2024ii13, Tuesday: Falling for it.

2024ii13, Tuesday: Falling for it.
Photo by Kajetan Sumila / Unsplash

A short hit here. And again - this one is sounding the politics klaxon. So as always with political stuff, this is going on the site but not out on email.

Any successful fraudster or con artist knows how to exploit blind spots.

Sometimes they're off the peg: mass emails, old-school 419s, social media cons. You know the type. Or even the mass phone/text scams - you know, the "HMRC have got a warrant against you" blahblahblah thing.

Sometimes they're bespoke. Get to know someone. Find out what buttons you can push. Push them. And - saddest of all - turn them into your best marketing vehicles. Because the last thing any poor soul who's had the wool pulled over their eyes will usually be able to do is look in the mirror and see it.

But here's the thing. What works on one person won't work on another. Everyone's blind spots are a bit different.

As some bright soul once said: the smartest, most savvy person in the world might still be a sucker for a three-card monte artist outside their local tube station.

We're all suckers about something. All of us.

What does this have to do with politics?

Well. Conspiracy theories are a bit like cons.

Most of us won't fall for most of them.

In fact, we'll laugh.

Flat earthers? Don't be daft.

Covid denial? Give me a break.

Faked moon landings? Oh please.

Bilderberg? Hmmm. Worth a moment's thought...

No. Seriously. I'm not really down for that either.

My point is: however much we may ridicule conspiracy theories, I'm ready to bet there's one, somewhere, which will suck you in if it catches you at the wrong moment.

But my broader point is this:

The con, or conspiracy theory, that catches you out will say something about who you are and what you believe.

They're like filters: exposing and shining a light on the particular vulnerabilities in our personal wetware.

And now you may be asking yourself: why the politics klaxon?

This is where I tread a little lightly. I don't want to defame anyone here. So I'm going to be clear. This is very much an opinion: one I think is founded both on my experience of cons and conspiracy theories and those who fall prey to them, and on the facts as they've been admitted or claimed.

I'm talking about the Rochdale by-election, due a little over two weeks from now.

And the breathtakingly dumb (and that really is the kindest way I can think of to put it) conduct of Labour's candidate. Who's reported (and who appears to have admitted) claiming shortly after the Hamas atrocity of 7 October that - somehow - Israel knew it was coming, and were OK with it because it would provide a casus belli to invade Gaza.

I know he's apologised. And I know it's been spun as "falling for a conspiracy theory".

But I don't think that makes it better. In fact, it might make it worse.

Because even taking that at face value, what one has to ask oneself is this:

What's the mindset of someone for whom a conspiracy theory like that makes any kind of sense whatever?

It requires you, I think, to be receptive to the idea that Israel - frankly, that Jews - would be OK with the murder of hundreds or thousands of their own, to gain a political and military advantage. And then not to check yourself before letting your consideration of that idea out into the world.

And frankly that seems to tick off an impressive range of tropes, doesn't it?

I'm a leftie. I've never voted Tory. I can't wait for the corrupt, inept, malign shower currently making such an utter botch of (mis)managing the country to be booted out of office. The sooner the better, for all of us.

But even so I'm glad that Labour disowned this guy - if belatedly.

For all I know, he may have done loads of good stuff. (Update, Wednesday morning: although I can't help wondering whether the slow response was because he's on Starmer's wing of the party. If so: Not good. Not right at all.) But to fall for a conspiracy theory like this (if that's what happened) shows such a breathtaking lack of judgment, of wits, of wisdom - not to mentioning holding out the possibility of a worldview that's genuinely disturbing in a responsible would-be legislator (indeed, in any human being with a gramme of good sense) - that he really deserves to lose. At the very least, it shows astonishing stupidity and gullibility, which in any sane universe (yeah, I know) ought to be disqualifying in a parliamentary candidate.

Let's face it: Labour is highly likely to get the seat back when the general election comes round less than a year from now.

Ideally the guy himself should have held his hands up and said: I've been an idiot. And idiots shouldn't be MPs. At least not now. Let someone else have the seat.* Just for the moment.

And ideally Labour would have moved a good deal faster. But I'll take what I can get.

*I know, I know. The risk is that George Galloway - a far more malign disgrace to the species than Azhar Ali could ever have nightmares of being - could win instead. But I don't think Ali's error is something you can just hand-wave on the basis that the alternative could be worse. This is an appalling situation for Rochdale’s voters, with no good outcomes. The least worst is to show that there are some levels of stupidity that are disqualifying. Being better than George isn't that hard.

Compulsory footnote. I think it's axiomatic that what Hamas did on 7 October 2023 was an abomination, unjustifiable on any reasonable human measure. This isn't to excuse the cruelty of successive Netanyahu governments treating Gaza like a convenient open-air prison for years, or the malign racism of some in his current government. Nor does it justify what, to me, seems like a mass punishment to Gaza's inhabitants. (I'm deliberately avoiding the G-word here. That argument over a legal definition is a rabbit hole I'm going nowhere near.) But a situation like this, I think it's necessary as well as right to look at the actions of the different participants as distinct, without comparison or whataboutery. That way lies the cardinal sin of ending up implying which group of humans is worth more. And, far worse, worth less. And there are enough people doing that already.