Mark Clarke, the Tory Requires Hate?

The story of Mark Clarke and his bullying of young Conservative Party activist Elliott Johnson to suicide is horrifying. While I’m sure there are people with a sense of schadenfreude at internal problems within the Tory party, that’s an entirely wrong reaction. Anyone with a shred of empathy should feel for Elliott Johnson and his grieving parents. It’s not as though destructive bullies are confined to any one party; look at the behaviour of the late Cyril Smith in the Liberals. Politics is particularly vulnerable to these sorts of charismatic sociopaths, and all too often people overlook the harm these sorts of people can do.

I am struck by the parallels between Mark Clarke and the individual within the Science Fiction community who went under the name of “Requires Hate”. Both showed the amount of damage a manipulative sociopath in a position of influence can do to an organisation or community.

There are differences of course; Clarke was a public figure and some of his bullying took the form of public confrontations, while Requires Hate was an anonymous internet presence whose true identity wasn’t publicly known at the time.

But they had a lot in common too. Clarke embedded himself in a influential position in a estabilshed power structure, while Requires Hate constructed an extensive web of acolytes and sycophants in a community that lacked a formal hierarchy. Both used malicious false allegations and threats of blackmail as a weapon, and both ruthlessly gamed the rules of the social systems they were part of. And neither would admit their wealthy and privileged backgrounds; Clarke spun a fiction about growing up on a council estate, while Ms Hate wore her minority status on her sleeve while neglecting to mention that she was a scion of one of Thailand’s most wealthy and powerful families.

It’s easy to say that organisations and communities should get better at seeing through these sorts of people, but that’s far easier said than done. It’s much harder to spot a bad actor when they appear to share your own values.

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4 Responses to Mark Clarke, the Tory Requires Hate?

  1. Colum Paget says:

    It’s not just a matter of shared values though. We do sometimes spot abusers who share our values, because they act in ways counter to those values (“You ain’t no Muslim, Bruv”). RequiresHate was able to leverage an ideology that actually gave her permission to act as she did. She could behave as she did without breaking the rules.

    I wonder how visible Mark Clark’s behavior was to the community he operated in, because if you remember RH’s behavior was very, very public, and yet few people called her on it. Those who did were generally mobbed by her supporters. All this was possible because of an ideology that explicitly says it’s okay to silence/abuse some people, the same ideology that we’re seeing in the serial farragos at Goldsmith’s UCL (where as you know bullying and abuse is also in the mix).

    Any ideology that treats people differently on the basis of race, gender, religion, hair color, or whatever, will always be hackable by a good manipulator. If the defining characteristic is hair color than there will be endless debates about exactly what shade someone’s hair is, or whether they are ‘blonde on the inside’, or ‘think brunnette’ or have ‘internalized gingerness’. Any crack in the structure will be levered into a chasm by a skilled attacker, as RH did.

    But if we make the absolute statement that everyone has a right to speak, that no-one should be treated worse than anyone else, regardless of their identity, then there are no cracks in the moral structure. There’s nothing to be finnessed or argued.

    Only communities that make such a commitment will be robust under attack by a skilled manipulator.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Don’t forget many of the senior Tories, Mark Clarke included, grew up in an environment where bullying was endemic and considered part of the culture.

  3. And “bullying” is a style in Westminster-style parliamentary democracy (our current PM here in New Zealand is great at it). I could see that generating a certain amount of tolerance for this stuff off the bat, and abusive people generally are really good at figuring out where the tolerances of any given group are and leaning heavily on those.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Similar to workplace bullies. The ones that survive are always those with a sixth sense for identifying the victims they can isolate from the people who are too well-connected to be worth the risk. And they always kiss the arses of people with real power.