It’s the lowest point in British espionage since Pierce Brosnan. A top secret cyber hit squad has been busted trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn through the medium of Twitter. At least that’s the claim from the Sunday Mail, a left-leaning Scottish tabloid, which has exposed the Institute for Statecraft as ‘a secret UK Government-funded infowars unit’.
The Institute is based in a grotty old Victorian mill in Fife and can be distinguished from every other building in Fife in that it’s a mill. It doesn’t look like a place where they knock back shaken-not-stirred martinis in between designing fountain pens that double as rocket launchers but, what with austerity, maybe From Auchtermuchty With Love is the best we can do.
The Sunday Mail, whose sister paper the Daily Record backed Jeremy Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership race, said documents it had obtained showed the Institute’s Integrity Initiative programme was funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2 million. It was set up to counter Russian disinformation on social media and seeks to engage like-minded journalists to that end. So where are these shady psyops we were promised? The Integrity Initiative’s Twitter account has tweeted of Corbyn:
‘His open visceral anti-Westernism helped the Kremlin cause, as surely as if he had been secretly peddling Westminster tittle-tattle for money.’
Wow. That’s pretty bad. Except the Integrity Initiative didn’t actually say that. Edward Lucas did in a column in the Times on February 22. The organisation simply quoted the column while tweeting it. What else? On March 21, they retweeted that notorious MI5 asset Nick Cohen, who had linked to a blog assailing Corbyn’s insidious weasel words about the parties responsible for Sergei Skripal’s poisoning.
Then there was the charge that Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s spin doctor, ‘wittingly or unwittingly… work[s] with the Kremlin’s agenda’. This one wasn’t even a retweet of a columnist but a quotation from a Conservative MP in a Times profile of Milne. (Milne, who, after Putin invaded Crimea, said it was ‘hardly surprising that Russia has acted to stop the more strategically sensitive and neuralgic Ukraine falling decisively into the western camp’; who, when Putin invaded Georgia, painted the tiny Caucasus nation as the aggressor and declared the Russian-separatist ruled South Ossetia ‘now nominally-independent’; who wrote that the number of Stalin’s victims had been ‘progressively inflated’ and that ‘there is no major 20th-century political tradition without blood on its hands’.)
Unless the Sunday Mail has more evidence it’s not telling us about, this Foreign Office propaganda operation amounts to a handful of tweets critical of Jeremy Corbyn or echoing the criticisms of others. You might think, well, it’s hardly the Zinoviev letter, but is it appropriate for a government-funded body to be offering political commentary on Labour politicians? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t but you’d have to ask the same question of Russophile Tory politicians, whom the Integrity Initiative has also decried (see here, here and here), as well as the SNP (see here and here). More pressing than whether a taxpayer-subsidised organisation should be adhoming pro-Kremlin politicians is the question of why there are so many of them for it to have a go at. As the amateurish Integrity Initiative itself proves, we are absolutely nowhere on countering Russia’s influence on the democratic West.
Corbynistas and assorted radical malcontents are very excited about this story as it appears to vindicate their conspiratorial convictions. The far-left adored A Very British Coup and Defence of the Realm for the same reason feminists moan with miserable delight over the Handmaid’s Tale. These fictions animate pathologies essential to their worldview but frustratingly absent from the material world. When your politics rest on victimhood, and you are rather inconveniently not being victimised, primetime paranoia can serve as lurid wish fulfilment — political pornography.
This is what Karl Popper called ‘the conspiracy theory of society’, the belief in ‘sinister pressure groups whose wickedness is responsible for all the evils we suffer from – such as the Learned Elders of Zion, or the monopolists, or the capitalists, or the imperialists’. An obvious problem with the conspiratorial bent is that it requires the adherent to believe that a ruthless, all-powerful state would allow its secrets to spill out so easily — that it would go to all the trouble of launching a covert cyberwar against the leader of the opposition only to post about it on Twitter.
With all the resources at its disposal, with all the powers of dark intrigue leftists ascribe to it, the British state has managed to reduce Corbyn to a mere 40 per cent in the polls and 4/1 odds on becoming Prime Minister. Ah, the Corbynista conspiracists will tell you, that’s because Jeremy is so good and brave and true that he can withstand the propaganda and defeat the deep state. For a movement that is instinctively anti-American, the far-left’s leader-worship is ripped straight from Hollywood heroism — the maverick cop who doesn’t play by the rules can take down a cartel of M16-wielding drug dealers with a few karate chops.
One final point that no one else is making so I will: If the security services are working to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, good. If not, they should be. The man invited extremists to Parliament, boasted of his friendship with Hamas and Hezbollah representatives, rallied in solidarity with the Brighton Bomber, attended a wreath-laying ceremony for Palestinian terrorists, and received payments for appearing on Iran’s Press TV. You get waterboarded for less in Guantanamo Bay. He is an unapologetic enemy of democratic liberalism and British and Western interests. His arrival in Downing Street would prompt four in ten British Jews to consider heading for the departure gate. His coming to power would be disastrous for our economy, harmful to our security, and a stain on our national soul. A few punchy tweets aren’t going to cut it.