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Russophobia – the obsession of the UK elite

Neil Clark is a journalist, writer and broadcaster. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter

Published time: April 02, 2014 12:48
Reuters / Paul Hackett

The gap between the views of the elites and the people in the UK is wider than at any time in the last 100 years.

I mentioned it in an RT OpEdge in September, and now the democratic deficit has once again been highlighted by the relentless attacks on Russia and President Putin from members of our political and media elite. We've seen article after article and heard speech after speech attacking Russia and its president for what has happened in Crimea, and regular attempts to scare the public about the Russian 'threat'.

We’ve had articles claiming that Putin wants to ‘regain Finland’, and a warning that he could play the ‘Crimean card’ in the Baltic states. Yet, despite the torrent of crude anti-Russian propaganda we have been subjected to, which has surpassed anything we had in the coldest part of the ‘Cold War’ in the 1980s, there’s plenty of evidence that this elite Russophobia is not shared by the general public.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said last week he was ‘astounded’ after Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, with whom he was debating on television, had said that the EU had ‘blood on its hands’ over its ‘imperialist, expansionist’ policy towards Ukraine. “For Nigel Farage to side with Vladimir Putin, he will have to explain why he did so….It was in many ways the most striking, if not shocking, new revelation that came to light,” Clegg fumed.

The ‘establishment’ line was that Farage would face a voter backlash for his treasonous comments. But in fact, the opposite occurred. Take a look at the comments from readers underneath this Daily Mail report on the Clegg v Farage row. As Patrick O’Flynn, UKIP director of communications, pointed out on Twitter, the readers quite clearly did not share the view that Farage had committed a major gaffe.

It's the same when we compare the anti-Russian op-eds and comment pieces in many UK newspapers, with the letters section in newspapers. We have bellicose Cold War editorials blasting Russia and pieces comparing Putin to Hitler, but in contrast, the letters pages are full of letters in support of the Russian position, or at least saying Britain should not get involved in Ukraine.

Here are extracts from just a few letters from readers which have appeared in the mainstream media in Britain in recent weeks:

“I believe Russia is doing the right thing to protect those Russian people who live in the Ukraine.” (Daily Mail, 6th March)

“What’s the difference between David Cameron and Winston Churchill? Churchill supported the Russians against the Nazis whereas Cameron appears to be supporting the Nazis against the Russians.” (Daily Mail, 12th March)

“Russian needs in respect of Ukraine are reasonable and to be expected. He (Putin) cannot allow the EU to usurp Russian influence along Russia’s western border.” Daily Express, 12th March 2014.

“Mr Putin is defending the Russian majority, settled in Crimea centuries ago by Catherine the Great, who feel threatened by rightwing elements in Ukraine who have passed a law denigrating the use of the Russian language, and threatening their Orthodox religion.” The Guardian, 3nd March 2014

“…the governments and peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Crimea should be left to sort out their own problems, hopefully without bloody wars. The West has blood on its hands and should stop interfering in the affairs of other countries.” Sunday Telegraph, 30th March 2014.

Yet another sign that the elite are out of step with public opinion on Russia was a recent poll, published in The Sun on Sunday, which showed that both the EU and Israel have a lower public approval than Russia, despite all the negative propaganda.

It’s clear that Russophobia is a disease of the UK elite, not of the UK population as a whole. The question is: why have the UK elite become so Russophobic?

A child casts her mother's ballot while holding a Russian flag at a polling station on March 16, 2014 in Simferopol. (AFP Photo / Viktor Drachev)

For Russia with love

It didn't use to be like this. Even at the height of the old Cold War, the British ruling class was nowhere near as anti-Russian as it is today. Here’s Lewis Baston writing about Reginald Maudling, a leading Conservative Party politician of the post-war era: ‘He approached communism without much by way of ideological preconceptions and believed in the positive potential of East-West trade. He was pleased with his Russian expedition, and when he returned, he and his son Edward, officially opened a pioneering Russian shop in London.’ Maudling, Baston notes, ‘was no Cold War warrior.’ In 1973 he said: “One cannot underestimate the achievements of the USSR … one should not underestimate what has been achieved.”

Harold Wilson, the Labour leader from 1963-76 and Prime Minister from 1964-70 and 1974-76, and a strong supporter of the policy of détente, visited the Soviet Union at least 19 times. Early in his career, when he was president of the Board of Trade, he said: ‘The healthy development of trade between Eastern and Western Europe is an essential part of the program for European recovery. Politics do not enter into it.’

Love for Russia could be found on both the left and the right of British politics: prominent Tory right-winger, Enoch Powell, was also a frequent visitor to the Soviet Union and in the 1980s came out in support of Britain’s unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The Russophobia of Britain’s post-war political elite can no doubt be partly explained by their appreciation of the crucial role played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of Nazism. But it was also, I believe, caused by an understanding by leading politicians that having a good, working relationship including strong trading links with the Soviet Union was in Britain’s national interest. How different to their counterparts today!

