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The Tories’ imaginary world

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Summary:
Sometimes, the Tories offer us a glimpse into their psychology. So it was yesterday when Sarah Vine tweeted: Watching the #RestaurantMakesMistakes and astonished to learn that people with dementia struggle to get benefits. Is this true? And if so, how is this not a national scandal? What she’s expressing here is the cognitive dissonance that her own party’s policies actually have nasty effects upon real people. Her consternation arises from the fact that, for many Tories, this is not supposed to happen. Many of them, I suspect, are not actually evil but rather guilty of a recklessness that comes from a particular conception of politics – a conception which sees it as a game of positioning, and of pandering to the imagined world of the Daily Mail. Politics is a post-modern activity

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Sometimes, the Tories offer us a glimpse into their psychology. So it was yesterday when Sarah Vine tweeted:

Watching the #RestaurantMakesMistakes and astonished to learn that people with dementia struggle to get benefits. Is this true? And if so, how is this not a national scandal?

What she’s expressing here is the cognitive dissonance that her own party’s policies actually have nasty effects upon real people. Her consternation arises from the fact that, for many Tories, this is not supposed to happen. Many of them, I suspect, are not actually evil but rather guilty of a recklessness that comes from a particular conception of politics – a conception which sees it as a game of positioning, and of pandering to the imagined world of the Daily Mail. Politics is a post-modern activity in which words and appearances are everything and consequences and reality are nothing.

So for example:

 - Benefit sanctions are supposed to crack down on cheats and malingerers, not real, deserving people. It is only when these appear on TV that the illusion – and it has been just that for years – is broken.

 - The “hostile environment” policy was meant to remove illegal immigrants rather than members of the Windrush generation who are, remember, 100% British.

 - Austerity was intended to establish prudent control of the nation’s finances. The fact that it has killed thousands is at best, a mere statistic, and at worst just another controversial claim.

 - Brexit is about prioritizing a conception of national sovereignty over GDP. And GDP is a mere statistic, not the jobs and livelihoods of real people. What was so transgressive about Jeremy Hunt’s promise this week to shut down Titan Steel Wheels was that he broke this illusion, and linked what is supposed to be a mere abstraction to the lives of real people. SarahMichael

All of this is possible because for Tories – at least professional ones in the media-political Bubble - politics is a reified activity separate from ground truth. Robert Protherough and John Pick have described how modern management “deals largely in symbols and abstractions...[with] little direct contact with the organization's workers, with the production of its goods or services, or with its customers.” For Tories, politics is like that. It’s a cosy game in which nobody is supposed to get seriously hurt: the losers only leave to get well-paid sinecures from fund management companies.

Of course, if we had a functioning media, reality would intrude. But we don’t, so it often doesn’t. The truth is difficult and complicated and in John Humphrys’ revealing words “a wee bit technical and I’m sure people are fed up to the back teeth of all this talk of stuff most of us don’t clearly understand.” Bubble journalists are much happier covering the Tory leadership race than they are at analysing the real-world effects of actual Tory policies - a preference which generates sympathy for charlatans rather than experts. As Tom Mills says, the BBC “will aim to fairly and accurately reflect the balance of opinion amongst elites.” That can efface ground truth.

The upshot is that our media-political establishment conforms to what Kenneth Boulding said (pdf) back in 1966:

 All organizational structures tend to produce false images in the decision-maker, and that the larger and more authoritarian the organization, the better the chance that its top decision-makers will be operating in purely imaginary worlds.

The problem which Ms Vine discovered this week, though, is that reality has a nasty tendency to intrude occasionally into the imaginary world.

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