‘You know what some people call us? The nasty party’. That was Theresa May at the Conservative Party Conference of 2002. It didn’t seem at the time as if she were taking it as a compliment. The impression given was that she would like her party to better itself, become more inclusive, even come to deserve a reputation for niceness.
But it has hardly worked out like that. As Home Secretary she pursued a policy of redoubled nastiness towards immigrants – those great billboards telling them to ‘Go Home’ under fear of arrest, for example; her revision of Britain’s immigration laws to make it more difficult even for legal immigrants to prove their rights to stay; draconian expulsions by ‘quota’; her stated ambition to make Britain a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants; and her obsessive crusade against European ‘Human Rights’ courts that tried to rein her in. All, of course, designed to win over the popular nationalist (or racist) vote from Ukip. These are the measures that are coming back to haunt her today, as Prime Minister, after the ‘Windrush’ scandal, which was totally her responsibility, although it’s her own Home Secretary Amber Rudd who is paying the price. Now that she doesn’t have Amber to deflect the flack, some are saying that she – Theresa – can’t last long. (I’m not so sure. There’s still the fear of Corbyn to factor in: see https://bernardjporter.com/2018/04/25/corbyns-to-blame/.)
That’s not the only bit of nastiness around. The Tory-supporting propaganda machine has gone into overdrive against Corbyn, with yesterday’s Sunday Times (Murdoch owned) suggesting that Russian interference during the last election lay behind his success. He’s already been accused of being an ex-Soviet spy. Then of course there are all those ‘Labour anti-semitic’ smears – and they are smears, with hardly a grain of truth in them – seeking to associate him with the vilest sort of racism in history. I don’t know whether, or to what extent, the government or secret services of Israel may lie behind this last. Rumours are floating around of a million-pound donation from somewhere to stop Corbyn winning. Maybe the question to ask here is ‘Cui bono?’ Israel of course objects to his pro-Palestinian stance, which Right-wing Jews openly, albeit mistakenly, equate with anti-semitism. It’s difficult not to credit that this might be a factor, among Israeli lobbyists, and for those British Jews – who are the loudest, but who may not be a majority – who have taken so strongly against him.
But, finally: all this is so obvious, isn’t it? If it’s to succeed, propaganda surely shouldn’t be so blatant as this. Some people will be fooled by it; but a larger number – I hope – will see it merely as a sign of desperation by the Right. The mild-mannered and transparently honest Corbyn could even be strengthened in the public eye by his brave and dignified resistance in the face of it. British Jewry could become a casualty of its own ‘anti-anti-semitic’ campaign, if people come to associate it with smearing and libelling: which is why pro-Corbyn Jews should speak up more – or, perhaps, seek to get a fairer coverage in the press. I would hate to see a genuine anti-semitism growing out of this. Lastly, the ‘nastiness’ of May’s government in many directions is becoming more striking by the day: towards the NHS, for example, the disabled, teachers, and almost every sector of society it should be any ‘nice’ government’s duty to protect. It was she who spotted the trend, in 2002; now she seems only intent on aggravating it.
I wrote at the time of the ‘Czechoslovak spy’ nonsense that I didn’t think they were trying to persuade anyone who already had an opinion. The trouble is that there are a lot of people in Britain who really don’t care about politics – the kind of people who can tell Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn apart but couldn’t tell you which one’s Labour and which is Conservative. I think the Tories’ current (rather desperate) plan is to mobilise as many as possible of those people, not by putting out any kind of information but just by poisoning the well with smears and fantasies. If they can keep it going long enough, apathetic non-voters will start thinking there’s no smoke without fire, so there must be something wrong with Corbyn and Labour. Unfortunately it takes a lot of smoke.
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Agreed, sadly. But if the ‘people who don’t care’ can be persuaded to associate the Conservatives with the ‘smoke’ of smears and sleaze, the outcome could be different.