FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The ISC Report: Russian Connections in Albion?

The UK election campaign has kicked off, and merrily confused are the major candidates. The chaotic scene was made a touch more interesting with the refusal on the part of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to clear the release of a report by the intelligence and security committee on claimed Russian interference in British politics.

This did not impress the committee’s chairman Dominic Grieve, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party. Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornbury, speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, wondered what the government had “to hide”. In the absence of an explanation, the suggestion was that No 10 was cooking something smelly, and behind well sealed doors.

News outlets have been left to speculate about the delay. The suggestion that the findings could damage the Conservatives is top of the list. “We know the report looks at a wide range of Russian activity – ranging from traditional espionage to subversion – and not just in the UK,” suggests Gordon Corera of the BBC. We also know that the report draws from figures within the intelligence community – MI5, MI6, GCHQ – and a number of selected experts.

But the scale of such interference, in terms of cyber infiltration and electoral meddling, has been questioned. This has not filled such individuals as Paddy McGuinness, former deputy national security adviser, with much confidence. Reforms in terms of transparency and the handling of data by political parties, he insists, should be of utmost importance.

Ones hypothesis doing the Whitehall crawl is the idea that the Kremlin has its paws over various notable Conservatives. This point was already being made last year when it was revealed that Sergey Nabolin of the Russian embassy had been keeping company with members of cabinet at London’s Hurlingham Club in 2014 at one of those rather expensive shindigs. (Nabolin, it had been noted, had gone so far as to call Johnson “our good friend”.) The next year, Nabolin’s diplomatic visa was revoked. Much handwringing ensued.

The exploits of Nabolin were noted by Paul Staines in The Spectator. He networked vigorously – though that could hardly be held against a person from the embassy, whose job it is to find the places, the spots, and the pulses of life in the host country. But the Hurlingham Club was another matter. “The security is extremely tight, and the guest list closely vetted, because guests mingle with the PM and cabinet ministers.” There was an unmistakable sense that Russian money was washing through, and that the link with the Conservatives was but as element of the entire picture.

The Sunday Times has made the claim that nine Russian business people who have donated money to the Conservative Party have been named in the ISC document. These include Alexander Temerko, whose previous employment includes a stint in the Kremlin’s defence ministry. Over the last seven years, his wallet has brought forth some £1.2 million for the Conservatives.

Johnson, it must be said, has also enjoyed himself at various gatherings with Russians of note. While flying the British flag as foreign secretary, he spent time at an Italian villa with Evgeny Lebedev playing host. This might not have seemed that strange: Johnson had been an editor of The Spectator magazine; Lebedev runs the Evening Standard. But this has not stopped the tittering. The obvious point here is that politicians, notably the foreign minister, are bound to do this sort of thing, though post-2016 politics is filled with association and innuendo. To meet is to be complicit.

Johnson’s senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, has also made it into the ring of speculation. Between 1994 and 1997, he spent time in Russia, though not much is known of his stint. Nothing to get too excited about, but the point has drawn Thornbury’s interest, who has pressed the government with certain queries by letter. “I would assume that – given the seniority of his position and the influence it gives him over decision-making at the top of government – that he was subject to the highest level of developed vetting (DV) and that – as a result – he is able to study ‘top secret’ intelligence and attend meetings on the UK’s military and security operations overseas.” If history is an aid to anything in this regard, such vetting processes are bound to count for little: class and education speak volumes, substance, less so. (The quibbler is bound to suggest that Oxford doesn’t do a good line in industrious traitors the way Cambridge does.)

Grieve is concerned that the letter of convention is not being followed with regards the report. “The protocols are quite clear. If the prime minister has a good reason for preventing publication he should explain to the committee what it is, and do it within 10 days of him receiving the report. If not, it should be reported.”

Chancellor Sajid Javid, in responding to this battle of formalities, is making the claim that normal process is being observed; nothing here to see, move on. But he is obviously being charged with the task of deflecting any claims that a Tory-Russian nexus of influence exists. He stressed the point on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme. “When it comes to party donors, whether it is the Conservative Party or any other party, there are very strict rules that need to be followed and of course we will always follow those rules.”

