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.