By Lauren Davison
"A constant urge to play the victim we keep seeing from Tories is nothing new - in fact, it is a tactic used by conservatives globally."
For all of their talk of championing personal responsibility, Tory MPs really don’t like criticism or being held to account, do they? And they almost never demand personal responsibility from anyone but the poor.
In the week where Tories in their hundreds voted against extending free school meals to the most impoverished children in Britain, they inexplicably attempted to centre themselves as the “real victims” of the debate. Over 100 Tories wrote to Keir Starmer to demand an apology from Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner, who used “unparliamentary language” in the free school meals debate. Nicky Morgan then appeared on BBC Question Time, suggesting that the government voted Labour’s motion down because of the language used during the debate. For a government with an 80 seat majority, such fragility is astounding.
Of course, I don’t condone abuse but it takes a total lack of self-awareness for Tory MPs to pretend they are the slighted party in this whole debate - when an estimated 2.1 million children may be going without food over half term. One of the most callous phrases uttered in the whole free school meals discourse is “don’t have kids you can’t afford”. Yet that principle only seems to be applied to low-income families. When Boris Johnson complains that £150k isn’t enough to pay maintenance to his many children, no Tory supporters level the usual “live within your means” waffle at him. This constant urge to play the victim we keep seeing from Tories is nothing new - in fact, it is a tactic used by conservatives globally. Of course, Donald Trump is one of the worst offenders for this. He’s always declaring himself the victim of yet another conspiracy or witch-hunt.
Usually, it’s after conservatives have said something to diminish the rights of the vulnerable or marginalised when they feign shock and surprise at the backlash. As I write this, Tory MP Gary Sambrook has just shared a post accusing the left of “bullying” because someone spray-painted “Gary Sambrook eats big dinners” on a wall. Weird how he knows the political leanings of the author of an anonymous piece of graffiti - rather than considering it might be someone who isn’t particularly political but just abhors MPs voting to starve children.
Another Tory MP, Ben Bradley hasn’t had a great time on Twitter this week either. After insinuating that free school meals vouchers were being used to pay for drugs, a rightful backlash ensued. Strange that his opposition to drugs was never extended to Tory colleagues who have admitted using them. Of course, instead of admitting his words were wrong, Bradley decided to play the “out of context” card, effectively blaming those reading it for their interpretation. Mark Jenkinson also followed suit and, whilst careful to specify a minority of cases, suggested similar happened in his constituency. All without proof.
In fact, unverified claims seem to be the justification many Tory MPs have given their concerned constituents for their decision to vote against free school meals. Both Stoke-on-Trent North MP Jonathon Gullis and Redcar MP Jacob Young claimed that the vouchers were being used to buy tobacco, alcohol and other items, again without proof. As someone who has worked in retail, I can confirm that is untrue - the tills do not allow the purchase of items of that nature with the vouchers. Tories are repeating their usual moral panics about those living in poverty abusing the system. It is nothing more than propaganda, meant to appeal to society’s more punitive views.
"Usually, it’s after conservatives have said something to diminish the rights of the vulnerable or marginalised when they feign shock and surprise at the backlash."
Is it a deliberate diversionary ploy to take the heat off of the original incident, and make them mad at their staggering lack of self-awareness and fragility? Perhaps. But maybe that assessment is too generous; implying that they don’t genuinely believe themselves to be the real victims. The problem is, many of their supporters also espouse the same views and behavioural patterns. How often do we see conservatives such as Laurence Fox or Katie Hopkins say outrageously offensive things, and then clutch their pearls when they have to face the music? Seeing Darren Grimes clamour to pretend he is being censored or Young Tories insisting that being a conservative is the new counter-culture becomes a bit too much to bear when you remember the Tories have an 80 seat majority.
White fragility can succinctly be described as white people deploying various tactics to silence discussions of racial inequality, in order to maintain the status quo they benefit from.
It is when you look at concepts such as white fragility, that perhaps it could be said that a certain level of conservative fragility afflicts many on the right. This is why many conservatives ignore science and evidence. It makes them uncomfortable - and that’s what conservative fragility aims to avoid. Any form of discomfort or culpability for issues of their own creation. It’s why so many of those who normally scream about the importance of a strong criminal justice system and obeying the law, are now demanding an end to lockdown, decrying mandatory mask-wearing or are flouting the rules altogether. They’re entirely happy to point the finger at those who break the law in normal times - it doesn’t affect them, but make them follow strict rules and all hell breaks loose. In the age of social media, it’s almost too easy to whip up fear and insecurity - by citing mistruths that many won’t bother to check the veracity of (i.e free school meals vouchers being traded for drugs).
"It is when you look at concepts such as white fragility, that perhaps it could be said that a certain level of conservative fragility afflicts many on the right."
It weaves a common thread through many - not just Tory - right-wing campaigns and policy stances. Basically, anything that Conservative policy has made worse, they will avoid the topic of altogether. It explains why Tories didn’t vote for Labour’s demand for free school meal extension - they’d be admitting it was a problem of their creation. It explains why many conservatives are climate change deniers - many of the interests of big business are antithetical to combating climate change. It’s why many conservatives claim child poverty in Britain is a myth - that definitions of it are “too generous” or that it’s all down to personal choice.
They want all of the power, with none of the accountability. It is more comfortable to pretend an issue doesn’t exist than deal with and admit your part in causing it.
Lauren Davison is a postgraduate criminologist, and Labour Party member, who is passionate about Justice reform and pushing the Labour party to prioritise evidence-based policy.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.