Here’s a conspiracy theory worth considering: In a plot to wreak havoc on Britain’s Labour Party, a Conservative Party operative scanned the opposition’s parliamentary delegation, spotted the MP with the wooliest beard and wooliest sweater, and deduced that he was also likely be its wooliest thinker. Through a series of backroom deals, MP Jeremy Corbyn was elevated to the leadership of the Labour Party, effectively casting the opposition further into the political wilderness.
Well, perhaps this Tory plot will bear fruit in the long term, but the immediate reaction to Corbyn’s victory was shock followed by a shrug. A few Modern Parents-like jokes on Have I Got News For You and a bit of whining from his corporate media supporters that the corporate media was being terribly unfair. And while Labour’s new leader isn’t particularly popular with voters, it wasn’t enough that he identified terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends,” or occasionally appeared on Russian or Iranian state television, or wandered around Parliament Square in an adorable little Lenin hat.
So phase two of our conspiracy, in which the Tory plotter manipulates the not-quite-radical-enough Corbyn into hiring a swivel-eyed fanatic as the party’s “executive director of strategy and communications.” Someone whose ideas are so far outside the mainstream, that the usual excuses (“I wasn’t defending the IRA! I was supporting the peace process!”) wouldn’t wash. Could we find a jug-eared revolutionary who attended an elite boarding school? A Soviet nostalgic whose father once ran the BBC?
Of course we can. And there was only one obvious candidate.
Wherever there’s an aggrieved terrorist or an undemocratic regime engaged in an existential struggle with the West, you can rely on Seumas Milne, Oxford-educated warrior for the Third World and former comment editor of The Guardian, to offer a full-throated, if slightly incoherent, defense. If your country’s constitution mandates the burning down of orphanages and the conscription of 6-year-olds in to the army, Milne will likely have your back, provided you also express a deep loathing for the United States and capitalism. So yesterday, in a signal to party moderates that he intends to burn Labour to the ground, Jeremy Corbyn appointed Milne his head of communications.
It simply has to be a Tory plot.
You think I’m overcooking it? For politically engaged Brits, one needn’t enumerate all of Milne’s batty positions (he was the comment editor at The Guardian, after all). But in the United States, a degree of skepticism is healthy when a party is said to have been hijacked by extremists. In the recent past, we’ve been assured that Bill Clinton was a murderer and a Soviet dupe. That his wife was possibly a lesbian Marxist (or a straight-but-adulterous Nazi feminist). Frequently told that George W. Bush was a fascist. Numb to claims that Barack Obama was skillfully concealing his anti-colonialist, quasi-socialist Islamism.
So what does the Labour Party’s new communications man actually believe?
Well, he’s rather nostalgic for the Soviet Union. Sure, it broke millions of eggs while making its omelet, but “communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality.” And besides, the Soviet bloc “encompassed genuine idealism and commitment” to social justice (though that idealism was imposed by government diktat and insufficient commitment could lead to a spell in prison).
Milne his spilled plenty of ink lamenting the reunification of Germany, which was actually an “annexation” of communist East Germany. When the Stasi state was dumped onto history’s ash heap, he complained that the loss of dictatorship precipitated “a loss of women’s rights, closure of free nurseries and mass unemployment.” Milne acknowledges there were some bad things about Soviet-controlled East Germany, but “it was also a country of full employment, social equality, cheap housing, transport and culture, one of the best childcare systems in the world, and greater freedom in the workplace than most employees enjoy in today’s Germany.” (Listen to him explain that the Berlin Wall wasn’t “just an arbitrary division to hold people in,” but a military necessity on the “front line of the Cold War.”)
But how many eggs did totalitarian communism really break? Milne is a something of a far-left David Irving—just questioning the numbers—who consistently downplays 20th-century communism’s astonishing death toll. Over the years, he has repeatedly dismissed historians whom he suspected of “wildly exaggerating” the number of victims of Stalinist terror, and recently accused authors Jung Chang and Jon Halliday of “rewriting history” in their book Mao: The Unknown Story, which calculated that the Chinese experiment in communism cost around 70 million lives. He instead recommends a volume called Was Mao Really a Monster? (It should be noted that Milne himself frequently employs inflated death tolls, like The Lancet’s survey of civilian deaths in Iraq, provided it makes the appropriate political point.)
What about those dictatorships that still exist? Naturally, Labour’s new communications chief is a rah-rah supporter of Chavista Venezuela and recently praised “the innate humanity of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s legacy.” Since 1959, the rancid dictatorship in Cuba has consistently forgotten to hold free elections, but don’t allow ideas of democratic pluralism to undermine “the historical importance of Cuba’s struggle for social justice and sovereignty and its creative social mobilisation [which] will continue to echo beyond its time and place.”
But defending Castroism is boringly common. How about Iran’s far-right mullahs? Could anyone possibly sneer at the brave students of Iran’s Green Movement, while also defending their oppressors? If you said, “I bet Labour’s new communications director could,” you’re a fast learner. As protesters were being harassed, arrested, and gunned down in the streets, Milne spat at the Western media, “whose cameras focus so lovingly on Tehran’s gilded youth,” for playing up the Iranian theocracy’s extremism: “the other [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the country’s independence, expose elite corruption on TV and use Iran’s oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority, is largely invisible abroad.”
If you aren’t yet convinced that the Labour Party is now the province of political extremists, allow me one final example. Labour might now have a difficult time convincing military veterans to lend them a vote, with Milne’s apologetics for the “resistance” in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The resistance war can of course be cruel,” he said of the terror war waged in Iraq, but because the suicide bombers and future ISIS soldiers would push American troops out of Mesopotamia, “its campaign is in fact Iraq’s real war of liberation.” Nor will they take kindly to his comments on Lee Rigby, the off-duty army officer who was pulled from his car and beheaded on a British street. Milne argued that because of his service in Afghanistan the “attack wasn’t terrorism in the normal sense of an indiscriminate attack on civilians.”
To Milne’s credit, his journalism record demonstrates a unique talent for dissimulation and an utter contempt for established fact, two valuable skills in the world of political communications. But the Tory conspiracy took all this into account, resting on the fair assumption that British voters are clever enough to realize that the main opposition party is being led by a gang of extremists and lunatics. And with the hiring of Seumas Milne, Labour isn’t marching itself into the wilderness. It’s marching itself off a cliff.