The May-for-leader campaign shows the paucity of Tory talent

For "a safe pair of hands", Theresa May has dropped an awful lot of balls.

Last week, Theresa May did a very good thing when she blocked the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the US, and it’s been applauded pretty much universally across the British political spectrum. It was also quite a brave thing, as she has now seemingly been sent to Coventry by the US Attorney General.

But really – does that actually qualify her to be the next leader of the Conservative Party? Some Tory backbenchers and media types seem to think so, going so far as to say she has "more than a touch of Margaret Thatcher about her’". Most Staggers readers would think that’s an excellent reason, in itself, to rule her out, but that’s not a sentiment shared by the Tory grassroots. And in the current omnishambles of Tory mismanagement where U-turns and monumental cock-ups habe been the normal daily fare, they are casting around for "a safe pair of hands".

But for a supposedly safe pair of hands, May drops an awful lot of balls. Last time I wrote about this, I questioned just how appropriate it was to call the cack-handed May "faultless" when she

mistakenly cites owning a cat as a reason for avoiding deportation. Or ends up with her diary engagements being left in a Glaswegian Concert Hall. Not someone who unilaterally calls for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped and ends up being publicly contradicted by the Attorney General.

(She) certainly shouldn't end up having to admit to the House of Commons that "we will never know how many people entered the UK who should have been prevented from doing so" -- not when you're meant to be in charge of that very thing.

Since then, it’s not been plain sailing either. There was the Abu Qatada incident when it appeared the Home Secretary wasn’t exactly sure which day of the week it was. The Home Office has ended up paying a reported £100,000 to the former Head of the UK Border Force. There was the border queues fiasco over the summer ....

Yet such is the paucity of talent in the Tories (Gove – doesn’t want it; Boris – not an MP;  Osborne - #pastytax) that May is apparently being seriously considered by many in the party as someone who can sort things out and stop them lurching from one disaster to another.

Someone needs to tell them. She’s not Mrs Thatcher. She’s Nicola Murray.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Liberal Democrat Conference.

Home Secretary Theresa May speaks at the Conservative conference in Birmingham earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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I am special and I am worthless: inside the mind of a narcissist

There's been a lot of discussion about narcissists this week. But what does the term actually mean?

Since the rise of Donald Trump, the term “narcissistic” has been cropping up with great regularity in certain sections of the media, including the pages of this journal. I wouldn’t want to comment about an individual I’ve never met, but I thought it would be interesting to look at the troubling psychological health problem of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

People with NPD (which is estimated to affect about 1 per cent of the population) have a characteristic set of personality traits. First, they have a deeply held sense of specialness and entitlement. Male NPD sufferers frequently present as highly egotistical, with an unshakeable sense of their superiority and importance; female sufferers commonly present as eternal victims on whom the world repeatedly inflicts terrible injustices. In both cases, the affected person believes he or she is deserving of privileged treatment, and expects it as a right from those around them.

Second, NPD sufferers have little or no capacity for empathy, and usually relate to other people as objects (as opposed to thinking, feeling beings) whose sole function is to meet the narcissist’s need for special treatment and admiration – known as “supply”. In order to recruit supply, NPD sufferers become highly skilled at manipulating people’s perceptions of them, acting out what is called a “false self” – the glittering high achiever, the indefatigable do-gooder, the pitiable victim.

The third characteristic is termed “splitting”, where the world is experienced in terms of two rigid categories – either Good or Bad – with no areas of grey. As long as others are meeting the narcissist’s need for supply, they are Good, and they find themselves idealised and showered with reciprocal positive affirmation – a process called “love-bombing”. However, if someone criticises or questions the narcissist’s false self, that person becomes Bad, and is subjected to implacable hostility.

It is not known for certain what triggers the disorder. There is likely to be a genetic component, but in many cases early life experiences are the primary cause. Narcissism is a natural phase of child development (as the parents of many teenagers will testify) and its persistence as adult NPD frequently reflects chronic trauma during childhood. Paradoxically for a condition that often manifests as apparent egotism, all NPD sufferers have virtually non-existent self-esteem. This may arise from ongoing emotional neglect on the part of parents or caregivers, or from sustained psychological or sexual abuse.

The common factor is a failure in the development of a healthy sense of self-worth. It is likely that narcissism becomes entrenched as a defence against the deep-seated shame associated with these experiences of being unworthy and valueless.

When surrounded by supply, the NPD sufferer can anaesthetise this horrible sense of shame with the waves of positive regard washing over them. Equally, when another person destabilises that supply (by criticising or questioning the narcissist’s false self) this is highly threatening, and the NPD sufferer will go to practically any lengths to prevent a destabiliser adversely influencing other people’s perceptions of the narcissist.

One of the many tragic aspects of NPD is the invariable lack of insight. A narcissist’s experience of the world is essentially: “I am special; some people love me for this, and are Good; some people hate me for it, and are Bad.” If people with NPD do present to health services, it is usually because of the negative impacts Bad people are having on their life, rather than because they are able to recognise that they have a psychological health problem.

Far more commonly, health professionals end up helping those who have had the misfortune to enter into a supply relationship with an NPD sufferer. Narcissism is one of the most frequent factors in intimate partner and child abuse, as well as workplace bullying. The narcissist depends on the positive affirmation of others to neutralise their own sense of unworthiness. They use others to shore themselves up, and lash out at those who threaten this precarious balance. And they leave a trail of damaged people in their wake. 

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times