Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

The Curtain Comes Down on the Conservatives’ Theatre of Cruelty

Hardeep Matharu, Editor of Byline Times, explores why the June 2024 print edition focuses on how ‘cruelty is the point’, to a point – and what the left must understand about the role of emotion in politics today

Don’t miss a story

Since its inception, Byline Times has aimed to not merely tell its readers what is happening that the established press does not report, but why it is happening. What are the underlying forces at play that can help explain seemingly inexplicable external events that pass without scrutiny? 

Often, this has involved analysing the structural elements within our politics, media and society – rising inequality, cronyism, oligarchical tendencies, the problems of class, the vulnerability of our unwritten constitution, and more – and how these have led to the disturbances we witnessed through Brexit, the Boris Johnson years, the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis and ‘broken’ Britain.

Sometimes, we also need to examine the ideas we think with, not just the ideas we think about.

Our special report in the June 2024 print edition of Byline Times hopes to foster a deeper understanding of how politicians on the right are targeting a base of people, not with policies, but with a performative type of politics that aims to make cruelty its aim.

As political scientist Brian Klaas explains, at its heart is the key takeaway: that, for many people, politics is not actually about politics – but an arena for their more emotional, and sometimes primal, projections to be given expression.

Much has been made since the Brexit and Trump shocks of the notion that politics is being driven increasingly by emotion. Both of these shocks were the ultimate ‘culture war’ fronts: eras in which the ‘normal rules’ of politics seemed to have been suspended and alternative realities erected around what is expected of those in public life, and politics itself.

Combined with the rise of the social media age, there isn’t a way to simply ‘go back’. 

Although polling shows that the Government’s culture war distractions are not priorities for the British people – who consistently indicate that they intend to elect a Labour government at the next general election – this doesn’t mean that there are no lessons to be learned, particularly by those on the left, about what politics represents today. 

While policies are important for some, an emotionally-resonant ‘big vision’ of how politics can change people’s lives is taking primacy for potentially many more – in addition to the minority base for whom the extreme emotion of cruelty hits the mark (and on which an arguably disproportionate focus is targeted by our media).

People want something to believe in.

That is why, in this edition, we dissect the Government’s ‘theatre of cruelty’ – which puts asylum seekers, the sick and disabled, homeless people, the trans community, and the poor centre-stage in its attacks – and show why such a strategy is unlikely to work.

Not only does it not tackle any of the real challenges many more people are now struggling with in their day to day lives – beyond promising a sense of psychic justice to a minority of individuals – it does nothing to inspire a sense of progress or how things could truly be different. That they could even be different.

Cruelty is the point. To a point. Many, many more of us want something to hope for. 

To tackle the performative politics of cruelty, our politicians need to understand what it taps into, and what they can learn about what politics represents for people today. 

Bringing down the curtain on the Conservatives’ theatre of cruelty, as the recent local election results indicate is now happening, will help set the stage again for a politics that really matters.  

Written by

This article was filed under
, , ,