As leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has survived internal coup attempts, possible “wipeout” in a general election, multiple smear campaigns, and a deeply hostile media environment. But is the leader of the opposition also weathering a more secretive storm?
The Canary spoke with historian and foreign policy analyst Mark Curtis about the possible involvement of the ‘deep state’ (secretive elements of the government) in efforts to prevent a Corbyn-led government.
There is, in fact, quite important historical precedent to consider in terms of “security” services colluding against left-wing UK governments.
In 1924, for example, an MI6 agent forged the “Zinoviev letter“. This claimed that the Soviet Union had subverted the British Labour Party. The letter was leaked to the Daily Mail, which began publishing articles on it just four days before a general election. Headlines including Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed led to the crushing of Britain’s first ever Labour government at the polls.
More recently, Harold Wilson – the longest-serving Labour prime minister in the 20th century (1964-70 and 1974-6) – seemed to fall foul of elite expectations of a British government. According to an explosive book by former MI5 officer Peter Wright named Spycatcher, Wilson was targeted with a:
protracted, illegal campaign of destabilisation by a rogue element in the security services… They tried to pin all kinds of nonsense on him: that his devoted public secretary, Marcia Williams, posed a threat to national security; that he was a closet IRA sympathiser.
The smear campaigns used against past Labour leaders – disputing their loyalty while suggesting they threaten national security – look starkly similar to those waged today.
The Canary asked Mark Curtis whether we should be concerned about ‘deep state’ involvement in current efforts to prevent a Corbyn government. He responded:
We should definitely be concerned about possible deep state involvement in preventing a Corbyn government. The UK ‘security’ services operate substantially outside of democratic oversight and have a record of challenging popular responses to insidious state policies such as spying on individuals, NGOs or campaign groups.
It’s a great myth to believe that the state promotes national interests; rather it tends to defend narrow elite and corporate interests. This is something that comes through clearly in the declassified government files – popular policies are seen as threats to be countered.
As Curtis explains in Middle East Eye, Corbyn’s foreign policy poses a credible threat to elite interests. He supports the Chagos islanders‘ right to return home; would recognise a Palestinian state; would pursue legal accountability for the invasion of Iraq; and “would be the first anti-imperialist to win power in a major Western country”.
This, it seems, has won him few friends within the UK military apparatus. Indeed, some of the aforementioned smear campaigns have been promoted by a shady UK Foreign Office-funded organisation named the Integrity Initiative. Many of the journalists named within the Integrity Initiative documents, moreover, have smeared Corbyn.
In 2015, a “senior serving general” told the Sunday Times that Corbyn would face “a mutiny” if he became prime minister. And in 2018, former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove told Sky News that he was “troubled by Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations”.
Perhaps most worryingly is that the anti-Corbyn project appears to be Transatlantic. As US secretary of state Mike Pompeo recently claimed, the US “won’t wait for [Corbyn]” to get into power before seeking to undermine him. Pompeo’s use of wording, “run the gauntlet and get elected” for example, suggested that actions are already underway. Indeed, it would seem naive to think the UK immune to Washington’s global anti-socialist campaign.
Though Wilson’s Labour governments were by no means anti-imperialist (it was Wilson who first expelled the Chagos islanders from their homeland), Wilson nonetheless faced pressure from areas of the deep state. In this context, The Canary asked Curtis how radical Corbyn’s project is. He said:
The amazing thing is that Corbyn’s agenda, while a real challenge to Whitehall, is remarkably moderate. Most of the world recognises Palestine as a state and considers it abnormal to invade other countries. But even this is unacceptable to a British elite that is truly extreme, schooled in centuries of imperialism, and which believes it has special rights to act in ways forbidden to other states. The fact that it is Corbyn who is the moderate is surely obvious to most people outside media newsrooms – which is why the state is so afraid and why the media has had to go to such extraordinary lengths to concoct preposterous smears.
The closer Corbyn gets to power, the more vicious the campaign to topple him will become. At this critical juncture, it’s vital to consider Curtis’s words.
Featured image via Sophie Brown/WikiCommons
- Check out Mark Curtis’ website and list of books here.
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