Political Smearing: Project Islington, I
On Friday 11th September, David Cameron intended to launch Project Islington: a series of dirty-bomb attacks on Jeremy Corbyn based on weeks of research over the summer as the Tories realised to their horror that the backbench Labour MP from Islington North with all those dreary left-wing ideas might actually win.
Prime Ministerial staff have been trailing Corbyn round the country ever since the YouGov poll revealed on 22nd July that Corbyn had a solid lead over any of the three candidates the Tories would have preferred to be leading Labour today.
Unfortunately, Cameron was caught making a little quip about people from Yorkshire
“We just thought people in Yorkshire hated everyone else, we didn’t realise they hated each other so much.”
when he didn’t realise the mike was live, and what should have been a resounding speech denouncing Jeremy Corbyn became an amused discussion of Cameron’s loose lips.
Michael Fallon, the Conservative MP for Sevenoaks and Secretary of State for Defence since July last year, is said to have been nominated to be the chief attack dog for Project Islington, and was supposed to be ready to unleash hell within hours of Corbyn’s win. (Sure enough, within a few hours Fallon was on the BBC declaring that Corbyn was a “big risk” to national and economic security, and that “all working people” would be worse off under a Labour government. I’m sure we were all heartily convinced by that.)
David Cameron did his best on Sunday morning with a tweet that, while widely circulated, doesn’t appear to have been taken as seriously as he would have liked.
The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) September 13, 2015
Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn by the Tories, both directly and via the Tory press, have been continuous through the campaign.
— Joe Public (@jpublik) September 1, 2015
The framing of the “serious” debate is that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party can’t be trusted with the national economy or national security. David Cameron’s Friday speech had meant to say:
“I have watched with some bewilderment the Labour leadership election.
“Labour is arguing at the extremes of the debate. They pose a clear threat to the financial security of every family in Britain.
“This is now a party that has completely vacated the intellectual playing field and no longer represents working people.”
- Labour’s new leader is a threat to our national security
- our economic security,
- and your family’s security.
Along with about half of the population of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t support renewing Trident: he also doesn’t think the UK should be getting involved in pointless wars.
– No one really knows what this means, but it’s ironic coming from the man who inspired the policy of breaking up families if one of them’s from outside the EU and the other isn’t earning £18,400 a year. Isn’t forcing family breakup if the British spouse earns only £18,000 a year a threat to your family’s security, then?
Moving from headlines to misquotes, the Conservative Party claims of Jeremy Corbyn:
- He believes: the death of Osama bin Laden was a “tragedy”.
- He describes: terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”
- He opposes: Britain having nuclear defences.
What Jeremy Corbyn actually said (PressTV, The Agenda, 2011)
“There was no attempt whatsoever that I can see to arrest him, to put him on trial, to go through that process. This was an assassination attempt, and is yet another tragedy, upon a tragedy, upon a tragedy. The World Trade Center was a tragedy, the attack on Afghanistan was a tragedy, the war in Iraq was a tragedy. Tens of thousands of people have died. Torture has come back on to the world stage, been canonised virtually into law by Guantánamo and Bagram. Can’t we learn some lessons from this? Are we just going to sink deeper and deeper? The next stage will be an attempted assassination on Gaddafi and so it will go on. This will just make the world more dangerous and worse and worse and worse.”
What Jeremy Corbyn actually said (Stop the War Coalition, Meet the Resistance, 3rd March 2009):
I want first of all to say thank you everyone for being here tonight, and say that tomorrow evening it will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in Parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking. I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well, unfortunately the Israelis would not allow them to travel here so it’s going to be only friends from Hezbollah. So far as I’m concerned, that is absolutely the right function of using Parliamentary facilities to invite people from other parts of the world so that we can promote that peace, that understanding, and that dialogue: and the idea that an organisation that is dedicated towards the good of the Palestinian people and bringing about long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region, should be labelled as a terrorist organisation by the British government is really a big, big historical mistake, and I would invite the government to reconsider its position on this matter and start talking, directly, to Hamas and Hezbollah. That is the only way forward to bring about peace.
The first childish decision was ours – Israel must on no account recognize the Hamas government because Hamas is a terror organization, which does not recognize the Jewish democratic state. Because Hamas is this and that.
This is complete – and fatal – nonsense. Hamas really is this and that, but it is the only government in Gaza. We tried to bring it down and as a result it grew stronger. Moreover, secret WikiLeaks documents recently published reveal that a senior Israeli defense official told an American diplomat Israel is interested in maintaining Hamas’ rule in Gaza in the short term, because any alternative reign would be worse.
If so, what is this bloody game for? Why continue bluffing the Israeli public when the solution is simple? Israel must recognize Hamas’ government in Gaza de facto, as an existing reality. Israel must negotiate with the existing government over practical matters that require an arrangement.
