Who argues that a ‘shadow state’ controls Britain? That a gang of faraway, faceless suits ‘orchestrate public life from the shadows’, from their ‘yachts in the Mediterranean’? Who thinks people in ‘the shadows’, who always remain ‘hidden’, exercise a ‘poisonous, secretive influence on public life’?
A spotty sixth-former who spends way too much time on the internet, perhaps? Or maybe one of those cranky guys who hangs out in the discussion threads of David Icke’s website, convinced that lizards in suits run the world?
Actually it’s Tom Watson, new deputy leader of the Labour Party. All those claims come from his rather bonkers book on the Murdoch empire, where Watson outlines his belief that the Aussie billionaire and his ‘shadowy’ network (everything is shadowy in Watson’s worldview) ‘spun an invisible web of connections’ to build a ‘shadow state’ that puppeteers British politics.
It’s positively Icke-like in its feverishness. And Watson’s borderline conspiracy-theorising goes beyond fretting over a Murdochian ‘shadow state’ – he’s also been at the forefront of claiming that a ‘VIP paedophile ring’ operated at the heart of Westminster. Watson’s blather about a ‘powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No.10’ helped to unleash a pretty unhinged hunt for child-torturers in the political realm. The idea that powerful networks – whether of priests or politicians – run secret child-abusing circles is, of course, one of the oldest conspiracy theories in the book.
The rise to power of Corbyn and Watson, and of their cheerleaders in the rump of the radical left, represents the ascendancy of conspiratorial thinking. In recent years, as it lost touch with ordinary people, and with reality, the edgy left became convinced that weird, dark forces control politics, the economy and even the little people’s brains, making us dimwits think what they want us to think. Now, the Corbyn-Watson takeover has brought such febrile thinking to the top of the Labour party.
Corbyn attracts the support of anti-Zionists, who are among the most vocal of modern-day conspiracy theorists. With their belief that a powerful Zionist lobby has the Western foreign-policy establishment in its pocket, and also exercises a baleful influence on the Western media, Zionist-bashers rehabilitate in pseudo-radical lingo an older, darker fear of awesomely powerful Jewish lobbies. Corbyn has of course rubbed shoulders with many such people – unwittingly, he claims.
Ironically, some of the lefty commentators who defended Corbyn from awkward questions about his platform-sharing with dodgy people descended into some conspiracy-theorising of their own. Corbyn was being besmirched by an ‘unholy alliance’ of ‘the right, Blairites and hard Zionists’. Those Zionists and their wicked alliances! In the swirling, teenage minds of the Corbynite set, every criticism is a smear, every exposé is a sinister attack by an organised lobby, and every newspaper hack is an attack dog of the shadow state that governs from a yacht in the Med.
Corbyn’s loudest media cheerleaders are also purveyors of new left conspiracism. Fanboy Owen Jones’s last book, The Establishment, was a self-styled exposé of the ‘shadowy and labyrinth system that dominates our lives’ and the ‘shadowy organisations’, ‘hidden from view’, which dictate the agenda. Fittingly, the cover of the book features a bowler hat, symbolising an establishment figure, and also a black mask, symbolising the unhinged left’s belief that hidden actors control everything. Corbyn pusher Russell Brand is basically a David Icke for the Tumblr generation, banging on about the wicked networks that run the political sphere and becoming much-loved by bona fide conspiracy theorists in the process.
It’s one of the saddest things to happen to the left in recent years: its descent from rational thought about how to change the world into handwringing over hidden forces; its shift from analysing and criticising what can be seen to obsessing over what is hidden. You can trace the left’s sinking into the cesspool of conspiracism, from the anti-globalisation screech of the 1990s through to the emergence of a weirdly hateful anti-Israel movement and on to the cabal-obsessed weirdos of the Occupy movement. The less it has been able to reach and convince ordinary people, the more the left has become convinced that a shadowy media, banking and political cabal must have fried people’s brains and assumed dominion over the world.
Now this warped worldview is moving from the armpit of the lefty internet and grungy gatherings at Wall Street and St Paul’s to the very top of the Labour party. Once the preserve of society’s strange outliers, conspiracy theories have now become the norm among the chattering-class left, even within Her Majesty’s Opposition.