16 September 2016

Inside Corbyn’s conspiracy cult

By Ben Bowers

Monday marked Jeremy Corbyn’s one-year anniversary as leader of the Labour Party. His tenure has been nothing short of a disaster, not just for Labour itself, but for British democracy and debate. He promised a ‘new kind of politics,’ and he and his supporters gave us conspiracies in the face of hard evidence combined with the promotion of a culture of abuse in political debate.

Despite this, a vote of no-confidence by Labour MPs and terrible favourability ratings, he looks set to win the leadership contest by a landslide over his challenger Owen Smith.

Corbyn’s dominance of Labour can be traced back to 2014. Ed Miliband’s reform of the Labour leadership voting system allowed anybody a vote if they paid a £3 membership fee. This allowed many of the hardcore left movement, who had previously been members of fringe groups such as the Socialist Workers’ Party, an easy way to vote in hard-left Corbyn. To his credit, he also to persuaded several existing Labour party members to support him, meaning he won last year’s leadership contest in the first round, with a landslide 59.5 percent of the votes.

Since he took office, the style of Labour’s leadership has changed dramatically. Most notably, the number of conspiracy theories which have emerged from the Corbyn camp are quite staggering. The problem is that Corbyn’s supporters are failing to offer workable policies. Instead of trying to persuade fellow voters to vote for Corbyn, his team has created an environment of paranoia and hate towards those who do not agree with him. If they get bad polling numbers, they blame anybody and everybody except Corbyn. Much of the time, they respond to criticism of Corbyn with wild accusations and conspiracy theories.

This trend runs deeper than surface level. Corbynites are also twice as likely to believe their conspiracy theories than supporters of his rival candidate Owen Smith. The Canary, a pro-Corbyn news publication claimed without any concrete evidence that a ‘Blairite’ PR company called Portland Communications was behind the vote of no-confidence. 90 percent of Corbyn supporters believe this to be true.

Over the summer, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite Union, claimed without evidence that there was an MI5 plot to oust Corbyn, something 55 percent of Corbyn followers agreed with. McCluskey, one of the most powerful figures in the Labour party, has thrown his support behind Corbyn – a natural alliance that favours union power over parliamentary democracy.

Anybody who opposes Corbyn’s leadership is likely to feel the wrath of his followers. A prominent conspiracy, which is completely false, is that pharmaceutical companies, one of which Smith used to work for, are hiding the causes of cancer in order to make a profit.

Part of the problem is that Corbynistas work alone. They perceive moderate Labour MPs to be just as bad as the Conservatives, and commonly refer to them as ‘Blairite scum.’ The media is a particular target of Corbynite outrage. It is portrayed as manipulative and wicked, picking up on any little mishap from Corbyn and exaggerating its significance. Corbyn’s ex-wife even posted “We live in a power/media dictatorship.

Corbyn himself has promoted exactly the same type of conspiracy theories in the past, suggesting that not only does he tolerate conspiracy theories, he also encourages them. Only last year, he wrote a letter defending a vicar who was banned for claiming that wealthy Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks. He has previously argued that 9/11 was ‘manipulated’ by George Bush and Tony Blair to make Bin Laden look bad in order to legitimise the war in Afghanistan.

Corbyn has also endorsed the idea of a ‘New World Order’, which asserts that rich white men are aiming to create a totalitarian world government dominated by banks and multinational corporations. It is quite astounding that the leader of the second largest political party in Britain entertains this idea, despite there being no evidence of such a New World Order. More locally, earlier this year he claimed there was a media bias because mainstream news outlets had failed to report a Labour by-election victory in Ramsgate town council, an election in which just 485 people voted.

All this indicates that it is no longer ‘the fringes’ who purport these conspiracy theories, it is the core of Corbyn’s Labour, and thus right in the middle of the Commons.

Corbyn’s Labour party is similar to a cult. It resembles a political movement, such as Occupy, more than a serious party of opposition. Corbyn’s followers defend their leader with the fanaticism of a religious movement.

This is seen most strikingly in his influence on social media. On Facebook, Corbyn has just under 800,000 followers, whilst the Labour party has 515,000.

His Twitter followers have spewed relentless abuse, much of it with a reek of misogyny, towards moderate Labour MPs who have dared to criticise Corbyn’s leadership. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, has had to call the police to attend her weekly surgeries because of death threats she has received from Corbynites on Twitter.

Conspiracy theories help to create a bunker mentality. In this instance, Corbynites feel that all the rich and evil sections of society are scared of Corbyn and they are desperately trying to smear him in order to prevent him from becoming Prime Minister. This helps to justify the culture of abuse because they are fighting a just battle to make Corbyn the Prime Minister.

Corbyn supporters do not believe in compromise. In their warped alternative reality, they are morally superior and everyone who does not agree with them is misguided. But they will not let go of the Labour party easily. And why would they? They control the second largest political party’s infrastructure, money and grassroots organisation. When asked if he was prepared to see the Labour party split, John McDonnell shrugged and said ‘if that’s what it takes.’ It is alarming that a group which has built their policies on conspiracies can wield this much influence and power in British politics.

His actual policies do not fare much better. On the economy, his plans for increased spending will lead to higher inflation and interest rates and a greater budget deficit. His health and education policies are lacking in any detail, aside from opposing NHS privatisation. Nationalisation of the railways would add £10bn to the deficit and result in greater inefficiencies. On foreign policy, his pledge to get rid of Trident and leave NATO would severely reduce Britain’s global influence and its bargaining chips.

An effective opposition party would be holding the Tories to account, formulating policy and have them running scared. Instead, Corbyn spends his meetings discussing plots and rebellions against him. Outside, his fan base busy themselves conjuring up more theories to draw new converts into their alternative paranoid, reality.

Ben Bowers is a CapX contributor.