On recognising Hezbollah as a political party in Lebanon, a question asked by Andrew Dismore, then Labour MP for Hendon, of Bill Rammell, then Labour MP for Harlow and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in the House of Commons on 23rd March 2009: Rammell noted that the UK government had carried out
a thorough assessment of all the components of Hezbollah was carried out to establish this distinction between those members of Hezbollah who are legitimately involved in Lebanese politics and those who are involved in violence and support terrorism.
At that Stop the War event in 2009, Jeremy Corbyn went on to say:
London has traditionally been a centre where many organisations have been able to exist and have their being, and be able to promote anti-colonial, anti-imperial activities all over the world. The Chinese revolutionaries were in London, the Latin-American revolutionaries were in London, every African revolutionary was in London at some point, they all ended up having tea with Queen at the end of it, as Tony Benn always reminded us, so you never know, and also perhaps more appropriately, because of the language used by the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher*, the African National Congress, I’m very pleased to say, had its offices in my borough all through the period of the apartheid movement. Under the kind of legislation we’ve got in this country now, they wouldn’t have been welcomed guests in our borough, as they were, we were all very happy to work with them, they would all be denied activity, probably imprisoned, quite probably deported, because they would be labelled as a terrorist organisation. The language is something we’ve got to reconquer, and that is what tonight is about.
(*Thatcher famously called the ANC “a typical terrorist organisation” and opposed sanctions against the apartheid regime.)
– The Tory graphic cites the Warrington Leadership Hustings, 25th July 2015, but I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn has said as much on that and many other occasions. The Tories are trying to push this as a default, that everyone who doesn’t support Britain having nuclear weapons is a threat to national security. That’s about half of the population of the UK that doesn’t support nuclear weapons. This isn’t some kind of extreme view: it’s mainstream.
Whether or not you personally support the UK renewing Trident, it’s acknowledged in defence circles that there is a debate to be had: at a time when David Cameron is cutting the UK’s conventional defence forces massively, why spend billions on an expensive missile system which mainly exists not to be used at all?
- He claims: the last Labour Government didn’t spend too much: “We actually … spent too little.”
- He wants: to print money to fund more spending
- And he thinks: people should pay “quite a lot more” taxes
- We can’t ever let Labour back into power again
- Donate now
- And stop them putting our country at risk.
What Jeremy Corbyn actually said on this topic:
“We’re very bad at asserting certain things. After the 2010 election and Liam Byrne’s note in the Treasury, it became in the public mind a fact that Labour spent too much and this became repeated all the time, unchallenged. And by the time we actually got round to an election five years later, there was an assumption that we admitted we’d spent too much. Actually, what did we spend too much on? The banking system collapsed because of a combination of a sub-prime mortgage crisis and deregulation. There was a lot of money spent buying out bank shares and buying out banks, a lot of money spent on quantitative easing to keep the money supply going, and now Osborne is selling off RBS shares at a loss and calling it a triumph for him and his government. So I think we have to be much more assertive as to what actually happened.”
The Tory graphic cites the Nottingham Hustings, 28th June 2015, but the source is really from five years ago, the 2010 summer when Labour, out of government and engaging in a much quieter leadership election, let the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition spin a lie unhindered: that Labour spending had somehow been responsible for the 2008 economic crash.
By the time Ed Miliband had been elected leader, the lie about Labour spending had become more widely accepted that the truth. In 2007, George Osborne, then Shadow Chancellor, had approved and supported Labour spending plans: by 2015, Andy Burnham, standing for election as Labour leader, thought it politically expedient to publicly accept the Tory lie about the economic crash.
As Larry Elliott, the Economics editor at the Guardian, pointed out on 9th August:
Corbyn is the only candidate sticking to the line that the banks were to blame and he is reaping the benefit. Not least because he is absolutely right.
Support for this argument has helpfully been provided by a recent House of Commons briefing paper from Matthew Keep. This looks at three separate measures of the public finances: the size of the budget deficit, the size of national debt as a proportion of the economy’s output (gross domestic product) and the percentage of GDP swallowed up by interest payments on the national debt.
None provides any support for the idea that Labour profligacy caused the crisis. Let’s start with the budget deficit.
As Richard Murphy at Tax Research UK notes, there is simply no evidence for this assertion.
Labour could not have in any way caused a crash by overspending because, quite simply, it did not do so.
You can argue whether Labour caused banks to crash. I do not think it entirely innocent on this but raise four points.
First, the failure was in the US in the first instance: no one disputes that.
Second, Labour did resist demands for more relaxed regulation.
Third, those demands came most especially from Opposition benches.
Fourth, the banking failure in the UK would not have been prevented if Labour had adopted a different policy: the risks were not understood at the time by supposedly clever economists and was as a result systemic and not national.
