A History of Labour as a 'Terrifying National Threat'

After 'The Sun' published a story claiming Corbyn is a "danger to national security", citing neo-Nazi and antisemitic websites, we thought it was worth looking at some other ridiculous attacks.
December 9, 2019, 1:33pm
Photo: David Bagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Google the phrase "Jeremy Corbyn dangerous" and you'll be presented with over 31 million results. Tony Blair thinks he's dangerous. Boris Johnson says the same. The former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove, thinks Corbyn is a "danger to national security".

And then there's the British press. Over the weekend, The Sun published an article by its political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, which brought us the news that "former British intelligence officers" had done some research and found that Jeremy Corbyn is "at the centre of a hard-left extremist network".


Sources for this story included the neo-Nazi website Aryan Unity and The Millennium Report, an antisemitic conspiracy site known for publishing articles with titles like, "The Jewish Hand in World Wars". The article has since mysteriously disappeared from the newspaper's website, without acknowledgement or apology.

Many more articles about Corbyn remain published. Media outlets better known for their thinly veiled racism repeatedly and relentlessly call the Labour leader an antisemite. The Daily Mail, Telegraph, Express, Evening Standard and the rest seemingly have teams dedicated to Corbyn danger-watch, reminding readers again and again that the "hard left Marxist" is probably, right this minute, breaking into their suburban semi-detached to nationalise their cat and redistribute its kittens.

While the campaign against Corbyn has been more sustained, disingenuous and vicious than any other, he is far from the first Labour leader to be smeared as an immediate threat to you, your family and your dinner party guests.

From the day it was born, the Labour Party has been portrayed by some as a clear and present threat, set on destroying capitalism and the English way of life. None of these lurid fantasies have ever come to pass, which you could say is the real sadness in this story. Nevertheless, here – among many stories over time – are some key examples of the history of Labour as a grave public danger.

Ramsay MacDonald and the Zinoviev letter

The august granddaddy of establishment plots against Labour, the Zinoviev letter was published on the front page of the Daily Mail four days before the 1924 election.

The letter was supposedly from Soviet politician and president of the Comintern, Grigori Zinoviev, encouraging British communists to support the Labour party at the election and to encourage "agitation-propaganda" in the armed forces.


The Mail's front page read, "Civil War Plot By Socialists’ Masters", with accompanying exclamations including, "Moscow Orders to Our Reds", "Mr. MacDonald Would Lend Russia Our Money" and "Paralyse The Army And Navy".

The country booted Labour out in favour of the Conservatives, and the letter turned out to be a forgery cooked up, almost certainly, by an MI6 officer and close friend of Winston Churchill, who got it to the Mail.

In short, the British intelligence establishment, an elite network whose loyalties lay firmly with the Tories, chose the most on the nose thing they could think of – Labour being Soviet stooges – and disseminated fabricated evidence through the right-wing press.

The Daily Mail, owned by Lord Rothermere, a friend of Hitler and Mussolini, went on to show extensive support for the Nazis. Later Labour leaders, including Harold Wilson and Michael Foot, were also accused of being Soviet spies, with extensive campaigns mounted against them.

Clement Attlee's Gestapo

After five long years of war, Britain returned to electoral politics in June of 1945, with Winston Churchill's Conservatives taking on Clement Attlee's Labour Party. During the war, the country had been run by a coalition government, with Attlee serving as Churchill's deputy prime minister.

Attlee was a former major in the British army and a hero from his time fighting in the First World War – hardly a renegade figure bent on bringing down the British state.

But with Labour looking set to win, Churchill abandoned any pretence of civility and played on an already well-established idea: that socialism necessarily meant an end to freedom and that the British Labour Party would discard the rights of the individual in favour of their sinister, collectivist goals. More than that, Churchill did this by comparing Attlee's party to the Nazis, the regime his deputy party leader had just spent more than five years helping defeat.

"No socialist government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp or violently-worded expressions of public discontent," he said in a speech on the 4th of June, 1945. "They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo, no doubt very humanely directed in the first instance."


"I entirely agree that people should have the greatest freedom compatible with the freedom of others," Attlee responded. "There was a time when employers were free to work little children for 16 hours a day…"

This time, Labour won the election, and while the NHS was created, a Gestapo was not needed.

'If you want a n*gger for a neighbour, vote Labour'

The 1964 election was won by Labour, but in the Midlands town of Smethick, Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths slithered into power on the back of the slogan, "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour." As the defeated Labour candidate Patrick Walker left the town hall on election night, his rival's supporters yelled at him: "Where are your niggers now, Walker? Take your niggers away!"

While Labour were hardly a righteous force for anti-racism in the area, this slogan was so shocking, and this reaction so appalling, that after the election newly elected prime minister Harold Wilson called on Tory leader Alec Douglas-Home to disown Griffiths. Douglas-Home would not, 25 Tory MPs walked out of Parliament in protest and, in a move recalling the current vogue for people asking racists to be treated civilly, proposed a motion deploring Wilson's insulting language.

The Tories had found something else apart from portraying Labour as spies and communists – they had found a way to inflame and distort prejudices, using racism as a weapon to win working class votes, thus cutting into the support their rivals usually received in industrial areas. It was a tactic the party continued, before it was perfected by Nigel Farage and the Vote Leave campaign.

New Labour, new danger

Tony Blair, grinning maniacally against a black background, a strip torn across his eyes to make them look demonic with the slogan, in communist red, "New Labour, New Danger": this was advertising agency M&C Saatchi's big campaign for the Conservative party at the 1997 election, with another poster produced replacing the slogan with, "New Labour, New Taxes".

Blair had changed his party, but the Tories were intent on referring to their old playbook, presenting the slick, besuited centrist as a Trojan horse. He may look different, but as soon as he's in power he'll take off his blue suit, put on a furry Russian hat and nationalise your car. Even former Tory leader Edward Heath criticised the campaign. Labour won in a landslide and the Tories would eventually end up electing David Cameron, a Blair clone, as their leader.

Chaos with Ed Miliband

"Britain faces a simple and inescapable choice – stability and strong government with me, or chaos with Ed Miliband," David Cameron tweeted before the 2015 election. And boy, was he right!