Such an assertion is fairly meaningless, returning back to the basics of a gentleman’s old school understanding. They might give us money, but don’t worry yourselves about it, dear electors: this is money without influence. “I’m sure as sure as I can be,” insists Javid. “I’m absolutely sure in terms of our party and I am very confident about how we are funded and we are very transparent about that.” The ISC report might well suggest a different story and, Russia or not, donations do buy influence in politics, however gauged.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
April 09, 2020
John Davis
Freedom Virus
Vincent Emanuele
The New Normal: Cascading and Multilayered Crises
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie’s Last Tape
John O'Kane
Remove the Boomer Virus and What Virus Remains?
Kevin Bixby – Daryl T. Smith
The Border Wall Risks Us All
Nick Pemberton
Could COVID-19 Count Fox News Among Its Victims?
Howard Lisnoff
American Exceptionalism in the Face of Covid-19
Charles Pierson
We Are Living (And Dying) in Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”
Sam Husseini
Sanders Suspends: What Happened? What Now?
Binoy Kampmark
Banal Terrors: Pandemics and the Ordinary Business of War
Ted Rall
Why We Need a New Progressive Party and How We Can Create It
Walden Bello
Martin Khor: the Making of a Global Activist
Ariel Dorfman
COVID-19 and the Lessons of Life in Exile
Merriam Ansara
John Lennon in Quarantine: a Letter From Havana
George Wuerthner
Politics and Corruption at Grand Canyon
Eugene Schulman
Lost in the Pandemic: the Forever Wars
Dean Baker
Basic Economics for Economic Columnists: a Depression is a Process, Not an Event
George Ochenski
The Dishonest Mr. Daines
Mike Ferner
Love in a Dangerous Time
Brian Horejsi
Beware Government Secrecy in Times of Pandemic
Sam Pizzigati
No Fennel in the Sausage, No $600 for the Jobless
Jason Christensen – John Carter
Conservation Groups Oppose the Nature Conservancy’s Cattle Grazing Development Project on the Border of Canyonlands National Park
April 08, 2020
Melvin Goodman
The Impact of COVID-19 on the Body Politic
Eve Ottenberg
Amid Plague, Sanctions are Genocide
Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun – Weiyan Zhu
How China Learned About SARS-CoV-2 in the Weeks Before the Global Pandemic
Bill Quigley
Seven Disturbing Facts About COVID-19 in Louisiana
Joyce Nelson
BlackRock Takes Command
Geoff Dutton
Coronavirus as Metaphor: It’s Not Peanuts
Richard Moser
From Strike Wave to General Strike
Gary Leupp
Could COVID-19 Kill Capitalism?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Corona, Capital and Class in Germany
Tom Crofton
Aspirational vs Pragmatic: Why My Radicalness is Getting More Radical
Steve Kelly
Montana Ballot Access Decision Suppresses Green Party Voters
Jacob Hornberger
Muhammad Ali’s Fight Against the Pentagon
Phil Mattera
The Rap Sheets of the Big Ventilator Producers
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19?
Rick Baum
When “Moderate” Democrats Lead the Ticket and Win, Down-Ballot Candidates Soon Suffer Losses
Jake Johnston
Tens of Millions Will Be Pushed into Poverty Amid COVID-Induced Recession
Kim C. Domenico
Healthy and Unhealthy Fear in the Age of Coronavirus
John W. Whitehead
Draconian Lockdown Powers and Civil Liberties
Binoy Kampmark
University Bailouts, Funding and Coronavirus
Luke Ruediger
BLM Timber Sale Increases Fire Risk, Reduces Climate Resilience and Harms Recreation
John Kendall Hawkins
Slavoj Žižek’s Virulent Polemic Against Covid-19, and Stuff!
Nyla Ali Khan
Finding Meaning and Purpose in Adversity
April 07, 2020
Joel McCleary – Mark Medish
Paradigm Shift by Pandemic
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail