After 13 years in power, this extremist version of the Conservative party has a clear track record – and on virtually every dimension it is poor. As a result, they are now roughly 20 points behind in the polls and seem likely to lose the next election, possibly quite badly.
But they still have up to 16 months to turn the polls around – a difficult but not impossible task. On April 1, we posted a satirical piece setting out how Sunak could still aim to cling to power, using a variety of unethical tactics.
Since that piece was published, we have seen that the Conservatives are using almost all of those tactics. They have abandoned any serious pretence of delivering policies which would help the British people – eg by tackling the cost-of-living crisis or saving the NHS – and are instead focussing on disinformation and on pseudo-policies designed to divide the population, for example in their handling of refugees.
This affects each of us personally:
- They only need to get us to believe one of the messages they put out to have the desired effect – though we will find most of them ridiculous, just one is enough;
- They know exactly how to target us individually with the messages we are most likely to believe;
- We need to know how to defend ourselves.
They only need to get us to believe one of their messages
Here are a ‘dirty dozen’ of the key messages they would like us to believe. The three key themes below relate to the three objectives under Disinform in the diagram above:
- The theme “Things are going very well” relates to the objective Delude;
- The theme “It’s not our fault, … it’s theirs” relates to the objective Divide;
- The theme “Even if you don’t like us, you should not vote Labour” relates to the objective Discourage.
Of course, no one will believe all 12 messages – they are mutually inconsistent. And most of us will find at least some of them ridiculous. But that does not matter: if they can get us to believe just one of them, they have been successful. Once you believe one of these assertions, even if you do not vote for the Conservatives, you are less likely to vote against them – and in our first-past-the-post system where only two parties can realistically win the next election, that is critical.
They know exactly how to target us
As the Brexit campaign showed, modern political campaigning is extremely sophisticated and can involve micro-targeting of individuals based on their personality profiles. Many political campaigns today involve using what used to be military Psyops (psychological operations) techniques against the citizenry.
Using mass data harvesting and micro-segmentation of the population, modern political campaigns are able to target individuals with messages they will find resonant and which appear to come from the sort of source – and via the sort of media – they trust. A modern campaign can, in effect, surround the population with a customised wall of misinformation that is extremely convincing.
To do this, parties enlist the help of companies like Cambridge Analytica and its successor Emerdata which have been involved in Brexit (at least) in the UK and the Trump campaign in the US, as well as more recent elections such as that of Ferdinand Marcos Jr in the Philippines.
The diagram below is far less sophisticated than the level of targeting they employ, but is enough to illustrate the point.
In this diagram we, the UK population, are segmented into seven groups (this segmentation is based on the work of More in Common) determined by our shared attitudes to things like:
- Group identity and tribalism;
- Perceived threat to self or family;
- Parenting style and authoritarianism;
- Moral foundations; and
- Personal agency and responsibility.
And we tend to share other things with those in the same segment as us: we consume the same media, we enjoy the same entertainment, and we vote the same way (in general). More sophisticated segmentations would give even higher correlations.
So once the Conservatives know which segment we fall into, they know what messages to target us with and which media they can use to do so. Most importantly, they know whether the message should appear to be coming from them or whether, on the contrary, it should seem as if it is definitely not coming from them.
This means that they can target us with a message we are likely to find resonant and which appears to come from a source – and via media – that we trust.
Being fooled by these messages is not a sign of being weak-willed, stupid or poorly educated: it is a sign of being human. In fact, believing that we are immune from this kind of manipulation is one of the things that makes us most vulnerable.
We need to know how to defend ourselves
Awareness of the risks is critical. Once we are aware that, in effect though not formally, campaigning is well underway already and that we are the targets of some very sophisticated psyops, we can start to be more selective about how we interpret each new piece of ‘information’ we are presented with. In the UK, there are very few sources that can be safely accepted uncritically on political issues.
If, when you look at the Dirty Dozen assertions above you find yourself thinking, “most of these are obvious nonsense, but actually number [x] seems right to me”, you could ask yourself:
- What actions does this belief lead me to take? Specifically, in the run up to and at the next general election, what actions does it lead me to take?
- Which of the two political parties which could win the next election will benefit most from me taking those actions?
- What is the original source for this belief? Am I sure it is reliable? Have I found a credible independent source that confirms it?
If you find that you do believe one of the 12, it is well worth examining that belief very carefully.
Unfortunately, checking every new piece of information properly is too time consuming to be practical. Even if you know where to look, when a politician says, “we have the fastest growing economy in the G7,” it could take you an hour or so to visit the OECD or IMF websites, find the data you need, download it, and analyse it. The same is true of the other 11 claims. Instead, we can simply make sure that we do not mentally file these claims as facts, but merely as assertions by X.
And we can also counter-attack by pushing back against some of the worst of the divisiveness. A start would be getting Braverman sacked:
- She is seriously damaging the ethical fabric of the UK: not only is her Migration Bill illegal and unethical in its treatment of refugees, but she also wants the UK to leave the European Court of Human Rights – which would mean that no UK citizen has recourse to that court if our human rights are infringed by the government;
- Her rhetoric is electorally important for the Conservative Party: it empowers racists and has successfully raised immigration from an issue of little perceived importance to UK voters to being perceived as being almost as important as the climate emergency.
Right now, the government is hugely unpopular. Johnson was removed from office, not because he was a liar (they all knew that); not because he broke the law; not because he had delivered such a poor performance on every metric; but because he was seen to have moved from being an electoral asset to an electoral liability. When MPs saw that their own seats were at risk if Johnson stayed, they moved quickly and decisively to get rid of him. The same was true of Truss.
Right now, Braverman is threatening some of these MPs’ seats. The polls are already sending a message, and if MPs get a large number of letters from constituents saying “we will never vote Conservative unless Braverman goes now” the message will be unmistakeable. Do not be discouraged: remember that it was poor polling results and letters to MPs that got rid of Johnson and Truss.
And, for those who have never done it before, do not worry, it can be very quick and easy:
- Introduce yourself as a constituent – and if you have never written before, say so: the fact that people other than ‘the usual suspects’ are writing to them concentrates an MP’s mind;
- Be polite – don’t give them a reason to ignore the letter;
- Make it personal –eg. “I have seen the effects of racism …” and make it clear that you will never vote Conservative in the future if they do not act now, in the national interest;
- Be specific about the action you expect the MP to take – right now, we suggest: “Please now write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister unless Braverman goes.”
Keep your letter short – a few lines is ideal.
Actually writing to them is easy. This website will find all the details you need and even send your email for you: https://www.writetothem.com/ All you need to do is to prepare the few lines of your letter and paste them in.
And if you think you would like to help, take a look at The 99% Organisation and join us.