Britain: “The mouse that roared” – May picks a fight with Russia

There is an old film starring Peter Sellers called The Mouse that Roared that describes a comical situation in which a tiny, insignificant, European nation declares war on the United States in order to obtain aid. By a peculiar twist of circumstances, they win. The scenario of this amusing production was strikingly brought to mind by the events of the last few days in Britain.

The attempted murder of a Russian former spy and his daughter has provided rich material for a sensational wave of media speculation. Part of the purpose of this speculation is obviously to boost sales of newspapers by appealing to the British public’s endless fascination with the murky world of espionage, intrigue and assassinations, immortalised in the novels of John le Carre and the James Bond film series.

However, the recent events are not the products of imaginative fiction, but very much real life – albeit a part of life not usually visible to the majority of the population. Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre in Wiltshire on 4 March. They remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

 

How did the government respond to this atrocity? Home Secretary Amber Rudd says the police investigation was “serious and substantial”. More than 250 counter-terrorism officers are involved in the investigation, and about 180 military personnel were deployed to help remove vehicles and objects, which may have been contaminated. But one week later there are no suspects, nobody has been arrested and nobody is “helping the police with their enquiries”. But not to worry! The police and intelligence service cannot point the finger at any individual suspect – they can do far better than that: they can point the finger at an entire nation. What nation might that be? Why, Russia of course.

It is claimed the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury was committed with a nerve gas known as novichok, belonging to a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. Moscow asked to see samples of the offending substance so that this claim can be tested. This would seem to be a fairly reasonable request, but it was met with a flat refusal.

The grounds for the refusal were rather peculiar: since Russia has been accused of committing this crime, it should not have access to the evidence against it. What does this mean? It means that everyone must accept that accusation is true solely on the grounds that the allegation has been made by the security services whose word, it would seem, cannot be questioned. Everything therefore boils down to whether we trust the word of anonymous and invisible intelligence agents.

Boris jumps the gun

Boris Johnson fell over himself in his indecent haste to address the House about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. Before the basic facts of the case had been established, the British Foreign Secretary announced to the House of Commons there were echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian spy whose murder on British soil has been blamed on the Kremlin.

He immediately pointed the finger at the Russian state: "It is clear that Russia is, I am afraid, in many respects now a malign and disruptive force," Mr Johnson told MPs. The country was, he said, launching cyber-attacks against British infrastructure which, "I increasingly think that we have to categorise...as acts of war". (My emphasis)

Boris Johnson Russia poisoning Image EU2017EE Estonian PresidencyBoris Johnson immediately pointed the finger at the Russian state / Image: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency

The case of Litvinenko has been used repeatedly to provide credence to the theory of Russian state involvement in the latest affair. Nowadays the conclusions of the Litvinenko inquiry are presented as unimpeachable proof of Russian state culpability. In reality, however, they are not definitive and certainly not as credible as they are presented.

The parallels with the Litvinenko case are false and misleading. The Independent commented:

“In Russia, Litvinenko worked against organised crime; he was less a spy in the conventional sense than a criminal intelligence officer. He fled the country after blowing the whistle on his corrupt bosses and applied for asylum in the UK. His first choice, the US, had turned him down on the apparent grounds that the information he had to offer was not valuable enough.

“Unlike Skripal, he started working for MI5/6 only after arriving in the UK, and even then seems to have had difficulty getting on the payroll. His widow, Marina, is still battling to get the intelligence agencies to pay a pension or recognise a duty of care.

“It is cruel to say so, but Litvinenko seems almost to have been more use to the UK in death – as a totem of Russia’s general badness – than he was in life.

“Sergei Skripal’s history is quite different. As a colonel in Russian military intelligence (the GRU), he was recruited by the British in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, before being tried and imprisoned in Russia for treason.

“His luck turned in 2010, when he was included in the spy swap that allowed Anna Chapman and her fellow ‘sleeper’ agents to return from the US to Russia. Skripal was pardoned; he and his wife came to the UK, and their adult children were free to travel to and fro.”

The Litvinenko inquiry was deeply flawed. Vital evidence was not heard in open court, nor was it heard even by the lawyers – only by the judge. And this was evidence from the UK intelligence services.

