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12 January

Andrew Bridgen is the sign of a new conspiracist conservatism

It’s vital for the persecution complex of a modern right that has lost the zeitgeist.

The Conservative Party is traditionally the party of the establishment – that’s practically its raison d’être. But something strange is happening to some of its members and even MPs: they’re starting to believe and promote the kind of conspiracies usually believed only by those on the fringes of society.

The most obvious victim of this new wave of delusion is Andrew Bridgen, who had the whip suspended this week when he said that vaccine deaths were the biggest covered-up atrocity since the Holocaust. It was just the latest – if also the most offensive – of the veteran backbencher’s wildly misinformed tweets about Covid-19.

Pushing out Covid conspiracy theories would be a strange and worrying development from any politician, but is notably odd from a member of the governing party, given that it was his parliamentary colleagues that were running the country throughout the Covid pandemic, and who authorised multiple Covid vaccines in the UK and implemented their use through the year.

Bridgen was, in effect, accusing the government, formed by his own party, of covering up mass death. This is hard to explain as a rational act but it does serve to show a strange mounting conspiracism on the right.

The Republican party in the US shows where this kind of conspiracism leads. The party is obsessed with Hunter Biden, fixated on the idea of horse dewormer as a cure for Covid, and half-convinced that mask mandates or drag queen story hours are signs of the apocalypse. 

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Conspiracy theories have normally been the domain of the disenfranchised. People who have little power or control over their own lives come to believe that some array of nefarious forces is ranged against them – be they lizard people, Jewish people or the illuminati. The idea that something is behind the chaos of the world is more reassuring than there being no rhyme or reason to any of it.

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The growing conspiracism of the right, even Bridgen’s watered-down version of it, is arguably vital for the persecution complex that is fundamental to much of the modern right. It speaks to their sense of being out of power, or that they are losing the zeitgeist. Some might cheer that, but it is important to remember that in the UK at least, the right is actually in power – they just don’t feel like they are.

This is what should alarm us about this trend. Conspiracies are almost always dangerous, but they are especially dangerous when powerful people believe in them. Conspiracies are what come to drive atrocities and violence, whether that is the lone gunman trekking through a school or systemic state violence.

The Conservatives may have finally suspended Bridgen but they should take the time to do some soul-searching and work out why they feel so disconnected from power when they’re running the country – and with a huge majority too. Disenfranchised, angry men have always been a danger to society. They’re more dangerous still when they’re sat on the government side in parliament.

[See also: Is Rishi Sunak’s anti-strike law a trap for Labour?]