Do they really believe it? That Starmer was responsible for getting Jimmy Savile off? I wouldn’t be surprised if some of their voters do. After all, in America they fell for a similar slur about Hilary Clinton – running a Satanic paedophile ring from a Pizza restaurant in Washington DC; and the appalling ‘anti-Semitic’ smear against Corbyn is still believed here in Britain, if some of the people I’ve spoken to are any guide. ‘I was going to vote Labour, but then I read about the anti-Semitism, so I changed my mind.’ That was my Hull taxi driver on the way to the airport, for my flight back to Sweden in October. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the British Board of Deputies, for perpetuating that scurrilous lie. And I’d always been favourably disposed towards the Jews as – on the whole – an ethical people. It could even have turned me into an anti-Semite. But of course it won’t.
Starmer seems to have laid that one to rest, by expelling all his party members, including Jewish ones, who criticise the current policies of the government of Israel: which criticism obviously needn’t be – and usually isn’t – a sign of anti-Semitism at all. That I consider to have been craven; although it may – only may – be necessary at this unhappy time in British politics, when it’s gestures that count. But it obviously forced the Conservatives to dig around for a new atrocity to pin on Starmer; which they then found in associating him with paedophilia, which is even more atrocious than anti-Semitism in most people’s eyes. Earlier Labour leaders also had to face slurs, although not quite of this degree of awfulness. With Ramsay MacDonald and Harold Wilson it was good old-fashioned treachery, a charge that was made against Corbyn too; but Wilson’s time was before the age of Social Media, and the ‘Dark Web’ (is that right?), which now allow the poison to spread far more widely and swiftly than even the Daily Mail was able to achieve in the days of the ‘Zinoviev affair’.
As to its effectiveness: who knows? Many of the elections and referenda these strategies were targeted at turned out to be pretty close-run things, which means that just a small minority believing the lies – my taxi-driver, for example – could have swung them. The Conservatives’ super-clever strategists – Dominic Cummings, Lynton Crosby – are (or were) being paid mountains of money to manipulate the electorate by focussing its attention on these sorts of thing. (Or, as mentioned earlier, on ‘dead cats’: https://bernardjporter.com/2020/03/10/the-dead-cat/.) They wouldn’t have bothered, surely, if they didn’t think their tricks would be effective.
The question remains, however: do they and their political paymasters really believe their own lies? Do Boris Johnson and his loyal lieutenants genuinely think – without a scintilla of evidence – that it was Starmer who covered up for Savile? Or that the life-long anti-racist Corbyn is an anti-Semite too? Where do they stand on the great slanders of the past: Zinoviev, for example, and Harold Wilson as a Soviet ‘sleeper’? (That is, if they’re even aware of this old history.) And if they don’t genuinely believe these lies, what are they doing parroting them? Is this all part of a new post-truth politics, where statements are only valued for their effects? Is this (to return to one of my favourite hobby-horses) what they now teach them at Eton? Any lie that will win will do. Machiavelli, thou shouldst be living at this hour. And Goebbels too.
And isn’t it significant that this sort of amorality is found mainly – I was going to write ‘only’, but that can’t be true – on the political Right?