Since the shock outcome of the general election in Britain last week one dog has rather surprisingly failed to bark and a number of people are asking why?
That dog is the allegation of Russian meddling in the election.
That allegation has been made – to a massive degree – about last year’s US Presidential election, about last year’s British Brexit referendum, about this year’s French election, and about the German election which is pending later this year.
However no-one has made it in relation to the British election and some people are wondering why?
After all the result in the British election was unexpected – as the results of the Brexit referendum and of the US election were – and (though he would not thank me for saying it) Jeremy Corbyn’s views on most foreign policy issues – including relations with the Russia and the conflict with Ukraine – are closer to those expressed by Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump than to those of the neoliberal establishment opponents of all three.
Indeed in his principled opposition to nuclear weapons and his outright opposition to the interventionist wars in the Middle East, Corbyn actually goes further against the neoliberal NATO orthodoxy than the other two.
In addition Jeremy Corbyn has appeared on RT – Russia’s ‘propaganda channel’ according to Russiagate demonology – which as I understand it Donald Trump has never done.
Moreover Corbyn is if possible even more of an outsider in conflict with the neoliberal political establishment than Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump are, with a far longer history of opposing it than either of the other two. That of course is why the British political class hates him so much.
So why is no one saying that Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpectedly strong showing in the British election is due to Russian interference?
There is of course no evidence of any Russian interference in the British election, but if the Russiagate scandal in the US tells us anything it is that the mere absence of evidence of Russian interference in a Western election does not prevent some people from believing in it or at least pretending that they do.
The answer to this question is to be found in Jeremy Corbyn’s ideological point of origin.
The people who have been driving the Russiagate story in the US, Britain and elsewhere – especially in the media – are broadly speaking on the liberal left end of the neoliberal political spectrum, though it is important to say that not all people on the left believe in it (old leftists who are not neoliberals generally don’t) and that there are some people on the right who also believe in it. In the British media the most fervid supporters of the Russiagate claims are however mainly left of centre neoliberal commentators, especially those writing and broadcasting for the Guardian and the BBC.
The point is that these same left of centre people in the media who have been busiest in Britain spreading the Russiagate stories in order to discredit Donald Trump, during the British election were forced however grudgingly to fall into line behind Jeremy Corbyn. For them to have done otherwise would have risked antagonising their viewers and readers, all the more so as it became clear during the election how angry many of them already were with the campaign the neoliberal political establishment and media have been waging against Corbyn ever since he was elected Labour leader in 2015.
Since these people backed Corbyn during the election – however grudgingly and however insincerely – and since Corbyn is now a hero for their viewers and readers because of his success in the election, they dare not now accuse him of being a catspaw of Putin’s, as they have done with rightists like Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, since they know that if they did whatever credibility they still have with their viewers and readers would end.
The one amongst these commentators who has come closest to doing so – Nick Cohen in the Observer – who refers to “the links between the Corbyn camp and a Putin regime that persecutes genuine radicals” – had his article in which he made this claim removed from the opinion section of the Observer’s website, undoubtedly because the Observer knows of the strong negative reaction such an article would provoke from many of its readers.
In reality Corbyn’s strong showing in the British election is part of the same phenomenon as the Brexit referendum, Donald Trump’s election victory, and the surprisingly strong showing (for a rightist) of Marine Le Pen in the French election. All these are expressions of profound disillusionment across the West with the neoliberal model which has resulted in economic stagnation, falling living standards, growing inequality, confrontation with Russia, Islamist terrorism, and unending Middle East wars.
In Western Europe and specifically in Britain it is for historic reasons easier for a challenge to the neoliberal order to come from the left than the right, which explains why the reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s success has been more measured, and the scapegoat of Russian meddling has not been invoked, than was the case with the Brexit referendum, Donald Trump’s victory and the strong showing of Marine Le Pen.
I should say however that though the claim of Russian meddling in the British election has not so far been made, it is not a foregone conclusion that it never will be. Before the election the preposterous Boris Johnson did briefly try to conjure it telling the Daily Telegraph that
…..there is a “realistic possibility” of Vladimir Putin trying to sabotage the general election, adding that the Russian president would “rejoice” if Jeremy Corbyn won on June 8.
Though scarcely anyone any longer takes what Boris Johnson says seriously, Dan Coats – the US Director of National Intelligence – accused Russia before the British election of working to influence its outcome.
If establishment alarm at the prospect of a Corbyn government grows it is not impossible this allegation might start to be made more forcefully. Whether in that case it would get any traction with the notoriously tough minded and cynical British electorate is another matter.