Boris Johnson at the Chatham House London Conference in 2017. Photo: Flickr/ Chatham House Boris Johnson at the Chatham House London Conference in 2017. Photo: Flickr/ Chatham House

This floundering ruling class operative personifies an exposed and rotten regime, writes Lindsey German

In the continuing murkiness which surrounds the Skripal case, it is impossible for us to know exactly what happened and why. But for me, two things about the political response in this country stand out: Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was exposed as a liar when he told the German TV programme, Deutsche Welle, that Porton Down experts had confirmed that the poison nerve agent Novichok was definitely from Russia; and Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right to urge caution in apportioning blame before investigations had taken place. 

Not that any of this gives Johnson pause for thought. This weekend he wrote his usual self-justificatory denunciations of Russia spreading propaganda and disinformation, and accusing Corbyn of being Russia’s ‘useful idiot’. In fact, accusations of propaganda and disinformation could easily be made against the British government. Johnson, May and their allies in the press have, from the beginning, treated the attacks as a means of stepping up cold war rhetoric about Russia. The Foreign Office has put out a ludicrous video denouncing Russian propaganda, while using similar techniques itself. 

The Russian embassy in London has asked for a meeting with Johnson to discuss the case but this has been publicly attacked by his press spokesman. The situation would be ludicrous if it were not so dangerous. Already, Britain has got its allies to expel Russian diplomats, acting on evidence not seen by Corbyn, who – as leader of the opposition – should be given this right. The ramping up of Cold War tension is unprecedented since the 1980s, in a world which is increasingly unstable. That instability has been greatly exacerbated by the actions and consequences of the war on terror, the expansion of Nato to the Russian border (in contravention of agreements before the Warsaw Pact was disbanded), and by the new arms race which is fuelled by the conflicts. 

The pathetic behaviour of Johnson in trying to shift attention away from his lies probably won’t work – although the right wing media is doing its best to help. But when his interview made Have I Got News for You and was accompanied by a clip from The Thick of It discussing expelling Russian diplomats to take the public’s eyes off unpopular policies, then there is a problem for government credibility. 

As there should be. The Skripal poisoning story gets ever more mysterious. Happily, last week it emerged that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are on the way to full recovery after their poisoning a month ago, despite experts claiming that contact with the nerve agent Novichok would lead to certain death for them both. This raises questions about the nature of the poison and where it was administered. It is quite possible to believe that Russian state agents were behind this attack, but they are frankly not the only suspects. And it is clear that the government sees the whole case as a political weapon to use against Labour and to shore up its own support. 

The seriousness required to deal with an international incident of this sort is simply not available to this government, not just because of the buffoon Johnson. Theresa May is using this in order to make her look strong and stable. Something she could not achieve in the last election. The proximity of the local elections encourages the Tories further down this road, in order to limit their certain losses next month. And of course, it is a convenient smokescreen for the abject failure of this government to negotiate any Brexit deal. 

Russia’s involvement in the Syrian war has already exacerbated tensions between the major powers and these will continue. The horrific news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria this weekend is straight away being blamed on Russia without any evidence whatever. Where is this going to end – with conflict between nuclear-armed states? 

If we want to prevent that, the position of Jeremy Corbyn is much closer to maintaining peace than that of the government. It’s a pity that some of his right-wing backbenchers don’t see that. They should be clamouring for Johnson’s resignation. The only decent thing is for him to stand down. But this government – which makes deals with the right-wing DUP, cuts child benefits and fans racism – just doesn’t do decent. 

It’s a funny old world: anti-Semitism and the right 

You would think that the only problem with anti-Semitism in this country was inside the Labour Party. In recent weeks we have had the unedifying spectacle of the Tory party (home to appeasers of Hitler) and the Daily Mail (Hurrah for the Blackshirts their most famous headline) rushing to attack Jeremy Corbyn over cases of anti-Semitism. There was a demonstration against Labour anti-Semitism organised by Jewish organisations which was attended by well-known anti-racists such as Northern Ireland’s DUP and Lord Norman Tebbit. It’s a topsy-turvy world where lifelong campaigners against racism are treated like this, and where suddenly right wingers show an interest in tackling racism which they had previously left dormant. 

So let’s get this into perspective. Yes, there is anti-Semitism in Labour as there is in all areas of society. Is it a greater problem in Labour? I doubt it. Does it exist in the Tory party? Of course, and this party also has links with right-wing parties in eastern Europe who openly espouse such ideas. These parties are also overtly anti-Muslim and anti-migrant. 

Racism is part of capitalism and it is pervasive, different racisms being more widespread at different times. Anti-Semitism was and is central to Nazi ideology which led to the Holocaust. It found fertile ground in eastern Europe in particular, where it is also growing again, fuelled by a growth of the far right. Look at the chilling rhetoric in the Hungarian election. 

The state-driven racism most prominent in Britain is Islamophobia, which is channelled through the Prevent programme, the restrictions on civil liberties, the political demands for restrictions on what Muslims wear. Those of us opposed to all forms of racism should campaign against each and every one of its manifestations. 

Left wing anti-Semitism is unacceptable and should be opposed, but we should always remember that this ideology came from the right – with the horrific consequences that we see from history. The left across Europe was central to opposing this right and many of them perished along with Jews as a result. Indeed, many Jews were also on the left, seeing such organisations as bastions against racism. This is our tradition, and we don’t need lessons from the Tories about it. 

The recent arguments are also about the nature of anti-Semitism – is it criticism of Jews as such or of the state of Israel? To my mind, there has to be a clear distinction between the two. The definition of anti-Semitism has to be the former. Many Jews the world over, including in Israel, are extremely critical of the actions of their state. Many on the left are also. They are expressing a political position, not exercising racial discrimination. 

Attempts to conflate the two things can only do a disservice to the actual fight against anti-Semitism. The aim of people such as Israeli ambassador Mark Regev (who in his previous incarnation was press spokesman during the Gaza Operation Cast Lead in 2009) is to quell criticism of his government’s policies. We know from the Al Jazeera documentary last year that the embassy has been involved in political manoeuvres against pro-Palestine politicians. 

Israel has in the past ten days shot and killed 28 people at the Gaza border – people who are only demanding their right to return to lands taken from them. It is our right and our duty to protest against such brutality, as we did on Saturday. And the Israeli embassy – representing a right-wing Netanyahu government which is very unpopular in Israel – has no right to use genuine fears about racism and anti-Semitism to try to diminish that.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.