The right-wing press – Telegraph, Mail, Express, Sun – is currently recycling the old accusation of ‘communist subversion’ against the Labour Party, and specifically against Jeremy Corbyn: the smear that served them so well during the Cold War. One leading Conservative MP was yesterday forced to withdraw a tweet in which he claimed that Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’, under threat of legal action. I hope they charge him nonetheless. (He’s the same Tory – Ben Bradley – who suggested that the unemployed could be vasectomised to stop them breeding.)
Of course it’s a smear. It apparently derives from documents in the old Czech security service archive in which secret agents placed in Britain made all kinds of claims to have ‘recruited’ left-wing Brits, or – in Corbyn’s particular case – to have regarded him as a potential collaborator – no more.
But, as everyone who (like me) has studied these murky historical matters is fully aware, this is par for the course for spies of all nationalities and stripes, and at all times. Urged to seek out useful sources of information, and paid by results, they invariably exaggerate their successes. So, an innocent cup of tea at a cafe with the young Jeremy – to talk about Czechoslovakia, perhaps, or politics generally, or even football – is inflated into a Smiley-style assignation wherein microfilms of nuclear weapons and troop movements are covertly passed across the table, to find their way eventually to Moscow Centre. Except that in Corbyn’s case there were no microfilms. (As if an insignificant backbencher in the 1970s would know anything worth passing over to the Russians!) Which is probably why his particular ‘contact’ was, apparently, sacked shortly afterwards. MI5, more knowledgeable about these things than the bloody Daily Telegraph, will have been fully aware of this. And by that time they had probably also come to realise, tardily, that despite all their class prejudices, traitors were more likely to come from the ranks of the ‘posh’ – the ‘Cambridge Five’, for example – than from the Labour Left. (Which didn’t necessarily stop MI5 plotting against the Labour Left. But that’s another story.)
I must say I was surprised to see this old smear being peddled by the Tory press today, and so blatantly. Is it a sign of desperation? Can it possibly have any purchase on opinion? It seems not to have done so during the last General Election. The basic problem with it, from the Right’s point of view, is that as well as being a smear, it looks like one.