Two articles from Jonathan Cook: Reaction t0 footage of British soldiers using a poster of Jeremy Corbyn as target practice; and a look back at when a sitting prime minister was a real target of the British army.
It is time to stop believing these infantile narratives the political and media establishment have crafted for us. Like the one in which they tell us they care deeply about the state of British political life, that they lie awake at night worrying about the threat posed by populism to our democratic institutions.
How do they persuade us of the depth of their concern? They express their horror at the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and their outrage at the abuse of another, Anna Soubry.
But they don’t really care whether politicians are assaulted, vilified or threatened – at least, not if it is the kind of politician who threatens their power. These political and media elites don’t seriously care about attacks on democracy, or about political violence, or about the rottenness at the core of state institutions. Their outrage is selective. It is rooted not in principle, but in self-interest.
Is that too cynical? Ponder this.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t just faced insults shouted at him from afar, like Soubry. He was recently physically assaulted, hit on the head by a man holding an egg in his fist. But unlike Soubry, our media expressed no real concern. In fact, they could barely conceal their sniggers at his “egging”, an attack they presented as little more than a prank. They even hinted that Corbyn deserved it.
Shown as Kremlin Stooge
The media have been happy too to vilify Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge and a former Soviet spy. BBC news even photoshopped the Labour leader to make him look “Russian” – or “more Russian”, as the media all phrased it. Those who protested were told they were reading too much into it. They needed to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously.
The Conservative party, including the former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has regularly portrayed Corbyn as a threat to national security, especially over concerns about the Trident nuclear missile system. Many senior members of Corbyn’s own party have echoed such smears – all amplified, of course, by the media.
Those who suggested that the government and media needed to engage with Corbyn’s well-grounded doubts about the safety of nuclear weapons, or the economics and practicalities of the Trident programme, were derided – like Corbyn – as “pacifists” and “traitors”.
Then Corbyn became the target of another sustained demonisation campaign. It was claimed that this lifelong, very public anti-racism activist – who over decades had forged strong ties to sections of the British Jewish community, despite being a steadfast critic of Israel – was, at worst, a secret anti-semite and, at best, providing succour to anti-semites as they overran the Labour party.
Was there any factual basis or evidence for these claims? No. But the British public was assured by rightwing Jews like the Board of Deputies and by “leftwing” Jewish supporters of Israel like Jonathan Freedland that evidence wasn’t necessary, that they had a sixth sense for these things.
Corbyn’s supporters were told that they should not question the wildly inflammatory and evidence-free denunciations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership for a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” – and, with a satisfyingly circular logic, that to do so was itself proof of anti-semitism.
Too Toxic to Lead Labour
The weaponisation of anti-semitism through political spin by Corbyn’s political enemies, including the Blairite faction of the parliamentary Labour party, was and is a dangerous assault on public life, one that has very obviously degraded Britain’s political culture.
The smear was meant to override the membership’s wishes and make Corbyn too toxic to lead Labour.
It has also politicised the anti-semitism allegation, weakening it for a section of the population, and irresponsibly inflaming fears among other sections. It has deflected attention from the very real threat of a rising tide of rightwing racism, both Islamophobia and the kind of anti-semitism that relates to Jews, not Israel.
Then, there was the serving British general who was given a platform by The Sunday Times – anonymously, of course – to accuse Corbyn of being a threat to British national security. The general warned that the army’s senior command would never allow Corbyn near Number 10. They would launch a coup first.
But no one in the corporate media or the political establishment thought the interview worthy of much attention, or demanded an investigation to find out which general had threatened to overturn the democratic will of the people. The story was quickly dropped down the memory hole. Those who sought to draw attention to it were told to move on, that there was nothing to see.
And now, this week, footage has emerged showing British soldiers – apparently taking their commanders’ expressed wishes more seriously than the media – using a poster of Corbyn as target practice out in Afghanistan.
Questioning ‘Security Credentials’
Do the media and politicians really care about any of this? Are they concerned, let alone as outraged as they were at Soubry’s earlier discomfort at the verbal abuse she faced? Do they understand the seriousness of this threat to British political life, to the safety of the leader of the opposition?
The signs are still far from reassuring. Theresa May did not think it worth using prime minister’s questions to condemn the video, to send an unequivocal message that Britain’s political choices would never be decided by violence. No one else in the chamber apparently thought to raise the matter either.
Sky News even used the footage to question yet again Corbyn’s “security credentials”, as though the soldiers might thereby have grounds for treating him as a legitimate target.
