Friday, 23 February 2018

Corbyn and the Czechs: nonsense on stilts

Oh,  how I wish more people remembered the recent past.

Which Labour party leader was alleged by the CIA and some senior MI5 officials to be a Soviet agent?

Which deranged publisher of a mass market red-top newspaper tried to involve the royal family in a plot to overthrow that same Labour prime minister?

Which Labour leader sued the Sunday Times for libel -- and won -- after it suggested that he was regarded by the KGB as an 'agent of influence'?

Which Labour leader was alleged in the Mail on Sunday to have 'colluded with Soviet Communists' to defeat the Conservatives?

And which Labour leader was attacked by a newspaper columnist for having a kitchen that was as 'bland, functional, humourless, cold and about as much fun to live in as a Communist era housing block in Minsk'?

In each case, you'll be delighted to know, the answer is not Jeremy Corbyn. (The correct answers are Harold Wilson, Cecil King of the Daily Mirror, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband.)

The point being, of course, that attacks on Labour party leaders for being Communist stooges are about as original in the British press as complaints about the weather. The recent spate of 'Corbyn and the Czech spy' stories prove nothing more than a shameful lack of originality among current editors.

The Daily Mail has a particularly sewer-like record on such matters. As long ago as 1924, it published the so-called Zinoviev letter, which purported to be from the Soviet Communist party and which was intended to be highly damaging to the Labour party. It was, in fact, a forgery.

In 1977, the Mail published a letter that appeared to give permission to the state-owned motor manufacturer British Leyland to pay bribes to win overseas contracts. It, too, was designed to damage Labour -- and it, too, was a forgery.

There is nothing new about fake news.

So what heinous crime is Mr Corbyn said to be guilty of? He met -- once, or perhaps twice -- a Czech diplomat who turned out to be a spy. What did he tell him? According to The Sun: 'He reportedly handed over a copy of a newspaper article ...'  Which somehow doesn't quite rank up there with the blueprint for a nuclear warhead.

Yes, some MPs are spies. Some have even been Czech spies. Who now remembers Raymond Mawby, MP for Totnes in the 1950s and 60s who did indeed sell information to the Czech security service for more than a decade? Oh, sorry, perhaps I should have mentioned: Mawby was a Conservative.

And of course there was also John Stonehouse, a Labour MP who served in Harold Wilson's government, and who is best remembered for his bizarre attempt to fake his own death in 1974 by disappearing after leaving a pile of his clothes on a beach in Miami. He was arrested a month later in Australia, deported back to the UK, where he was convicted of fraud, theft and forgery, and sentenced to seven years in jail. He, too, it turned out, had been spying for the Czechs.

But Jeremy Corbyn? For goodness sake, what information could he possibly have had access to that would have been of the remotest interest to the spymasters in Prague?

Ah ha, says his supposed Czech handler Jan Sarkocy, aka Jan Dymic. As a result of what Corbyn allegedly told him, 'I knew what Thatcher would have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and what she would wear next day.'

Corbyn also, according to Czech secret service files quoted by the Daily Mail, had ‘an active supply of information on British intelligence services.’

Right. Deep breath. The Corbyn-Czech spy scandal boils down to no more than a claim that a young left-wing backbench MP knew the secrets both of Margaret Thatcher's kitchen and of her wardrobe, and, moreover, had useful information about British intelligence.

It is nonsense on stilts. To publish any of this stuff is an insult to our intelligence. Yes, Corbyn was, and is, a socalist, and he has never made any secret of his sympathy for socialist causes. But to claim, as to his shame, the defence secretary Gavin Williamson did, that Corbyn 'betrayed Britain' is nothing less than a gross calumny.

However, Corbyn's response to all this has been, I think, ill-advised. His video warning to the press barons -- 'We’ve got news for them: change is coming' -- sounded uncomfortably like a threat, and politicians threatening the media is rarely a good look, even when it is accompanied, as it was in Mr Corbyn's video, by the obligatory 'A free press is essential for democracy.'

By all means, hit back at the lies and the smears. But much better not even to suggest that you plan to take your revenge against the newspapers because you don't like what they write. That's Trump territory, and it is not where Labour should be.

I much prefer the Michelle Obama strategy: 'When they go low, we go high.'

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