The Tories are still the most toxic party to voters

Fifty seven per cent of voters "dislike" the party compared to 43% who dislike Labour and 47% who dislike the Lib Dems.

After his election as Conservative leader in 2005, it was famously David Cameron's mission to "detoxify" his party's brand. Cameron aimed to convince those groups repelled by the Tories' conduct in government - ethnic minorities, northerners, Scots and LGBT voters - to take another look at them. It was his failure to fully achieve this aim that prevented his party winning a majority in 2010. Just 16% of ethnic minority voters voted for the Tories and the party won just one seat in Scotland and just 20 of the 124 urban seats in the midlands and the north.

Since then, matters have little improved as, under the guidance of Lynton Crosby, Cameron has largely abandoned modernisation and retreated to the core territory of Europe, immigration and welfare. It's notable, then, that today's Ipsos MORI poll shows that the Tories remain the most toxic of the three main parties. Asked whether they like or dislike the Conservative Party, 57% say that they dislike it, compared to 43% who dislike Labour and 47% who dislike the Lib Dems. Just 39% say they like the Tories, compared to 49% who like Labour and 43% who like the Lib Dems. 

It's findings such as this that show why Labour could win the next election despite the unpopularity of Ed Miliband (whose net satisfaction rating has reached a new low of -27, compared to Cameron's -17) - the party is fishing in a larger pool. 

The Conservative, who plan to frame the next election as a presidential contest ("do you want David Cameron or Ed Miliband as your prime minister?"), console themselves with the thought that Miliband's lack of appeal will ultimately drag Labour down. But while Cameron's greater popularity could save the day for the Tories, it is complacent of the party to assume as much. History shows that a well-liked (or, more accurately, less disliked) leader is no guarantee of electoral success. In the final poll before the 1979 election, Jim Callaghan enjoyed a 19-point lead over Margaret Thatcher as "the best prime minister" but that didn't stop the Conservatives winning a majority of 44 seats. Similarly, in the 1970 election, Harold Wilson's personal lead over Ted Heath (a 51 per cent approval rating compared to one of 28 per cent for Heath) didn't stop Labour going down to a decisive defeat.

In 2010, David Cameron's lead over Gordon Brown wasn't enough to deliver the Tories a majority. In 2015, his lead over Miliband may not be enough to deny Labour victory. 

Just 39% of voters say they "like" the Tories, compared to 49% who like Labour and 43% who like the Lib Dems. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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