The clues as to where all this is leading are not hard to fathom. The white nationalist who drove into a crowd at Finsbury Park mosque in London, killing a worshipper, admitted at his trial that the real target had been Corbyn. An unexpected roadblock foiled his plans.
The fact is that no one in the political or media class cares much whether their constant trivialising of Corbyn’s political programme degrades British political life, or whether their smears could lead to political violence, or whether four years of their incitement might encourage someone to use more than an egg and a fist against Corbyn.
So let’s stop indulging the media and politicians as they cite Jo Cox’s murder and Anna Soubry’s intimidation as evidence of their democratic sensibilities and their commitment to political principle.
The truth is they are charlatans. They will use anything – from the murder of an MP to confections of anti-semitism and smears about treason – to incite against a democratic politician who threatens their domination of the political system.
It is their refusal to engage with a political argument they know they will lose, and to allow a democratic process to take place that they fear will produce the wrong result, that is setting the scene for greater polarisation and frustration, and ultimately for violence.
Army Plots Against a British Prime Minister are Not New
There has been some debate about the significance of a warning issued this weekend through Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times by a British general that the army would “mutiny” and use “whatever means possible, fair or foul” should the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ever get near 10 Downing Street.
Here is what the general says:
Owen Jones has wondered whether this is tantamount to a threat of a coup by the military. I think it would be foolhardy indeed to read it as anything else.
None of us should be surprised either. We have been here before. In the late 1960s and early 1970s serving British generals, former generals, members of the royal family and the British security services regularly spoke in such terms to each other – and even occasionally on prime-time television.
More than that, when they believed their privileges were under serious threat, as they did during Harold Wilson’s various governments of that period, they actively plotted for “regime change”, or a military takeover.
In what became a self-serving vicious spiral, the establishment’s fears were further stoked by the stream of black propaganda being fed to the British media by MI5, Britain’s version of the FBI. It painted Wilson’s government and the trade union movement as overrun with Communists trying to bring down the UK. One can imagine a Corbyn government will receive no better treatment from the UK media than Wilson’s did.
Like Corbyn today, Wilson was seen in the 60s and 70s as a major threat to the entrenched privileges of British elites.
There is a wealth of evidence for all this, though perhaps unsurprisingly many sources, including Wikipedia, casually dismiss these accounts as “conspiracy theories” – the ultimate way to shut down scrutiny.
But the evidence was so compelling even the BBC, hardly a risk-taking broadcaster at the best of times, girded its loins back in 2006 to make a documentary called “The Plot Against Harold Wilson”. In fact, as the 90-minute film makes clear by interviewing many of those directly involved, there was not one plot but many against Wilson. You can watch it here.
It probably all seemed like old, slightly quaint history to the BBC nine years ago. Now it sounds frighteningly relevant again.
Here is a fascinating line from one plotter, Sir General Walter Walker, at about 1hr 2 mins in. Speaking in the early 1970s, he says on film:
If you plot to destroy this present system, what are you doing? You are committing a form of treason. I have taken an oath of allegiance to my Queen and I am not prepared to see that oath interfered with.
For me at least, that puts the ludicrous current debate about Corbyn refusing to sing the national anthem in an even more sinister light. It also makes me wonder how the armed forces read the recent comment from the prime minister, David Cameron, that Corbyn poses a “threat to national security”.
Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin, a mentor to Prince Charles, and the chief of the defence staff at the time, became a figurehead for this group (45.30) and even approached the Queen Mother to seek her blessing for a military takeover. Walker says Mountbatten told him: “If you want help from me, will you let me know?”
David Stirling, the founder of Britain’s most elite military unit, the SAS, also confirmed to journalists that a coup against Wilson was seriously being considered (1.03). He contemplated bumping off trade union leaders to foment so much anger among workers that the military would be forced to move in to restore order.
Soon, the army, members of the royal family and the intelligence services were all considering how they might launch a military coup to stop a Communist takeover (the one that had been created in MI5’s lurid imagination). Brian Crozier, a former intelligence officer who supported a coup, says there was a “widespread attitude” in favour of it among the military (1.05)
It culminated in a show of force by the armed forces, which briefly took over Heathrow airport (1.06) without warning or coordination with Wilson’s government. Marcia Williams, Wilson’s secretary, called it a “dress rehearsal”. Wilson resigned unexpectedly soon afterwards, apparently as the pressures started to get to him.
As the BBC concludes:
The actions of Lord Mountbatten and senior military and intelligence officers undermined democracy and brought this country to the brink of a coup. Yet no one has been held accountable, there has been no proper inquiry.
Such an inquiry might have served at least as a small deterrent for those, like the general who approached The Sunday Times, who are thinking once again in terms of a coup.