The General Election may not be until next month, but the electoral process gets going in earnest next week, when postal ballots are sent out. So this weekend, the parties are looking to make the kind of impact that will resonate with the electorate. Helping them along will be the partisan part of the press - for which read almost all of it - with a few well placed slices of knocking copy to scare voters into line.
So who was going to jump first? That question seems to have been answered by the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph, which has decided to frighten folks away from Labour by chucking the “security risk” dead cat on the table. “MI5 ran file on Corbyn to investigate IRA links” tells the headline. Jezza asked then PM Margaret Thatcher if someone in prison could have more visits. How traitorous was that?
Well, not really. We know that Mrs T, and other Prime Ministers, were either talking to the IRA, or had chaps doing that sort of thing for them. And the Tel - not for the first time - is taking a small amount of information and inflating the resulting soufflé beyond the limits of viability. We know this as the Telegraph’s story has been lifted away from its paywall by the Mail - and a “source close to the investigation” has spilled the beans.
“If there was a file on someone, it meant they had come to notice. We opened a temporary file and did a preliminary investigation. It was then decided whether we should open a permanent file on them”. Yes? Yes yes? Yes yes yes? “A file would be opened on ‘someone who sympathises with a certain group, or is friends with a specific person’ and the purpose was to ‘assess whether the person was a threat’, the source added”.
So we don’t know if this claimed “investigation” went any further than a preliminary stage. The reports on the Corbyn story are all filled out with nudges and winks, although the Mail also volunteers “It has previously been claimed that the Metropolitan Police special branch had opened a file on Mr Corbyn over his association with anti-racism campaigns”, and it is admitted the security services snooped on anti-Apartheid activists.
How much of a security threat were Jack Straw and Peter Hain? Moreover, MI5 has in the past kept files on many other politicians. They kept one open on Harold Wilson, even through his eight years as Prime Minister. Stafford Cripps, chancellor of the exchequer in the late 1940s, was also the subject of MI5 surveillance. John Strachey, Attlee’s under-secretary of state for air, was another target, as was Liverpool MP Bessie Braddock.
MI5 kept a file on Tony Benn. They snooped on Peter Mandelson. Trades Union leaders were a favourite target. There was even a file on Peter Hitchens. That the spooks opened a file on Jeremy Corbyn is next to irrelevant: the Telegraph might as well have exhumed the Zinoviev Letter, for all the good their propagandising will do.
Expect more of this non-story deployment in the next two and a half weeks. But nothing about Tories who are security risks. Hello Liam Fox.