The conclusion of the judge, Sir Robert Owen, was that “the FSB operation to kill Litvinenko was probably approved by Mr Patrushev [then head of the FSB] and also by President Putin”. He added that there was “a strong probability” that Andrei Lugovoy poisoned Litvinenko “under the direction of the FSB” and the use of polonium-210 was “at very least a strong indicator of state involvement”. (My emphasis, AW)

A “strong possibility” is not proof. Neither is a “strong indicator”. The inquiry took place eight years after Litvinenko’s death – a scandalous delay for a country that presents itself as a model of the rule of law.

Public opinion on this question has been manipulated by a massive propaganda campaign underwritten by Boris Berezovsky, who was subsequently found dead. Even Litvinenko’s deathbed indictment of Putin was exposed by the inquest as an artifice composed by others. But this not insignificant detail seems to have been lost in a fog.

In open court, very few details emerged about Litvinenko’s interactions with MI5/6. One was that, at the time of his death, Litvinenko was receiving a monthly stipend and held regular meetings with his “handler”. Another was that an intelligence officer was present when police interviewed Litvinenko as he lay dying.

Past experience has shown that the intelligence services of Britain and the United States are quite prepared to falsify evidence and produce fake dossiers to back up spurious claims, for example, the claim that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. It is therefore hardly advisable to take anything that comes from those quarters as the gospel truth. Rather, one should treat anything they say with a very large dose of salt. The moment the intelligence services are involved everything is covered by a thick blanket of ‘security’, that conceals and distorts and is not open to question.

The reaction from Moscow to the most recent accusations was immediate and predictably irate. They pointed out, not unreasonably, that Russia had been blamed without any proof being furnished or indeed before the beginning of any investigation of any sort. Britain's relations with Russia were already poor. The hysterical reaction of the government to the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in Salisbury will turn them from bad to worse.

In response, Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, accused British politicians and journalists of using the incident to foster anti-Russian sentiment. “This story was straight away used to boost an anti-Russian campaign in the media,” she said.

“It is difficult to see anything other than provocations aimed at harming the relations between our two countries.” And of Mr Johnson, she said: “How can a man charged with foreign affairs, who has no relation to security organs, make such statements?”

This precipitous action by the Foreign Secretary evidently caused some embarrassment in government circles. The very next day very different statements were issued by the Prime Minister and other Conservative spokespersons. They urged caution and said that people should not draw conclusions before an investigation had taken place.

But within 48 hours that argument gave way to an even more violent outburst against Russia. Evidently some people in the intelligence services and the government did not approve of a softly-softly approach. The gloves had to come off, and they did. Theresa May announced her readiness to take “extensive measures” against Russia should it not offer a credible explanation of how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.

“Should there be no credible response,” Mrs May told parliament, “we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”. But what were these “extensive measures” - and just how likely were the US, EU and others to be on board? We would soon find out.

“From Russia with Hate”

Riding on a packed train on the Central Line on Tuesday morning I was greeted by the screaming headlines of today’s issue of Metro, a free paper distributed to the long-suffering passengers on London transport as a kind of substitute for anaesthesia to dull the painful experience they have to endure every day.

“FROM RUSSIA WITH HATE” – the words fairly jumped off the page, and the impression of menace was underlined by a large photo of a scowling Vladimir Putin. The article informed us that our beloved Prime Minister Theresa May had, in her wisdom, concluded that the finger of guilt in this affair pointed irreversibly in a single direction: Moscow.

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This startling piece of information did not appear to have had any particular effect on the serried ranks of the Mother of Parliaments; nor could it, since the House had already received the same information from the Foreign Secretary several days earlier. Moreover, they could hardly have been ignorant of this portentous conclusion for the simple fact that it had been repeated with monotonous regularity in every single newspaper, television channel and radio station in the realm. Consequently, what was supposed to be a highly significant speech by the Prime Minister turned out to be a damp squib.

Mrs May said the decision to blame Russia is based on “Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.” Of course, there can be no doubt that Russia has carried out such assassinations, as has Britain, the United States, France and many other countries.

