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Angela Rayner: the art of the Tory hit-job – 100 years and still going strong

STEPHEN ARNELL casts an eye at pre-election dirty tricks campaigns

THE last fortnight has seen the tide of Tory personal and political corruption surging ever higher, with blackmail, sexual indiscretions, financial impropriety, and landing colleagues in the soup all on the menu.

The behaviour of the now-whipless William Wragg, and Mark Menzies (“allegedly”) make one wonder whether the Tories, dreading imminent electoral wipeout, are intent on recreating the decadence of the 18th century Hellfire Club, or more recently, the final frantic orgiastic partying of the Nazi elite in the Berlin of April 1945 just before the Russians arrived.

I could throw in a reference to the last days of Antony and Cleopatra in Alexandria, awaiting the conquering Octavian by drowning their sorrows in “Inimitable Livers Club,” but that would be far too romantic a comparison for the squalid fin-de-siecle antics of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

The Brussels Bierkeller

The deluded literary ramblings of 48-day PM Liz Truss and the attendance of Suella Braverman at the far-right National Conservatism conference in Brussels reinforces the impression of a party gleefully indulging in a bonfire of its own authoritarian vanities.

With this in mind, one has to grudgingly admire their sheer brass neck (if nothing else), in attempting to turn the non-story of Rayner’s 2015 house sale into a contemporary version of the century-old Zinoviev letter (more of which later).

Siccing no fewer than 12 police officers on the case as a sop to Tory MP James Daly appears a gross over-reaction, especially since the dopey legislator could only provide the following “reason” for instigating the inquiry: “I asked them to investigate certain matters that were in the public domain regarding … certain things.”

The Tories, especially bold in going down this particular rabbit-hole, considering the source of the attacks — the tax-avoiding Lord Ashcroft, amplified through the equally financially cagey Harmsworth-owned Daily Mail.

J’Accuse!

The hypocritical Javerts of the right have faced some opposition from the “one nation” wing of the Conservatives, with former MPs Nick Boles and Matthew Parris condemning the attacks on Rayner. In a letter to The Times, Boles was particularly effective in skewering the duplicity of the L’affaire Rayner: “Sir, having served for nine years as an MP I know how low politicians can stoop when their backs are against the wall.

“But the Conservative attack on Angela Rayner is one of the most grotesque spectacles of hypocrisy I have witnessed. On one side is a billionaire Tory peer, Lord Ashcroft, and a multimillionaire Tory prime minister, Rishi Sunak, whose families have all avoided paying millions of pounds in the UK tax as beneficiaries of non-dom status and who live lives of luxury.

“On the other is a woman who grew up in poverty caring for her illiterate mother, who is now mother to a child who is registered blind, and who through her own guts and character has risen to be deputy leader of the Labour Party. Even Rayner’s accusers accept that the most she might have benefited from the error that they allege — and which she denies — is less than £3,000 in tax.

“I suppose that her attackers cannot bear the idea that they are about to lose to a woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps. And who is going to wipe the floor with them.”

For his part, Parris, in his Times column stated: “The hounding of Angela Rayner is outrageous: brutal, snobbish and completely out of proportion to any mistake she may (or may not) have made. The sums are tiny and the issue itself — the deeming of a property as a main residence for capital gains tax purposes — has always been a matter of public confusion.”

Dirty tricks and smears have always been an essential part of the Tory playbook. A week ago, The Times (again) was splashing the details of an affair apparently conducted by Labour PM Harold Wilson (always a target for the right-wing press) in the 1970s. What next, a tell-all on Keir Hardie’s off-the-books earnings as a pre-teenage baker’s messenger boy in the 1860s?

One hundred years of ratfucking

Ratfucking is a US slang term for behind the scenes (covert) political sabotage or dirty tricks, particularly pertaining to elections (Wikipedia)

A century ago this October, the Tories and their allies in the press essayed their most notorious stitch-up — the Zinoviev letter.

Published by the British Daily Mail newspaper four days before the 1924 October 29 general election, the letter was a forgery, supposedly a decree from Grigory Zinoviev, the head of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow, to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

The directive praised the Labour government’s gradual thawing of relations with the Soviet Union, declaring: “A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc., will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies”

“It is indispensable to stir up the masses of the British proletariat to bring into movement the army of unemployed proletarians whose position can be improved only after a loan has been granted to the S.S.S.R. for the restoration of her economics and when business collaboration between the British and Russian proletariats has been put in order. It is imperative that the group in the Labour Party sympathising with the Treaty should bring increased pressure to bear upon the Government and Parliamentary circles in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.”

Who authored the forgery? Opinions include White Russian intelligence operatives and Sir George Joseph Ball, a fascist-sympathising MI5 officer, industrialist and political fixer. In 2017, Theresa May’s government claimed that it had “misplaced” the Zinoviev letter file so we may never know.

Labour lost the election, with many in the party blaming the letter as a contributory factor — although it was the Liberal Party who actually suffered the greatest defeat, ceding 118 of their 158 seats.

Nevertheless, the Mail’s mudslinging had an effect on some voters regarding the Labour Party, which has no doubt encouraged its political scale-leaning ever since.

The next Zinoviev letter? Expect news of a “secret memorandum” between Labour and the EU to surface some time in the coming months.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

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