny and ministerial accountability, and in the promotion of prejudice and outright lies.

Take some of the exchanges from Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign press conference today. With his propensity for empty bluster and casual racism, the former London mayor is often compared to US President Donald Trump, but it seems the Tories are now coalescing around these tactics too. So when a journalist challenged Johnson on his previous offensive comments about Muslim women, a group of Tory MP shouted out and booed in support of their leadership favourite.

Discrediting the media has been one of the hallmarks of Trump’s presidency – part of a wider pattern of behaviour known as gaslighting. This refers to a form of psychological manipulation which causes people to doubt their own perceptions of reality. Trump is a master gaslighter because he brazenly disputes facts to suit his own ends. Dismissing negative press coverage is all part of that.

Tory MP and Johnson supporter Liz Truss seemed to engage in a bit of gaslighting of her own while batting for her candidate in an interview today. When asked about criticism of Johnson’s handling of the imprisonment of British-Iranian citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe during his time as Foreign Secretary, she suggested that such critics were simply being “apologists” for the Iranian regime. It was a counterintuitive and baseless assertion designed to deflect criticism away from Johnson. In other words, classic gaslighting.

Even supposed Tory moderates are at it. Faced with the destructive consequences of its austerity agenda over the last decade, the Conservative Party now simply denies the reality of these consequences entirely.

In the wake of a damning UN report which found 14 million people in Britain are living in poverty and accused the government of the “systematic immiseration” of huge swathes of the population, Tory ministers like Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond dismissed the findings outright, claiming they lacked rigour and objectivity. The strategy seems to be that if you just deny the evidence, you’re no longer responsible for the crime.

It’s becoming clearer by the day that the Tories have no answers to the enormous problems we face as a nation. Instead, the party is content to sink deeper into the cesspool of Trumpism, where gaslighting is the cure for all ills. It’s a terrifying phenomenon to behold as the country cracks under the strain of multiple crises.

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