It was Theresa May who first called Conservatives the “Nasty Party”. Now her supporters are working hard to pin that label on Labour.
The Tories are terrified of the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn and they can’t do anything to match the appeal of Labour’s policies.
They have done their damnedest to smear Corbyn, to little avail, and have now run out of mud to fling at him. Instead they are trying to smear the whole Labour Party.
I’ve written before about the way that antisemitism has been weaponised by the party’s opponents, and we saw that again after Holocaust Memorial Day. Corbyn wrote a dignified message in the Holocaust Educational Trust memorial book at Westminster which would have passed unnoticed if his enemies hadn’t highlighted his failure to mention Jews in it.
Attempts to kick up a storm on social media were just gathering pace when it was pointed out that his message in the booklet for the memorial service not only mentioned Jewish people by name – including Anne Frank – but referred to “our Jewish brothers and sisters”.
Then it emerged that May and Vince Cable hadn’t mentioned Jews in the memorial book either. And neither had the chief rabbi – yet nobody was accusing HIM of being antisemitic.
At least the editor of the Jewish Chronicle had the decency to apologise. The trouble is that, as Jonathan Swift wrote in 1710, “falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it”.
Tory election guru Lynton Crosby built a career out of spreading falsehoods and innuendo, understanding only too well that people remember the original smear but not the denial.
National newspaper editors are familiar with that technique too: nobody notices apologies or corrections columns. An original falsehood has become “fact” by the time it is corrected.
Sexism and misogyny are also used to mark out Labour as the “nasty party”.
We’ve been hearing a lot recently about “sexist and misogynistic” bullying of Claire Kober, who has been “hounded out” of her role as council leader in Haringey, north London.
The Tory media have been lapping it up, making Kober out to be some sort of victim, rather than the prime mover behind a massively unpopular plan for her council to go into partnership with private company Lendlease.
Clearly, sexist bullying is nasty – so, therefore, the Labour Party is nasty. Except that it seems much of the bullying has been done by Kober and her supporters. Those in the know talk of threats and intimidation to push through the controversial “Haringey Development Vehicle” (HDV) that would have demolished large parts of the borough – including the homes of thousands of residents.
Veteran councillor Stuart McNamara resigned last November in a damning letter (read it here), which accused Kober of incompetence, among many other things. Oddly, Kober claimed that calling her incompetent was sexist on the grounds that a man wouldn’t be accused of it – which would probably surprise Corbyn, whose enemies have accused him many times of just that.
Naturally, Kober – despite being a party member – has become the poster girl for the “Labour is the nasty party” campaign.
Of course, you would expect that in the Daily Mail, but the BBC has been an enthusiastic participant: Kober has appeared on TV so many times that one Twitter joker suggested that she should get her own show.
Who would have thought municipal politics would ever get so much national coverage?
But, of course, the media are interested because it feeds into the “new nasty party” narrative.
BBC presenter Jo Coburn even asked on the Daily Politics show if Labour was “the new nasty party”, further cementing that thought in viewers’ minds.
Meanwhile, George Osborne’s London Evening Standard said in a leader: “Ms Kober is the successful and moderate leader of Haringey council who has been on the receiving end of a campaign by far-Left activist group Momentum that she rightly described as ‘sexist’, ‘bullying’ and ‘undemocratic’.”
Ah yes, Momentum. Or “Momentum thugs”, as it is now apparently compulsory to call them.
But Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty, who grew up in Haringey, said the story was not about Momentum. He wrote: “The death of the HDV is a victory for local people over multinational business, for democracy over machine politics. Most of all, it is an inflection point in one of the great battles of our times: Big Finance versus the rest of us.”
He went on: “The Tory press and the Labour right, however, are already painting Kober as a martyr to the Trotskyites – a band that apparently includes David Lammy MP and the local Lib Dems. They claim her exit is an affront to democracy, when Kober and her enforcers ignored two council scrutiny reports calling for an immediate halt; arranged secret meetings with Lendlease, and disciplined Labour councillors who challenged them in public.”
But what about the “Momentum thugs” who attacked Jacob Rees-Mogg at UWE, Bristol? Surely that is irrefutable evidence of the “nasty” Labour Party?
Except that it isn’t.
Video evidence clearly shows that Rees-Mogg (who, incidentally, was being followed by a Breitbart camera crew) went to talk to a crowd of protesters – an anti-fascist group, rather than Labour members – who were making a lot of noise but not being violent. Suddenly, a man in a white shirt waded in and hit a woman in the face. The resulting scuffle was to prevent further violence.
The man in the white shirt? A Rees-Mogg supporter and martial arts instructor called Paul Townsley.
Corbyn’s enemies – from all parties – have been trying to demonise Momentum since its formation, making out that its members are violent thugs.
I can’t speak for every other Momentum member, but I joined recently. I am certainly not a young thug. I am a 64-year-old therapist and retired journalist (yes, mainstream media).
The secretary of my local Momentum branch is a retired consultant eye surgeon (though I don’t know him well enough to swear that he is not a thuggish retired consultant eye surgeon).
Most pictures I have seen of Momentum meetings could be confused with get-togethers of retired librarians – and I know one when I see one, as I am married to a retired librarian.
Are Momentum members passionate? Sure. Are they violent thugs? Only in the imaginations of those who fear the popularity of their cause.
Now we have May calling for a law to crack down on the abuse of politicians and other public figures on social media. She says that online “bullying” has become a growing “threat to democracy”.
It all sounds perfectly reasonable until you realise that she is really just blowing hard on the dog whistle. She isn’t so much concerned about the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox or the appalling abuse of Diane Abbott as she is about maintaining the myth of the “Momentum thugs”.
Did you notice the outrage when it was revealed that the Finsbury Park murderer was hoping to kill Corbyn (and Sadiq Khan as a bonus)? No, because there wasn’t any.
It was barely commented on – because it didn’t fit the narrative of lefties bullying “moderates”.
In case you are wondering when the Tories stopped being the Nasty Party, the answer is that they haven’t.
But they and their friends are working hard to deflect attention from their nastiness by painting Labour supporters as thuggish.
Don’t let them bully you into believing it.