Jeremy Corbyn and the Politics of Conspiracy

April 04, 2018

Multiple Pages
Jeremy Corbyn and the Politics of Conspiracy

We live in an era where fake news is real, and real news is fake. A recent furor in the U.K. concerned the involvement of Cambridge Analytica—President Trump’s favorite data jockeys—on the Leave side of the E.U. referendum. Overspending! Collusion! Betrayal! The Observer drew itself up to its full height—imagine a kind of moral Danny DeVito—and fulminated that Democracy Dies Without Transparency.

Apparently our freedoms had finally flatlined when Cambridge Analytica—cast as the overall Svengali of the Leave campaign—had helped channel work to a small Canadian data-muncher called Aggregate IQ; and done so in order to break spending rules. This conspiracy was outed by a leather-jacketed Observer journalist live on Sunday-morning TV. The bien-pensants pushed away their muesli in disgust that people with computers had weaseled us out of the West’s last bastion of democratic values, the European Union.

Cometh the next edition, cometh the retraction. “For the record”—buried on page 50—“we did not intend to suggest that AIQ secretly and unethically coordinated with Cambridge Analytica.” For posterity, let it be remembered how a left-wing British newspaper does not suggest such a thing; with the words, “it is already established that Aggregate IQ is linked to Cambridge Analytica through IP agreements; this weekend…alleges that the links between the two go much deeper, such that their activities became confused.” Deep and confusing, yes. Secret or unethical, no. Got that? Neither have I.

“Shortsighted and cynical though Corbyn may be, his fall could still be the grenade that blows up British politics.”

While still giddy with its own investigative brilliance, the paper had further trumpeted that election rules are about achieving a “level playing” field under conditions of “openness and transparency.” So what about looking at the millions in tax money that were poured into the Remain campaign? That idea was dismissed from the outset on the—somewhat contradictory—basis that this “wasn’t a party political issue.” It remained for the right-leaning Spectator to drill into the real issue of data analytics: namely how the connected home will allow us to be micro-targeted with political messaging. Grouchy because you haven’t eaten for a while? Time for a message from a demagogue. Smug from having put out the recycling? Time to hear from an environmentalist.

The above cycle of loud claims and quiet retractions is amplified by social media. Accusations take off like wildfire, while their corrections splutter like a November barbecue. This asymmetry is quietly abetted by mainstream campaigns becoming ever more invested in the paranoid politics of conspiracy. The U.S. leads the world in this regression toward flat-earthism. Its original architect was Hillary Clinton, who managed to convince her base that negative stories had nothing to do with her faults—she didn’t have any—and everything to do with a VAST right-wing media conspiracy. With heady claims of an election-rigging now rebounding on the Democrats, the rest of the world has stopped trying to keep up.

In Britain, the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has been stress-testing the politics of conspiracy to their limits. When he soft-pedaled on Russia over the Salisbury poisoning, a BBC discussion program used a montage backdrop of him against the Kremlin. Rather than responding to Corbyn’s doe-eyed public embrace of authoritarianism, his supporters dropped a massive red pill on the public: The reactionary stooges at the BBC had Photoshopped his fisherman’s cap to make it look more Russian! The ensuing “Hatgate” discussion actually took over the news agenda—yes, really—forcing the BBC to dignify the accusation with a denial. Meanwhile, anyone who knows left-wing semiotics was left wondering how a “Lenin cap” could be made to look more Bolshevik than it does in its natural state.

Now it appears Labour’s curated suspension of disbelief is finally collapsing. The inflection point has been Corbyn’s long-running anti-Semitism bursting into the open with revelations that he posted approvingly about a Protocols-of-Zion-style public mural. It showed plutocratic Jews playing Monopoly using a board balanced on the backs of good honest volk, with a bit of Masonic imagery thrown in for good measure. When its removal was scheduled—and the “artist” started bleating about his free speech—Corbyn reassured him that it was a “very beautiful piece of art.”

This news has had a threefold effect. First, it caused a typically risk-averse Jewish community to come out and demonstrate, with many members of the Labour Party joining them. Second, it triggered a torrent of revelations about anti-Semitic activity at all levels of Corbyn’s supporter base. And third, of course, it has sent his tame conspiracy merchants into overdrive. Like Clinton before him, the “smears” are taken as evidence of a vast…right-wing…yawn. You get the point. A loyalist meme-designer even anatomized the conspiracy by outlining how a story spreads from a “website” to a “newspaper” to “columnists” to “Parliament”—before being taken up by anti-Corbyn plotters in the Labour Party! That’s right. Even yours truly has allowed my internalized Conservatism—assisted by a case of fine claret with an Israeli postmark—to blind me to how I’m being ((used)).

We waited with bated breath over the Easter weekend to see how Corbyn would respond. Surely he would dip into the Clinton-Blair playbook by posing in a kippah and delivering some empty words, before continuing as usual? But no. Sunday evening instead saw him marking the end of Passover with the wittily named group Jewdas. Claiming to represent the voice of an authentic Judaism untainted by Zionist conspiracy, these guys are dedicated to the destruction of Israel, capitalism, and, for good measure, Christianity. All the same things Jeremy wants. QED Jeremy is not just un-anti-Semitic; he is actually the new Moses! L’Chaim!

Trying to make sense of this twenty-megaton double-down, we are left with three options. One, his pathological self-regard has concluded that he is to be the arbiter of British Judaism, as well as everything else. Perhaps he can split it between his good Jews and the bad Tory Jews? With Labour already having lost 17,000 members over this issue, some spit that will be. Two, by aligning with a group that also promotes the politics of conspiracy, he can tighten the grip of these beliefs over his supporter base, and off to the gulag with everyone else (along with anyone who mentions his headwear). Three, he is so pickled in his own Kool-Aid that he actually believes his own Big Lies. There has long been a train of thought that he is the puppet of smarter and more cynical men like the militant shadow chancellor John McDonnell and the Steerpike-like propagandist Seumas Milne.

Now even the shadow organization they put together—a radioactive patch of Astroturf known as Momentum—is reacting against Corbyn over anti-Semitism. If they are leaving him out to dry in the hope of finding a new placeman, Labour’s suppressed civil war between Blairites and Trots will burst out into the open. Corbyn originally became leader because the party introduced open primaries. If the moderate wing shies away from a grassroots fight and secedes—for example, under the leadership of the restive David Miliband, currently lording it over the International Rescue Committee in New York—then it might look like the Tory conspiracy has finally triumphed. But a new pro-Remain grouping would bolster itself with orphaned Liberal Democrats, and likely leach support from the increasingly emotive Europhile wing of the Tory Party. And the Tories are already running a minority government. Shortsighted and cynical though Corbyn may be, his fall could still be the grenade that blows up British politics. Watch this space.

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