The United States did not hesitate to assassinate Osama bin Laden, although he was residing on the soil of what was supposed to be an ally, Pakistan. Britain did not hesitate to assassinate its own citizens who had joined Isis in Syria. And let us not forget the “shoot to kill” policy that was carried out in Northern Ireland, although it was quite contrary to British law.

Since the accused had been already tried and found guilty by the tribunal of the “free press”, all that was required was to pass sentence. Given the extreme gravity of the offence, one might have expected that the resultant sentence would be at least as severe (in diplomatic terms) as hanging, drawing and quartering. This was the tried-and-trusted method by which our legal system in the good old days brought about a speedy and effective reformation of wrongdoers. The MPs waited with bated breath. But strangely enough, instead of immediately passing sentence, Mrs May did something rather strange: She delivered an ultimatum.

A few pages later the Metro screamed out again:

“RUSSIANS ARE GIVEN MIDNIGHT DEADLINE”

Now this is really dramatic stuff! Despite the fact that “everybody knows” that Russia was behind this dastardly deed, and since “everybody also knows” that it could only have been ordered by one man – Tsar Putin the First – there seemed to be little point in giving them a few hours in which to explain why a Russian-made nerve agent was used in the attack.

Unfortunately, everybody knows that Moscow has issued any number of unambiguous denials over the past week. This considerably lessens the dramatic impact of the famous “midnight deadline”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia had been refused access to the substance that was used to poison Mr Skripal and it would not respond to the ultimatum until it was given access.

Nevertheless Theresa May pressed on, stating that, “Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.” Although she did not specify the measures she would take to defend the United Kingdom against such aggression, the implication was clear: either give us the answer we demand, or else…

Nobody knew what this “or else…” might mean. But it obviously was intended to be something really awful. However, as one could have confidently predicted, at midnight on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin was sleeping soundly in bed, not the slightest bit concerned about Mrs May or any of her deadlines.

‘Honour among thieves’

Despite the insistent nature of the claims made in the media that “Russia is responsible”, this case raises some very serious doubts. To begin with, we have the fact that Sergei Skripal (incidentally, not a ‘Russian spy’ but a spy currently working with British intelligence) had been exchanged in a well-publicised spy swap in 2010.

It is a well-established principle that in such cases those exchanged become the responsibility of the country they spied for and are left alone by the country they betrayed. This ‘code of honour’ has been upheld for many decades. Indeed, if that were not the case, prisoner exchanges, which are often useful to both sides, would be impossible. If, having been exchanged and guaranteed safe existence in another country, a former spy’s life were endangered, the fundamental principles of such exchanges would be worse than useless. This would be in nobody’s interest.

The fact that Skripal’s children were able to travel back and forth freely is another indication that the Russian state itself is unlikely to have targeted Skripal. But there is another, even more obvious reason to doubt the allegations against Russia. If they had wanted to liquidate Skripal, they could have done so without any problem when he was in prison in Russia. He could have been made to disappear quietly and no questions would have been asked.

Why wait for four years, during which Skripal was living peacefully in London, and then assassinate him in such a blatantly provocative manner? The very mode of execution raises serious questions.

An intelligence service as experienced, efficient and well equipped as the FSB (the modern equivalent of the KGB) will have at its disposal many methods of disposing of enemies. These include sophisticated poisons that can cause someone to die of what appears to be a heart attack. But there are plenty of old-fashioned and unsophisticated methods that are equally effective, like arranging for someone to fall under the wheels of a bus or a train in the underground.

Cui bono?

In any case of murder, investigators must always ask a question that is, in lawyer’s language, ‘Cui bono?’ – in whose interest? But this elementary question in the Skripal case is being studiously avoided. What possible motive could the Russians have for murdering a man who can hardly be considered an important figure in the shadowy world of espionage? They clearly did not regard him as much of a threat, and Skripal evidently did not feel threatened or he would not have been living openly without even bothering to conceal his identity.

Some have suggested he might have been vulnerable because he reportedly gave to the UK military and others about the workings of Russian intelligence. But this sort of thing is quite normal for defectors on both sides: it is a way in which they earn their daily bread in their adopted country. And it works both ways – Russian defectors of the West and Western defectors in Russia. It is all part of the same game.

