Theresa May meets Vladimir Putin, September 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Theresa May meets Vladimir Putin, September 2016. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Spurious national unity does not serve working people. The left must resist, argues Kevin Ovenden

It is not conspiracism to continue to press questions exposing the glaring gap between the British government’s rhetoric and propaganda operation and the farago of evidence it is prepared to provide.

And the following two things are both different and not equivalent:

– people who say we must trust the government and authorities at times like this.

– people who say that the government is lying and makes things up at times like this and always.

The first is the very widespread consciousness of deference and acceptance of large dollops of national, ruling class ideology pumped out to an extraordinary degree by the state, government and most of the media – especially at moments like this.

The second may lead in all sorts of directions, is not an adequate response in itself, but at a mass level is the beginnings of wisdom. It represents at whatever stage removed the good sense of people grounded in their experience of the state, the authorities and governments that do lie and make things up.

These are not two equal “dangers” to be navigated between by a beautiful soul left imagining it is some independent truth-seeker.

The first is the singular danger because it is out of that that the British Tory-DUP government can go on the offensive at home and abroad.

The second is the initial social reservoir out of which serious political opposition at moments like this is built, then drawing in others and winning a majority.

Now, out of the second – and usually also out of a sense of powerlessness in the face of a things like the anti-Russia frenzy – may come from some people bad arguments or wild conjectures. And there is always a tiny number of people who promote weird conspiracies in any case.

But that is not the main problem at all. In so far as it is an issue it is that it doesn’t help in dealing with the main problem: the political offensive the Tory government is trying to launch over the Salisbury poisoning.

And so it is dealt with not in some even-handed, neither… nor, way – no to the government, no to conspiracy, or neither this, nor that. It is dealt with by a united political effort to oppose the government, expose it and in so doing develop the good arguments that will marginalise any despairing and bad ones.

That means a front *against the actually existing government* – not some narrow moral alliance for virtue and against sin. That is the political and strategic meaning of the response by German internationalists in 1915 against the bloodsoaked chauvinism of the First World War: the main enemy is at home.

There have been no serious opinion polls, and phone-in or online surveys are being used to propaganda effect to drive home – as is the BBC scandalously – the unsubstantiated government claims.

But it is most likely that that has had some, at least initial, effect.

That effect is the enemy of all in Britain opposed to the Tory government. It means that in any workplace there will be, among the probably very mixed sentiment, a body of opinion inclined to say: although I don’t like things the government is doing, now we have to unite in the national interest.

It is not yet at the pitch where that could lead people to say now is the time to suspend union and other campaigns against the government. But you get a whiff already of how that could happen in the future if there is not a fightback and the jingoism, with its evidence-free claims, goes unchecked.

It is probably not yet at a level either where it could lead people to move away from Labour to the Tories, but that is a possibility in the future and clearly what the government intends.

That is the danger. There is no parallel danger on the other side. There is no group of workers or people in struggle in Britain among whom a wild conspiracy theory or the false idea that Putin is better than May is inhibiting them from fighting for their interests.

The whole left and progressive labour movement need to rally against the government, exposing its rhetoric and politicking, defending Jeremy Corbyn unequivocally from the hard-right offensive, and in that way dealing with everything else.

If we don’t do that, then the winners will be the purveyors of the most absurd conspiracy of all – that the billionaire and the binman in Britain are all together against the nation’s enemies within and without.

And that we have to put up with a million kids losing free school meals because the Ministry of Defence really needs extra cash.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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