Hostility to national interest

As I detailed in my speech to the conference of the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals last week, since the late 1970s, Britain’s main political parties have gradually been taken over by two pernicious forces: the neo-conservatives and the fake-left, both of whom are fiercely hostile to Russia. In foreign policy, neo-conservatives and the fake-left are strongly Atlanticist and pro-Israel. They are also keen for Britain to stay in the EU to act as a ‘Trojan horse’ to push American interests and for the EU and NATO to expand eastwards.

Whether such policies – aimed to antagonize Russia – are in the British national interest doesn’t really come into it.
The neo-conservative takeover of the Conservative Party began with the election of Cold War warrior Margaret Thatcher as party leader in 1975. In 1976 she sacked Reginald Maudling as Shadow Foreign Secretary. (It’s an interesting footnote that Maudling won a libel case against the BBC after a journalist named Denis MacShane had called him a ‘fat crook’; years later MacShane became a pro-war Labour MP, known for his anti-Russia, anti-Putin, pro-US, pro-EU and pro-Israel stance and in 2013 was jailed for expenses fraud).

Yet, despite the years of Thatcherism, even as late as December 1990, you could still find a Tory minister criticizing NATO. “This entire outing is a right-wing think (or rather thought) tank, funded by the CIA, which churns Cold War concepts around. I am going to tell them that the Cold War is over and NATO is washed up, unnecessary, a waste of time and money and (such is the streetwise expression) space,” recorded Alan Clark in his diary.

For a leading Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour politician to say such a thing about NATO today would be career death, such is the grip of the neocon/fake left cross-party alliance.

Nigel Farage (AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

The litmus paper of pro-Americanism

Wikileaks has revealed to us the craven attitude today’s British elite have towards the US.

Leaked cables, published in late 2010, showed how leading Conservatives, when in opposition, promised to run a ‘pro-American regime’ when they got to power and pledged to buy more US arms. The level of obsequiousness shown by the politicians was, as I highlighted here, was quite extraordinary. In the light of these cables is it really such a surprise that our Vichyesque government is once again toeing the US line on Ukraine/Russia?

The political elite in Britain has not only become more slavishly pro-American in recent years, but also more pro-Israel. On a recent trip to Israel, Prime Minister David Cameron hailed his ‘unbreakable’ support for the county.

You could be a parliamentary ‘Friend of Israel’ and not be a Russophobe in the 1960s and 70s, (as Harold Wilson was), but today’s ‘Friends of Israel’ tend not to be Friends of Russia. Russia has been targeted by British supporters of Israel for its role in preventing ‘regime change’ in Syria - something they are keen on in order to break the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. A Channel 4 documentary in 2009 claimed that around 80 percent of Conservative MPs were members of Conservative Friends of Israel. “The Conservative Friends of Israel is beyond doubt the best connected, and probably the best funded, of all Westminster lobbying groups,” says the author Peter Oborne.

Support for Britain’s continued membership of the EU is another ‘elite’ position, which, like support for the US, NATO and Israel, is not really meant to be questioned. You’re allowed to criticize aspects of the EU- but as Nigel Farage found out, you are not supposed to point out that the organization has ‘blood on its hands’ for inciting regime change in Ukraine. And of course if there’s a dispute between the EU and Russia, you have to openly declare yourself 100 percent behind the EU, even if you‘re a EU-skeptic. Otherwise you will be labeled a ‘Putin stooge’.

British Russophobia was dormant in the 1990s when the compliant Boris Yeltsin, who acquiesced in the illegal NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999, held power in the Kremlin, but has resurfaced with Russia’s subsequent re-emergence as a major world power. In other words, Russia was fine when ruled by a drunk who did everything the West wanted; now that it’s ruled by someone who wants to protect Russia’s legitimate interests, it’s Public Enemy Number One.

Any politicians or commentators who deviate too much from the elite ‘party line’ on the US, Israel, the EU and the demonization of President Putin and Russia can expect to come under attack from establishment gatekeepers. The New McCarthyism, like the old one, is about suppressing dissent and limiting the parameters of debate: we saw another classic example of it today with this attack Nigel Farage for regularly appearing on RT which quotes a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who was a signatory to the principles of the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society.

But it’s clear that elite Russophobes have overplayed their hand. Far from being ‘marginalized’, figures who do deviate from the elite consensus on Russia/Ukraine and other issues, such as Nigel Farage and George Galloway, the leader of Respect, see their popularity and their followings continue to rise: Farage currently has 111K followers on Twitter, while George Galloway has 174K.

On the issue of Ukraine, Russia, Putin and the West, Farage and Galloway are far more in tune with public opinion than the ‘mainstream’ politicians and pundits attacking them. The elite, probably because they spend all their time talking to other members of the elite, and praising each other’s work, don’t seem to understand that the people aren’t buying their hysterical Cold War propaganda. The campaign against Russia has been an embarrassing flop but if Britain had been a properly functioning democracy – with parties that represented majority and not minority interests and causes, we wouldn’t have had it in the first place.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.