Nick Cohen

Putin’s cranks and creeps are winning the day

Putin’s cranks and creeps are winning the day
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Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters announce themselves to be the leftist of the left: a band of brothers, who have saved the Labour Party from neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism. Yet they happily align with the most right-wing imperialist power in the neighbourhood.

All around Corbyn, questions about Russian influence in the US election and the Brexit referendum are exploding. Instead of using the opposition front bench to investigate and denounce, Corbyn and McDonnell show no interest in fighting the right at home or abroad. They prefer instead to join a queue that includes Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and wait in line to plant damp kisses on Vladimir Putin’s firm hand. Asked to comment on Theresa May’s belated decision to stand up to a hostile foreign power. Corbyn’s spokesman said:

‘I think we need to see more evidence of what's being talked about. Jeremy has made clear on a number of occasions that we need to see an attempt through dialogue to ratchet down tensions with Russia'.

Leftists are always keen to denounce sell-outs. 'The left looks for traitors, the right looks for converts,' as I used to say. If Corbyn endorsed Donald Trump, even the cultists in Momentum would object. Yet he appears to endorse Trump’s friend and there is no questioning on the left about where Corbyn is taking Labour – and indeed who he is bringing along with him. Backbenchers such as Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant ask hard questions about Russian influence, while Labour’s front bench looks the other way. Many liberals and leftists are appalled by Corbyn’s silence on Brexit, they should notice that his silence on Putin matches it.

Moving on, Alex Salmond is a former leader of the Scottish National Party. Now he has swapped Scottish nationalism for Russian nationalism and serves the Kremlin as a minor celebrity on its English-language station. Nigel Farage and Arron Banks have built their whole careers on the claim they are British patriots. Yet as Banks recounts in his memoir of the referendum campaign, The Bad Boys of Brexit, (as if he and Farage looked like rockstars rather than portly Rotarians):

'(We were introduced to the) First Secretary of the (Russian) Embassy – in other words, the KGB’s man in London...we hit it off from the word go…Our host wanted the inside track on the Brexit campaign.'

The trivial mingles with the profound when you examine the motives of the Russophiles. There’s nothing more to say about Alex Salmond than that he is a vain old man, who cannot accept his day is done. He will seize the hand of any country that will make him feel important again. Many of the talking heads on Russia Today share the same urge. Watch it and you see half-forgotten or never-known men preening themselves with delight that Russia has found it in its interests to give them a platform.

Meanwhile, the Leninist left has simply switched its enthusiasm from the communist Soviet Union to crony capitalist Russia. Seumas Milne could well have been the Corbyn spokesman briefing reporters that Labour leadership did not want any trouble with Putin. He has paid homage to the new Tsar at a Black Sea resort, and warned of the dangers of 'demonising' him. If you still have to ask why the Labour left indulges a friend of Trump and Farage, a persecutor of gays and an imperial conqueror of sovereign nations, then you have failed to grasp its cynicism and intellectual emptiness. 

Russia is a great disruptive power. It wants to reverse the post-Cold war settlement that stripped the Soviet empire of most of its possessions. Like Stalin and Catherine the Great, and indeed most aggressive leaders in history, it is always looking for openings. The breakup of Britain and Spain would weaken Western Europe, so it supports Scottish and Catalonian independence. A Trump presidency would not even pretend to be interested in Putin’s abuse of human rights in Russia and Ukraine, so Russia or its agent Julian Assange hacked the Clinton campaign’s emails. Brexit weakens the European Union, and we are learning more daily about Russian support for the leave cause. Prime minister Corbyn would weaken NATO, indeed given Corbyn’s promotion of British communists and his long association with the Morning Star, he would want to leave NATO. Naturally, Russia wants to promote Corbyn and vice versa.

Outside the US, where the exploitation of Facebook and hacking of the Clinton campaign may have swung the 2016 presidential election, no one can yet argue that Russian intervention has decided Western nation’s fates. But it has been ever present. And it is time that we talked more about why outsiders admire Russia and what their admiration says about them.

You might begin by noticing that the right and the far right see it as a white conservative power implacably opposed to liberalism. Beyond its residual attachment to the birthplace of Marxist-Leninism, the far left sees echoes of itself in Russia’s hatred of the West.

A few years ago, you could dismiss Putin’s supporters as cranks and creeps. Who’s laughing at them now? They are still cranky and creepy, no doubt about it, but their cranky and creepy causes have won. Trump is president of the United States. Corbyn leads the British Labour party. Britain has left the European Union. The future – our future – belongs to the allies of a corrupt, aggressive, mendacious and murderous state.

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

Topics in this articlePoliticsrussiauk politics