Theresa May, Scapegoating, Personality Disorders, and Bad Management

Scapegoating has existed in many societies through the ages. From ancient Greece where a beggar was cast out of the society in response to some crisis such as a famine or an earthquake, to our present day society where we see managers and politicians looking to deflect the blame onto their minions. In psychological terms scapegoating is where individuals or groups are singled out for blame that they do not deserve using psychological defence mechanisms.

An example of this appears to be unfolding in UK politics at the moment. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is attempting to shift the blame for the relaxation of border control rules during the summer, which allowed in an unknown number of potentially dangerous people, to the now ousted head of the UK border agency, Brodie Clark. The latter directly contradicts May, saying that he is ‘no rogue officer’ and that he did not ‘enlarge, extend or redefine the scope in any way’.

Now an ideal scapegoat is one that is on your side, believes in your cause, and is willing to take the fall for you. Other good scapegoats are those who are too scared to take you on or who are in no position to fight back. But Theresa May seems to have made the fundamental error of picking on a guy who cares about his reputation enough to defend himself publicly against her. He appears to be an intelligent, rational opponent who feels betrayed by her and feels no loyalty towards her.

But how should we see what May has done to Clark? Should we view this as something that requires a psychological explanation? Is May projecting her own problems or errors on to Clark as a defence mechanism? If so then this could be a symptom of a mental disorder such as antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. We could have a psychopath running the Home Office. Not, some would argue, for the first time.

A more mundane possibility is that this is a political example of the bad management practices whereby senior figures routinely look for lower level employees to blame for their own failings. They get away with it because of a lack of accountability in the senior management. In this case we are perhaps seeing a Home Secretary who thinks that she can get away with blaming a subordinate because she does not feel bound by any sense of accountability for her own actions.

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