Oleg Kalugin Image World Economic ForumDefectors like Oleg Kalugin have given talks about their former work for years without consequence / Image: World Economic Forum

There are plenty of other swapped spies who have done the same: Oleg Kalugin, the highest-level known KGB defector in the US, and Oleg Gordievsky in the UK, have both given talks about their former work for years without being poisoned with nerve gas on a park bench, or any other disagreeable consequences.

It is not ruled out that individuals or groups with grievances against Skripal might have taken revenge. Nor is it excluded that his continuing ties in Russia, via his daughter and late son, might have involved him in risky undertakings. The Russians have stated that the kind of nerve gas used is very old and is no longer used by their army. They claim that the Ukrainian government possesses stocks of that agent and had a clear motive to use it: to provoke divisions between Russia and the West. However, all of this is in the realm of speculation. Nobody really knows who or what was behind this.

What is it all about?

What is all this really about? In order to understand events that are being played out on a world scale, it is necessary first and foremost to cut through the thick fog of propaganda and asked the question: what interests are involved? It frequently occurs that, in order to manipulate public opinion, the imperialists attempt to play on our emotions, so that our minds are clouded and reason ceases to function. We have seen this recently in Syria, and we see it again in the case of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Certainly, the circumstances of this case were so shocking that it would inevitably produce a wave of revulsion and indignation among many people. But these natural feelings of human sympathy can easily be manipulated by unscrupulous elements and twisted to serve a particular political agenda.

The first question that must be asked is: what is behind the systematic campaign to blacken the name of Russia? Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen its power on a world scale sharply reduced, while American imperialism went on the rampage in one country after another: first the Balkans and then Iraq. And all the time NATO was extending its spheres of influence into areas that were previously satellites of the Soviet Union.

When it is asserted that Russia is behaving in an aggressive manner, one must bear in mind that for the whole of the last period Russia has been surrounded by states that fell under the influence of the United States and its puppet military organisation NATO. If Russia has reacted to cases such as Georgia and Ukraine, it has been defending itself against American aggression.

The same is true of Syria, where the CIA and its Saudi stooges have armed and financed the most vicious Jihadi outfits – including Isis – in a vain attempt to overthrow the regime of Assad. Russia’s intervention has defeated this aggression and Russia is now the dominant power in Syria. The United States has been forced to retreat and grudgingly accept the reality of the situation. This shows the limitations of American power on a world scale.

Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud Image The White HouseThe imperialists' relations with Saudi Arabia reveal their hypocrisy / Image: The White House

But although the West is not capable of containing Russia militarily, it nevertheless seeks to stir up public opinion against Russia, painting it in the blackest colours while systematically concealing the crimes committed by America and its partners in the Middle East and elsewhere.

We saw this recently with a visit by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to London. The media deliberately maintained a complicit silence about the Saudi war crimes committed against the people of Yemen, preferring to concentrate all its attention on eastern Ghouta. It seems that the British government was rewarded for its complicity with juicy contracts from the Saudis.

It is highly convenient for the Americans and their stooges in NATO to cultivate the image of “the external enemy”, namely Russia. The aim is to maintain a mood of tension, fear, even hysteria in order to ensure that the public accepts huge increases in arms expenditure while deep cuts are made in spending on health, education, pensions and housing. It is no accident that, as soon as the Skripal case hit the headlines, a retired British admiral immediately demanded an increase in the already bloated sums of money given to the military, arguing there was an immediate threat to Britain.

May’s “extensive measures”

Theresa May’s terrible threats were greeted with stony silence from Moscow. Annoyed beyond measure by the failure of her threats to produce any visible results, Mrs May once again went to the House of Commons to spell out what measures would be taken against Russia. They boil down to the following:

  1. The expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats who are said to be involved in espionage. They will be given one week to leave.
  2. The government will enact a new targeted power to detain “people suspected of hostile state activity at borders”.
  3. The UK will increase checks on private flights, customs and freight from Russia.
  4. The UK will freeze Russian assets if there is evidence they are being used to compromise British security.
  5. There will be legislation to protect the UK from hostile state activity. This will include increasing powers in the sanctions bill.
  6. The government will look at whether new counter-espionage powers are needed.
  7. The UK has suspended all high-level diplomatic contact with Russia. This includes revoking an invitation to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and there will be no attendance by government ministers or members of the royal family at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Let us consider these measures point by point:

1) May described it as “the biggest single expulsion in 30 years”. The last major expulsion of Soviet diplomats took place in 1971. On that occasion over a hundred diplomats were kicked out. The difference is that at that time the embassy in London was staffed by over 500 diplomats, whereas today it is a little over 50. This is open to two readings.

