Boring History: The Zinoviev letter

In which Chris Sams looks to the past to try and figure out the General Election, and finds a Medway parallel along the way..

As the nation enters the throes of another General Election the bored electorate seem to be heading out to vote again, but there seems to be such divided opinion it would only take a news event to cost either of the big two parties their lead.

This is what happened in 2017 with Theresa May, when she singlehandedly cost the Conservatives votes by speaking at debates and events causing people to slide away. This time around Boris could do the same, Jacob Rees-Mogg may have already done so with his Grenfell comments, but who can tell at this stage?

The problem with this election is no matter what the electorate think of Boris Johnson as a person or his Churchillian blunders, he does represent the face of Brexit and the end to this process.

Further to that there is no real opposition.

We have Jo Swinson, who in another time and another political climate could reap great dividends for the Liberal Democrats but sadly I can’t see it this time as the party seems to be using the anti-Brexit call so much that it will turn off voters who might otherwise have voted for other policies. It is also attracting a lot of wrath from Labour members and activists who are quick to remind the electorate of the somewhat inaccurate view that LibDems are diet Tory.

Then again we have Jeremy Corbyn, the face of the opposition who is a deeply divisive man even among his own party. There are accusations of anti-Semitism, of bullying amongst the party which has seen many of the styled “New Labour” or Blairite moderates to leave the party, links to terrorism and who could forget Diane Abbott.

Many though would be tempted to vote for Corbyn just to end Conservative austerity, the seeming ineptitude in government, or just as a vote against Boris.

The Medway towns were considered swing seats just ten years ago and they could get swept up in the national trends. If the swing turned against the Conservatives just enough you could see at least two of the three MPs fall and this could happen is swing seats across the country. It wouldn’t take much to topple the Conservative government.

However it could be stopped and journalist Paul Mason has suggested in a tweet that a Zinoviev letter could cripple Labour’s advance.

This, as I’m sure everyone knows, is a reference to a letter that supposedly saw the collapse of support of the Labour Party in 1924 written by the noted Russian communist Grigory Zinoviev.

In 1924 the Labour party formed a minority government with a lose agreement with the Liberal Party, but a series of scandals rocked the government under Ramsey MacDonald including recognising the Leninist regime in Russia, offering to pay them money, and then dropping a case against Communist editor John Ross Campbell for his call for soldiers not to shoot at civilians should there be a people’s revolt. In such socially tense times which had seen Russia and Germany collapse, and Ireland to begin their fight for freedom the ruling elites were very nervous and a vote of no confidence was passed in the left wing government for fear that they would facilitate a similar socialist revolution.

Just as the General Election got underway a letter was published in the Daily Mail purporting to be from Zinoviev, the minister in charge of the Executive of the Comintern (the body set up in Russia to export Communism to the rest of the world).

The letter called for closer ties between the proletariat of Russia and Britain with the aim to bring Leninism to Britain and her colonies, overthrowing the bourgeoisie. Obviously this caused quite a stir and was credited with seriously hurting Labour’s vote during the 1924 election which saw Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative party win comfortably with a majority of 223 seats. On closer investigation it was actually the Liberal Party who lost heavily, and not Labour. Not long after the election MI5 suggested the letter was a forgery and Zinoviev also denied sending it stating that he was on holiday on the date the letter was reportedly signed.

Conservatives are no doubt hoping that a metaphorical Zinoviev letter will appear to dent Corbyn’s vote. Although Corbyn’s Labour Party doesn’t necessarily attract a lot of support there are quite a few floating voters who would vote for them rather than see the return of the shambling Boris administration but if something, anything, can appear to dissuade them then Boris can secure his win.

In recent months we saw something similar with the “Lawrence letter” which circulated through Watling Ward. Basically during this year’s local election a letter went out to most, if not all, of the resident’s of Watling Ward telling them that Conservative candidate Andrew Lawrence was a “CONservative” who sneered at the poor and cared little for the residents. There was an investigation but no real culprit was found.

Whether or not the “Lawrence letter” had an impact on the Conservative share of the votes or not is open to debate as national politics no doubt played a part in the swing away from the Conservative hegemony in Watling, seeing a Labour candidate elected in what had been a very Lib Dem/Conservative ward.

We’ll have to see what will arise during the election period and whether or not the Tory’s can steamroll through another general election.

chrisChris Sams is history writer published by @fonthillmedia. He is a @_uow graduate studying War at Sea 1914-18. Read more at boredhistorian.blogspot.co.uk

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One Reply to “Boring History: The Zinoviev letter”

  1. To be fair I’d be surprised if any of the ‘big’ parties didn’t have their share of awful antisemites and racists; I suppose we hold labour to higher standards than the more right-wing parties because labour actually has some ethically-motivated content shaping their policies and approaches, even though it’s rather tepid.

    Sadly, in this country political attitudes – and just about everything else – are shaped by tabloids and execrable TV, so obviously xenophobia, narrow-mindedness, pessimism, arrogance and hate at anyone who isn’t from your postcode area and social class are the norm – the fake Zinoviev letter shows us just how powerful disinformation and fear-mongering were, even before our fast-paced times, when overwhelming torrents of soundbites are considered substance.

    How is anyone not fitting that dreadful model ever going to lead this country, especially with the electoral system we have in place?

    No wonder then that Corbyn isn’t rallying everyone behind his banner, even though his policies are economically, socially and societally sounder than most of the other widely-available options – that’s a sign of the man’s integrity and vision, surely, as much as I don’t want to admit it.

    Thanks for this entertaining and well-written article! Three cheers for Paul Mason’s work, too.

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