– What Jeremy Corbyn actually wrote (“The Economy in 2020”, published 22nd July 2015)
We need to drive investment and lending to reshape and rebuild the economy: Focused on hi-tech and innovation and the infrastructure to support that, rebuilding supply chains to stimulate private sector demand.
The ‘rebalancing’ I have talked about here today means rebalancing away from finance towards the high-growth, sustainable sectors of the future.
How do we do this?
One option would be for the Bank of England to be given a new mandate to upgrade our economy to invest in new large scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects: Quantitative easing for people instead of banks. Richard Murphy has been one of many economists making that case.
This is from Jeremy Corbyn’s economics policy document.
Quantitative easing is the power a central bank with a sovereign currency has to “print money” – to inject money into the economy by creating it new. Billions of uantitative easing money was used by the UK government (and the US government, which has the same power) to save banks from failure in the 2008 crash.
The Tories don’t object to “printing money” on principle. George Osborne may be a pro-austerity ideologue, but he understands that Gordon Brown’s quantitative easing programme saved British banks (for Osborne to sell them on the cheap to his friends in the City, but that’s not Brown’s fault).
What the Tories object to isn’t printing money, nor spending it. What is driving them into a whirlwind of fury is the idea that quantitative easing could be used to spend money on things that would be be useful to all of us: large-scale council-house building, renewable energy projects, improving our public transport system, funding digital projects so new we haven’t heard of them yet, like that thing Tim Berner-Lee was doing at CERN in 1989.
“If they were earning over fifty thousand a year, perhaps a bit more: if they were earning over a hundred thousand a year, quite a lot more.”
The message from the people who put together this Tory graphic seems to be: if you earn less than a hundred thousand a year, you’re not “people”.
The quote is from an interview on BBC Newsnight, on 8th June 2015. The interview is well worth watching in full – Jeremy Corbyn has only just made it onto the leadership ballot, and at that point, I am sure that no one – including Corbyn himself – seriously thought that on 12th September he would be announced the leader of the Labour Party.
So it’s interesting that he made a very deft response to the question of raising taxes on people who have a higher income. The question, at 5:31 on the video, was “Would the middle class – let’s call them the median voter – people in the middle of the income spectrum – not the rich – do you think under a Corbyn government they would be paying more tax?”
Corbyn: “If they were earning over fifty thousand a year, perhaps a bit more: if they were earning over a hundred thousand a year, quite a lot more. The issue has to be – ”
Interviewer: “But you know the median income is way below fifty thousand a year, so I’m interested in whether your pitch is – ”
Corbyn: “The median income is way below that – ”
Interviewer: “yes, about half that”
Corbyn: ” – and I would not see them paying more tax.”
Jeremy Corbyn didn’t answer the interviewer’s question: he knew as well as the interviewer did that “median income” in the UK way below £50,000. But because he first of all gave the kind of income which could pay more tax under a Corbyn government – the people who are in the upper income range even though they may not feel wealthy – he made it impossible for his opponents to use that video clip against him to argue that “Corbyn had said he wouldn’t raise taxes”, even though – when Corbyn answered the question – it was clear that Corbyn doesn’t envisage raising income tax rates for the majority – for people who are earning £40,000 or less.
Part of the way in which cheap-work conservatives argue is to carefully avoid letting people who are part of the 99% realise that when a left-wing politician says they’ll raise taxes on the better off, they typically don’t mean on people who’re earning £40,000 a year any more than they mean on people who’re earning £14,000 a year. The £40k-a-year earners are incomparably better off than those on £14k a year: but to the 1% who regard an income of £142,500 a year as a beggarly pittance, there’s not much difference between the two. But on 8th June this year, Corbyn couldn’t have imagined he was answering that question as a possible future Prime Minister: that kind of deft footwork with a hostile interviewer must simply be automatic for him.
-Because if we do, Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn might promote peace in the Middle East, refuse to spend billions on Trident, move away from the ideological focus on austerity for most and tax-cutting for the rich, make corporate freeloaders pay their damn taxes, and boost the economy with sensible spending. How terrible that would be.
-The only honest line in the whole shebang!
-Always remember, for men like David Cameron and George Osborne, they don’t include you and me when they say “our”.
The country of the old Etonians, the cheap-work conservatives, the wealthy men who only got wealthier since 2008, that country is “at risk” if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. Their country is at risk. Not ours.
26th April 2015: Britain’s billionaires have seen their net worth more than double since the recession, with the richest 1,000 families now controlling a total of £547bn.
22nd April 2015: The Trussell Trust, which manages the UK’s largest network of food banks, says that 1,084,604 people received three days’ food in 2014/15 – a rise of 19% from the previous year.
They won’t stop trying to convince you that Jeremy Corbyn is a bad and incompetent leader for the Labour Party, for the Opposition, or for the country, until the day he retires or dies.