On the one hand, percentage-wise, a larger number of diplomats are being expelled (almost 40 percent of the total staff). On the other hand, the very small number of diplomats based in London indicates that Moscow no longer regards Britain as a serious world power.

The argument that the aforementioned diplomats have been found guilty of spying is just a joke. It is an open secret that most, if not all, diplomats and embassy staff are one way or another involved in intelligence work and spying activities. The diplomatic corps is just one more arm of the military, and diplomacy is just another way of waging war. Espionage is a traditional part of such activity.

As a rule, the intelligence services are not in favour of expelling diplomats, for the simple reason that it is a double-edged weapon. Moscow will undoubtedly respond to the present actions of Mrs May and her friends in the time-honoured fashion. They will expel an equal number of British diplomats and spies (for that is what they are) from Moscow. If the men in the Kremlin are sufficiently irritated by the foolishness in London, they may even expel a few more. This is what is known as cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Point 2) This power was previously limited to suspected terrorists but will now potentially apply to all Russian citizens. Together with point 3) this measure will no doubt cause some inconvenience to the numerous Russian billionaires who frequently grace our capital city with their presence and help the British economy through its difficulties with their largesse.

Russia football Image Kremlin.ruIn a demoralising move for Russia, no UK government minister nor member of the Royal Family will attend the FIFA World Cup / Image: Kremlin.ru

But point 4) will provoke the fury of the said Russian billionaires who, apart from purchasing expensive homes in Mayfair, also in the habit of purchasing the political services of leading members of the Conservative Party through their generous contributions to party funds.

One of the most amusing aspects of Mrs May’s latest speech was the way in which she performed a difficult balancing act that aims to cause the maximum offence to Russia on the diplomatic and political plane, while studiously avoiding any potential damage that might be caused to the economic interests of British big business.

Measures against Russian banks were considered but clearly rejected on the grounds that Russian retaliation against the City of London would be the likely consequence. On the other hand, firms like BT, which have very important financial interests in Russia, would be vulnerable to retaliation. Mrs May therefore had to tread with extreme care on these issues, so vital to the “national interest”. Or should we say, the interests of the class she represents.

We can safely skip over the remaining points concerning unspecified high-level contacts with Russia and other such vague measures. One would have thought that, to quote the words of our Foreign Secretary, “acts of war” would have called forth far more drastic measures than this!

But just wait a moment. We have forgotten to mention the most important undramatic measure of all: no government minister and no member of the Royal Family will be present at the World Cup jamboree in Russia. We have no doubt at all that this final act will constitute such a mortal blow to Russian prestige that it will make Mr Putin think twice before omitting to answer any question put to him by Mrs May in future.

We note with some degree of surprise, however, that there is no mention of the English football team boycotting the Moscow games, despite the regrettable fact that Princes William and Harry and Boris the Barbarian will not be present to raise their patriotic fighting spirit. We sincerely hope that these regrettable absences will not affect their chances of success on the football field. Since we are apparently not in the position to send a gunboat to bombard the Russians, we might at least annoy them by scoring a few goals…

The “strength of the support”

The Foreign Secretary informs us that the “strength of the support” shown to the UK over the government’s reaction has been encouraging. Boris Johnson said the UK had been talking to friends and there had been a “willingness” to show “solidarity”. He particularly singled out for praise the kind words spoken by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who said it appeared the “really egregious act... clearly came from Russia” and there should be “serious consequences”.

