It is a historical trend that whenever the Right has been on the back foot, it has responded in kind with misinformation, smears, and outright attacks on the Left.
In 1924, after the meteoric rise of the Labour movement, the Daily Mail, backed by the Conservatives, published a letter which suggested the Labour Party was in contact with the Bolsheviks and were planning to unleash a communist coup in Britain. This of course never materialised, and the ‘Zinoviev letter’ was revealed to be a complete fabrication on the part of Britain’s secret service and political and economic elites.
The 1945 General Election saw a Conservative politician lie and outrageously smear the Labour Party. Winston Churchill argued that Labour would need to “fall back on some kind of Gestapo” in order to implement its socialist manifesto. British voters ignored these absurd and insensitive claims and were right to. They were vindicated when the Labour Party was able to introduce policies such as the National Health Service without the need for any Nazi-styled secret police.
In the 1992 election, with the Labour Party projected to defeat the Conservatives, The Sun published an outrageous headline. In the event of a Kinnock government, the paper asked ‘will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’. The Sun‘s suggestion that economic calamity would be assured under a Labour government ultimately proved to be fallacious, as after the Tories were re-elected Britain was ejected from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on ‘Black Wednesday’.
Recently, the right-wing press has engaged in increasingly personal and vindictive attacks against the Left. In 2013, the Daily Mail wrote a headline stating that the Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, was “The Man Who Hated Britain.” Making tenuous links between Ralph Miliband’s Marxist credentials and the leader of the Labour Party, the Daily Mail engaged in a vicious, personal, and desperate attack on a far from radical Labour leader.
Indeed, the patently absurd claims Ed Miliband was responsible for his father’s supposedly ‘Britain-hating’ views, seem at best misplaced. At worst though, they were a vile slander against Ralph Miliband, a man who far from hating Britain, had fought for his nation during World War Two.
In 2015, with Labour reaching near parity with the Tories in the polls, the onslaught against Miliband’s Labour continued. The claims of the Right were less personal, but remained equally as misleading, with the press arguing that Labour’s overspending in 2008 was to blame for Britain’s economic problems after the financial crash. The Daily Telegraph and Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that it was Labour who broke the economy, and that given the keys to Downing Street they would do it again. What the Conservatives of course forgot to mention was that the Tories backed Labour’s spending prior to the crash.
This brings us to the present. In the last week, claims emerged suggesting Jeremy Corbyn had links with a communist spy from Czechoslovakia and had divulged British secrets.
The story was front page news across many right-wing publications: The Sun, the Daily Mail, and the Daily Telegraph, with Tory MPs and ministers alike questioning Corbyn’s credentials and suitability to hold public office.
Despite initial speculation, Czechian defence authorities have since confirmed that the claims against Corbyn were indeed fabricated. Such a revelation highlights that, yet again, misinformation has been perpetuated by the right-wing media in an attempt to undermine the Left.
Conservative politicians were quick to smear Corbyn. In a similar vein to the Mail’s attack on Ralph Miliband, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson questioned Corbyn’s loyalty to Britain: “Time and time again he has sided with those who want to destroy everything that is great about this country.”
With similar absurdity to the Zinoviev letter debacle in 1924, Conservative MP Ben Bradley also ran with the story, claiming the Labour leader had sold British secrets to “communist spies.”
The reasoning behind these claims are clear. In line with the historic responses of the Right in 1924, 1945, 1992, and 2015, the misinformation espoused by the Tories and the right-wing press has come at a time when the Left is on the ascendancy.
Since the 2017 election, Labour has not died down, and now the Right is running scared from a resurgent British Left. As it has historically done since the Zinoviev letter in 1924, the Tories are clinging to falsification as a means to maintaining power. As Labour becomes a greater threat, the vitriolic, false, and absurd attacks by the Conservatives and the media elites are intensifying.
The outright lies charged by the Right in 1945 were unsuccessful and Labour gained a landslide majority. If the Tories aren’t cautious, they may suffer a similar fate.