Whoever was responsible for the use of chemical weapons against a Russian ex-spy in Salisbury, the main political beneficiary so far appears to be Teresa May, whose bellicose response has led to a boost to her abysmal poll ratings, writes Ariel Pardess. Her cynical manipulation of this crime for political ends has been assisted by the BBC, whose photoshopping of a photo of Jeremy Corbyn to make him appear to be wearing a Russian hat has played into the “reds under the bed” smear narrative which seems to be replacing, or augmenting, the faltering antisemitism attacks. It has also been aided by some on the left, whose hostility to Corbyn’s perceived equivocal position on Syria has led them to brand him, and even anyone who supports him, as a “pro-Genocide Stalinist”.
This concerted attempt to portray Corbyn as a Communist fellow traveller, or as a “useful idiot”, betrays how threatened the government is. In disarray over Brexit, losing the argument over benefit cuts and poverty, and failing even on the traditional Tory policy of policing, they have resorted to the final resort – heightening tension with a foreign enemy, and issuing bombastic and jingoistic statements. This has worked for them in the past, as shown by Thatcher’s exploitation of the occupation by Argentina of the Malvinas Islands in 1982 to whip up war fervour. Corbyn, however, has not responded in the same way as Michael Foot, whose jingoistic speech in parliament in 1982 legitimised Thatcher’s war and arguably contributed to the huge defeat of Labour in the 1983 election.
Corbyn, in contrast, gave a measured statement, condemning the crime while calling for a full investigation and a proportionate response, rather than a rush to judgement and summary action (an approach, it should be noted, which many wish would also be taken inside the Labour Party when dealing with allegations of antisemitism). This response has been criticised both by those convinced of Russian guilt, and by those equally convinced of Russian innocence. It is remarkable how quickly some lay people have become experts in the finer details of chemistry, biology and international law.
While agreeing with the tone of Corbyn’s response, and resolutely opposing any return to the Cold War (or even a reckless military response), we cannot make any concession to the knee-jerk pseudo anti-imperialism that lines up alongside the Russian state. Whatever role the Soviet Union may have played in occasionally supporting forces fighting European colonialist regimes has long passed. Russia, where it now opposes US interests, does so not even nominally in the name and interest of oppressed nations or “workers of the world”, but in pursuit of its own material interests.
Putin’s regime represents the most successful of the several cartels of kleptocrats which over the past quarter century have plundered the resources of the former Soviet Union for their personal benefit. Much of the wealth accumulated by all of these has washed up in London or in British-ruled tax havens, and some of it has apparently been used to bankroll the Tory party. Yet these people feel no shame in smearing Corbyn as a “Russian puppet”.
Nor should we give credence to the numerous false flag and other conspiracy theories being spread via social media. While Britain and other states have indeed committed clandestine criminal acts in other countries, in the absence of any evidence of their involvement such claims are no more convincing than are claims that film of gun massacres in the US are really fictions staged by “crisis actors”.
Meanwhile, the government’s outrage at this crime stands in sharp contrast to their apparent indifference to Syrian war crimes in Ghoutta and elsewhere, Turkish war crimes in Afrin, Saudi war crimes in Yemen, Burmese genocide against the Rohingya people and many more.