Here at last was the kind of fighting talk that any red-blooded British Patriot was entitled to expect from our allies in the United States of America. After all, it was about time that our special relationship found the recognition it deserves. But Boris Johnson’s extravagant praise for Mr Tillerson proved to be somewhat unfortunate, since a few hours later he was sacked by his boss Donald Trump.

Evidently the President has grown a little bit tired of people who mention the word ‘Russia’ too often. And he is not much enamoured with the idea of being bounced into hasty action by pressure from London, particularly when it is based on anonymous documents from MI5. He finally agreed to receive a phone call from Mrs May, but his comments on this affair could hardly be described as overenthusiastic.

But surely Mr Johnson could expect some more decisive action from NATO? As could be expected, that organisation eagerly seized on this incident to peddle its own canoe. It expressed concern at “the first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO’s foundation”. And secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg lost no time in praising London’s firm stand against “Russian aggression”:

"The UK is a highly valued ally, and this incident is of great concern."

But for all their “great concern”, no-one in NATO is proposing any action, and certainly not invoking article 5, the provision that says an attack on one NATO member counts as an attack on all of them. Evidently, the sole concern of Mr Stoltenberg and his friends is to use this affair to blacken the name of Russia and step up their propaganda campaign without lifting a finger to help their “friends” in London. But as they say, fine words butter no parsnips.

Jens Stoltenberg Image NATONATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg praised London’s firm stand against “Russian aggression” / Image: NATO

So much for our friends in America and NATO. But what about our friends in Europe? The sad fact is that Britain nowadays has very few of them. With their arrogant demands the stupid Tory Brexiteers have succeeded in alienating just about everyone on the other side of the Channel. True, president Macron said words of comfort. But words are cheap, as long as they don’t lead to any action. And Macron evidently has no particular action in mind.

Everyone knows that the key country in Europe is Germany, and Angela Merkel has cultivated very good relations with Russia – relations that provide her country with advantageous trade deals and a ready supply of cheap gas. The one sanction that would damage Russia would be a ban on the purchase of Russian gas. But European countries, including the UK, have taken great care to ensure that their sanctions policies specifically exclude this.

Sad to say, the alternative sources of imported gas are very limited in practice. This is as true for the UK as for most European countries. American liquified natural gas is not a practical option because of the distance. Russia has adopted a smart pricing policy designed to keep American gas out of the European market. Europe and the UK will continue to depend on Russian gas for the foreseeable future. And after all, one has to keep warm – even in times of war…

Great Britain or Little England?

There’s an old proverb that says ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’ At first sight it is difficult to understand the haste with which the political representatives of the British ruling class have engineered a completely senseless and unnecessary conflict with Russia. In reality, however, it is all too understandable.

A long time ago Trotsky said that the rulers of Britain thought not in years but in centuries. Nowadays they can see no further than the end of their own noses, and some of them not even that. The Conservative Party is now split into pieces and clinging to power by their fingernails. They miscalculated in the referendum on Europe, they miscalculated in their dealings with Scotland, and they miscalculated very badly last year when they convened an election which resulted in the loss of their majority in parliament.

At the present time the dominant wing of the British Conservative party consists of the most retrograde, reactionary, ignorant and stupid chauvinists. In their madness these people believe that Britain is still a great imperial power and a force in world politics. It is well that they believe this (and they do so fervently) because nobody else does. Britain is more isolated in the world at this moment in time than at any other period in history.

Jacob Rees Mogg debating at the Cambridge Union Society Image Cantab12The dominant wing of the British Conservative Party consists of the most retrograde and stupid chauvinists / Image: Cantab12

By deciding to leave the European Union, the Tories renounced the one and only chance Britain still had to influence world affairs in any meaningful way. Like an army of suicidal lemmings, they have led a charge over the cliff and the abyss awaits them. They talk big about regaining independence, but the fact of the matter is that Britain is not independent at all. More than at any other time Britain is entirely under the control of Big Brother on the other side of the Atlantic. This conditions every aspect of British foreign policy – especially in its relations to Russia.

A large part of the reason for the belligerent attitude to Moscow is a slavish and servile desire to please Washington. When they talk about a ‘special relationship’ they are not lying. The special relationship really does exist, but it is the special relationship between a servant and his master. Washington says ‘jump’ and London says ‘how high?’

