One trouble with ‘conspiracy theorists’, as well as their usually being crazy, is that they queer the pitch for anyone who believes that ‘conspiracy’ does sometimes have a place in explaining events – even on ‘our side’. Anti-conspiracy theorists will usually accept that enemies resort to it. If it was Putin who ordered the attack on the Skripals, for example, that was obviously a deep-laid (and, let’s face it, rather botched) ‘conspiracy’ on Russia’s part. But on the British Right it is only those who doubt Russia’s part in the plot who are labelled ‘conspiracy theorists’. That’s why so few of us who may distrust the government’s version of events are nervous about admitting it. In the popular, unthinking version of these things it puts us up there with the Holocaust- and moon landing- and 9/11-deniers. (Or, worse, with those – there are some: google ‘David Icke’ – who claim that Prince Philip is an alien reptilian shape-shifter.)
Yet there’s no doubt at all that British governments, as well as Russian, have historically engaged systematically in the sort of dissimulation and invention that is required to effect fairly large-scale ‘conspiracies’; sometimes on the grounds that if their enemies were doing it, they shouldn’t deprive themselves of these weapons against them. MI5 and MI6 furnish dozens of examples. Thatcher was adept at plotting against ‘enemies within’. I know; I’ve worked (historically) in these areas. (That’s not to say that I expect anyone to accept this simply on the basis of my authority: the evidence is in my books, especially Plots and Paranoia.) So it doesn’t make Corbyn a ‘conspiracy theorist’, or, in Boris’s latest barb, ‘Moscow’s willing idiot’, simply for wanting some more reliable proof of Russian government involvement in the Skripal affair than the government has yet put forward.
I was happy to accept that version of events initially, as the most likely explanation in view of what we know – or are told – about Putin and his opponents, but tentatively only, until better evidence was produced. That’s why I strongly supported Corbyn’s brave and measured response to May’s hasty and intemperate condemnation of Russia; that, and because as an academic I don’t like to accept anything on trust. In the days since the original attack I have become more and more sceptical of the official government version, even to the extent of admitting the possibility – though a very faint one – that Salisbury could have been a ‘false flag’ operation. We need to keep open minds, especially in the face of Boris’s bluster, and in view of the seriousness of the diplomatic row it has stirred up. We’ve all learned not to trust Boris, haven’t we? The critique of the official British version I’ve come to trust more than his is Craig Murray’s, in his blogsite. This is his latest post on this affair: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2018/04/portonblimp-down-episode-2-a-tale-by-boris-johnson/. Murray used to be a British ambassador, and has close links with the Foreign Office and Whitehall still. Obviously we should be sceptical of this also; but he does raise some awkward questions. I recommend his site; which saves me from going into the issue here.
Please note – just to make things doubly clear – that I’m not necessarily denying the Government’s version, only doubting it. (As it happens, my money’s still on the Russkies.) Tories (and Blairites) who excoriated Corbyn for his ‘treachery’ in backing Putin over May – which of course he didn’t – ought to be aware of the essential difference. But of course they pretend they aren’t. Scepticism didn’t do much for Doubting Thomas’s reputation in history; and it doesn’t make for effective politics.