The hashtag #torygenocide was trending on Twitter all day Sunday. This is because seemingly rational people have got it into their heads that Boris Johnson is using the Covid-19 outbreak to orchestrate a social cull in the UK. There is a debate over the wisdom of the strategy the government has been advised to take by the chief scientific adviser. Robert Peston asks a question about testing that, if I’m honest, makes me wonder about the wisdom of how we’re going about this. Still, I am not a scientist. I don’t know whether Downing Street has taken the right or the wrong approach. I’m happy for others to have that debate.
This is not that. This is not a scholarly exchange on the merits of ‘herd immunity’ or social distancing. This is the proposition that the Prime Minister is so wicked, sadistic and Machiavellian that he is, per the internationally recognised definition of genocide, acting ‘with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group’ by, inter alia, ‘deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’.
Let me be clear: if you believe this, you are a loon. A wack-job. Nuttier than an M&Ms spillage in a Snickers factory. The #torygenocide conspiracy theory is not the mutterings of a bus station wino but of apparently intelligent people unable to surrender a psychological crutch. That is, the reassuring conviction that their opponents are plainly evil, so evil they would perpetrate mass cleansing of the weak and vulnerable out of ideological callousness. Who wouldn’t want to lean on such a crutch? If those you disagree with are monsters, you no longer have to go to the trouble of disagreeing with them. You can simply pronounce them hostis humani generis and hear your analysis echoed in your political silo of choice.
Spend long enough perusing #torygenocide conspiracy theories and you notice a commonality: The formulation ‘FBPE’ or the Council of Europe flag emoji are ubiquitous, and frequent reference is made to the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. In short, the Brexit culture war frame has been bolted wholesale onto a public health emergency.
We have a demographic in this country who have become unhinged. Many were previously generic malcontents who fit into a wide array of political boxes but few espoused the European cause until the referendum went the wrong way. Now it is their core identity, much like otherwise level-headed Democrats and Republicans have become prisoners to the convulsive umbrage of the anti-Trump Resistance. On either side of the pond, there is a yawning gap where effective opposition ought to be. In this country, the Prime Minister’s comfortable majority and the mesmerising uselessness of the Labour party make it all the more vital for the citizenry to be informed and the public discourse to be broadly distinguishable from a highlights reel of the Alex Jones Show.
I know it’s only Twitter. I hate the damn thing as much as you do; I’m just a hopeless junkie who can’t break the habit. But social media is a king-sized bullshit-spreader with no off-switch at the best of times. The single greatest institution of the British left was taken over and wrecked by fanatics who organised and were organised on social media, exploiting the ungoverned nature and reach of Twitter and Facebook to peddle their junk ideas and their junk messiah. Right now, as I have argued already, social media has the power to disseminate baseless fears, incite panic, and do tangible damage to public health or public order. Running an unedited, unregulated instant publishing platform in the middle of a global pandemic is like handing an AR-15 and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s to a chimpanzee and hoping for the best.
The Hiroo Onoda Remainers need to come down out of the jungle sooner or later. The war is over. You lost. We’ve left the EU and Boris Johnson isn’t trying to murder you. The death toll from Covid-19 has now passed 6,000, likely many more will lose their lives, and you’re using the crisis for a spot of black helicopter fanfic. Could you not?