In their anxiety to please the big boss in Washington, the leaders of the Conservative Party not only slavishly imitate the message that comes from across the ocean, but strive to repeat it several octaves higher. They must outdo the Americans in their propaganda, giving it an even more strident and hysterical tone. But Britain is not America, and Moscow looks at its rhetoric with the same scorn and contempt as a man might show at the yapping of a little dog that is snapping at his heels. As a rule, he will merely ignore it. But once in a while he will deliver a painful kick in the teeth. And that is precisely what Mrs May can now expect.

Labour’s fifth column

To his credit Jeremy Corbyn did not join in the universal chorus of anti-Russian hysteria. In the House of Commons the Labour leader denounced the hypocrisy of the Tories who have received large sums of money from rich Russians living in London. The fact that the ruling party of the United Kingdom has been receiving enormous subsidies from foreign sources (Russian sources, by the way) has been quietly brushed under the carpet. Corbyn’s exposure of this scandal was therefore met by howls of protests from the Tory benches.

To shouts of “disgrace”, the Labour leader said that “huge fortunes... acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia" had ended up "sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics”. And he urged the government to engage in “a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues dividingour countries... rather than simply cutting off contact and letting tensions and divisions get worse”.

Since the whole purpose of the present, engineered crisis is precisely to increase divisions and tensions between the United Kingdom and Russia, Corbyn’s advice fell on the deafest of deaf ears. The right wing who now rule the roost in the Tory party are convinced that Britannia still rules the waves and are anxious to prove this belief by asserting Britain’s independence (from Europe) and its ability to make Mr Putin tremble in his shoes.

Any resemblance between this absurd delirium and reality is, of course, quite incidental. But the Tories were incandescent with rage when the Labour leader pricked their bubble. To prove the old adage that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, Tory MP Johnny Mercer fairly splattered with rage as he described Mr Corbyn's remarks as “shameful”, adding: “It's clear the UK has come under attack from another state”.

The fact that nobody has produced the slightest evidence of such an attack did not prevent the Blairite right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party from adding its voice to the yelling Tory pack. A former Labour minister, right-winger Chris Leslie said:

“There are circumstances that we take party political differences of opinion. But when our country is potentially under attack, that is just not appropriate.”

This united front between the Tories and Labour’s right wing is neither new nor unique. In recent months there have been clear indications that the bloc is being formed between the Blairites in the Parliamentary Labour Party and the pro-European Conservative MPs on the question of Europe. This is undoubtedly the shape of things to come.

Chris Leslie Image Chris McAndrewLabour right wingers like Chris Leslie have attacked Corbyn's failiure to indulge anti-Russia hysteria / Image: Chris McAndrew

The truth of the matter is that Labour’s right wing has much more in common with the Tories and Liberals than with Labour’s rank-and-file, who overwhelmingly support Jeremy Corbyn and want Labour to adopt clear socialist policies. The Tory party is in a deep crisis. The latest antics of Mrs May are designed to throw dust in the eyes of the people of Britain, divert their attention from the pressing problems of unemployment, low wages, chronic lack of housing and an underfunded National Health Service that is rapidly heading towards collapse. Instead, the British public is invited to forget its problems and wave the Union Jack.

The barrage of patriotic propaganda will not have the desired effect. The workers of Britain are becoming restive after years of austerity, cuts and falling living standards. The days of this reactionary Tory government are numbered. They cannot save themselves by beating the war drums. At the next election they will be unceremoniously shown the door, and the ground will be prepared for the election of a Labour government.

That is something every worker should support and fight for. But in itself the election of a Labour government will solve nothing. What is required is a genuine socialist programme that is not afraid to take on the vested interests of big business, the bankers and capitalists in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the British people – the working class.

But any attempt to take this road will meet with the determined resistance of the fifth column in the Parliamentary Labour Party. These traitors will be quite prepared to stab a Labour government in the back, line up with the Tories and Liberals to bring it down. The fight for socialist policies and a Labour victory must therefore involve an implacable struggle against the right wing. Only in this way can we guarantee not only a Labour victory but a Labour government that will really carry out policies in the interest of the majority, not the few.