Dear right-wing people, please stop the red scares. Please give the Cold War lingo a rest. Please remember it is not the 1950s anymore and that there’s about as much chance of Kevin Spacey taking the title role in a biopic of Jesus Christ as there is of Commies coming to power in Britain. Please stop referring to Jeremy Corbyn as if he were some Trotskyite firebrand, when in truth his drab politics is closer to Milibandism than Marxism (the Ed variety, that is, not the Ralph variety). You’re embarrassing yourselves with this pinko panic. Even worse, you are unwittingly flattering the Corbynista crew by indulging their teenage fantasies about being red and edgy. Stop.
This Corbyn-and-the-Czech story has got to be the lamest red scare of recent times. And that’s saying something, seeing as red scares are always nine parts paranoia and one part a smidgen of evidence that some academic or politician once flicked through a copy of Lenin’s ‘The State and Revolution’. This is the claim by Jan Sarkocy, a former Czech intelligence officer, that he rubbed shoulders with Corbyn in the late 1980s and even paid him for info that might prove handy to Prague and Moscow. Corbyn admits meeting a Czech diplomat but vehemently denies giving him information. But that hasn’t stopped sections of the press from going all Ronald Reagan, even a bit Joe McCarthy, and talking about the Corbynistas as if they were the Cambridge Spies Mark II.
Never mind that Sarkocy sounds a little, err, questionable. First there’s the small matter that Corbyn, a professional backbencher until he became Labour leader in 2015, would not exactly have been au fait with state secrets in Thatcher’s Britain. Precisely what kind of information is he meant to have hawked to the Czech? How many potholes there were in Islington? What Diane Abbott eats in the Commons cafeteria? It’s amazing Britain survived such meetings unscathed! Apparently Corbyn told the Czech what Thatcher ate for breakfast and lunch and he could predict what she would wear the next day. We’re meant to believe he had a hotline to Downing Street’s kitchen staff and wardrobe people? This is risible stuff.
Also, can we think about the context for a minute? Corbyn’s admission that he met with a Czech diplomat is held up as proof that something untoward took place. ‘No smoke without fire’, as conspiracy theorists are wont to say. But this was 1986 to 1989, when the Berlin Wall was creaking, Gorbachev was cosying up to anyone in the West who’d buy him lunch, and the Soviet Union had one leg over the cliff edge. Communism was at its weakest point in its entire history. The idea that some Czech and the Member of Parliament for Islington North were at the moment engaged in a sinister Commie conspiracy is a whole new era of stupid.
The Corbyn scare is fascinating not for what it tells us about politics in the 1980s, but for what it reveals about politics today. Most striking has been the speed, and glee, with which many right-wing observers have embraced this tall tale and wrapped themselves in the comfort blanket of the Cold War. Man, they miss the Cold War. I guess life and politics were easier back then. Having that Evil Empire lurking in the east was a moral and political boon to some in the West, who for all their own societies’ failings and confusions could at least say: ‘Well, we are not that’. Take that away and politics becomes a tougher business. This is why some on the right, and the left, are determined to revive the Cold War — because they crave those old black-and-white binaries. Nice try, guys, but it’s not convincing, and it’s kind of tragic.
But perhaps even more unforgivable than right-wingers’ sad attempt at an historic re-enactment of the Cold War has been their inadvertent flattery of Corbynistas’ self-delusions. I think the right fails to appreciate how much Corbyn supporters love it when you treat them as some kind of enemy within, as Trots or Marxoids, as the fuming red enemy of British decency. Sure, publicly Corbyn and Co will say, ‘How dare you!’, but really they relish this red-baiting. It makes them feel dangerous; it makes them feel genuinely left-wing; it allows them to forget the fact that they’re members of Britain’s dull, small-c conservative, utterly un-radical Labour party and to fantasise that they’re 21st-century revolutionaries.
This red scare is bad on every level. It is built on shaky claims. It substitutes smears for serious debate. It suggests the right are so out of it right now that they want to take refuge in Cold War nostalgia. And it allows the grey, unambitious, nanny-state-loving, middle-class luvvies and trustafarians who make up the core of Corbynism to play-act at being radical, when in truth if they ever saw a swarm of working-class people coming to overthrow the establishment they’d have a nervous breakdown. Which they did, in fact: after Brexit. Radical? They can’t spell the word.