Brendan O’Neill

‘Putinites on the web’ are the new ‘Reds under the bed’

'Putinites on the web' are the new 'Reds under the bed'
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Wounded Remainers in Britain and the Hillary set in the US love banging on about ‘post-truth politics’. Lies are everywhere, they say, falling from Trump’s weird mouth, plastered on the side of Brexit buses. And apparently these lies invaded voters’ minds and made us do the unimaginable thing of voting against the EU and failing to vote for Hillary. We was hoodwinked by falsehoods! All of which would be a tad more convincing if it wasn't for one thing: it’s actually the Remainer and Hillary cliques that have gone full post-truth, even descending into the cesspit of conspiracy theory.

Yesterday in the House of Commons, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw did something alarming: he demeaned the vote for Brexit — the largest vote for anything in British political history — by saying it was brought about by dastardly Russian meddling in the referendum. Although we ‘don’t have the evidence’ to show that Russian cyber-warriors and fake-news planters swayed the referendum vote, it’s ‘highly probable’ they did, he said. And now we must ‘wake up’ to the extent to which Russia is swaying or planning to sway elections in both the US and Europe. The Ruskies are coming!

At first I thought this was funny. An MP blaming his own failings (Bradshaw was a very keen Remain campaigner) on evil Russians is always a good for a laugh. Especially when he does it without so much as a slither of evidence. Post-truth much? But actually, Bradshaw’s comments are outrageous. He’s not only attacking Russia; he’s insulting the British electorate, too, by suggesting millions of us were puppeteered to vote 'Leave' by shady faraway actors stuffing our gadgets with EU-fearin’ propaganda that we witlessly fell for. To believe Russia swayed the referendum is to believe in the brainwashability of the public. MPs of all people, who rely on our votes, should not so casually ridicule the act of voting.

Bradshaw, like other leading, still bitter Remainers, cannot accept that a majority of people are simply opposed, rationally opposed, to the existence of the oligarchical, illiberal, Byzantine nightmare that is the EU. There’s an arrogance to his comments: he’s so stunned that there are people out there who think differently to him that the only way he can make sense of it is by imagining these people have been got at by Putin and his cyber minions. What a terrifying insight into the frosty remoteness of the political class.

Bradshaw also said that Russian interference on the side of Trump in the US election is ‘now proven’. No it isn’t. He’s referring to the Washington Post story, lapped up by Hillaryites, about how the CIA believes Putin meddled in order to get Trump to the White House. Yet while we know it is suspected that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails, there’s little hard evidence to substantiate the new CIA suspicion that it did so to push Trump, or that it had any policy of pushing Trump. Indeed, other reports now make clear that the FBI rejects the CIA’s conclusion, as do some in the CIA itself.

What’s truly scary about the Russia-won-it-for-Trump nonsense is that so many ostensibly left-wing and liberal people are uncritically lapping up CIA claims. Since when did the CIA become a paragon of political truth? Since when was it considered acceptable for the CIA to use its clout to cast a shadow over the democratic election of a president? Imagine, just imagine, if Hillary had won and the CIA had said: ‘We think her victory is dodgy.’ There'd have been riots. Or at least Twitterstorms. The Guardian would have pumped out endless op-eds about the CIA’s wickedness and misogyny. Buzzfeed would have done ‘27 Other Times The CIA Were Totally Evil Bastards’. But when the CIA does it to Trump, on flimsy evidence, these people embrace it. And they say dumb voters are easily influenced by figures of authority.

And again there’s the nasty anti-electorate undertone, the implication being that Trump voters — rednecks, Rust Belt thickos, right? — drank in Ruskie propaganda and were turned crazy by it. As Sean Davis of the Federalist said:

‘Wow you guys, I can't believe Russia forced Hillary to call half the country deplorable and banned her from spending any time in Wisconsin.’

Indeed. Putin didn’t make Hillary lose; she did that all by herself. The McCarthyite sensibility, if not the practice, mercifully, is back. And this time it’s on the left, not the right. In their evidence-lite handwringing over Russian mastery of Western electorates, Remainers and Hillary backers are rehabilitating the panic and conspiracy theorising of the McCarthyites of old. But this time, they are replacing Reds under the Bed with Putinites on the Web, fancying that nasty forces in Moscow are plotting the overthrow of decent, liberal politics in the West. And they have the gall to call us post-truth? People who voted 'Leave' or Trump are exemplars of rationalism in comparison with these Russia-fearing spreaders of 1950s-style hysteria.