The desperation of those out there on the right to see some mud stick to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn over the claims last week that he had been some kind of asset for the Czech security services at the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s has not abated, despite the key witness having long been discredited. So it was that the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph’s Sunday edition continued the offensive.
Here's the long version of the story ...
Now, though, the accusations have been widened to other actors, which may not be the best of strategies. “Czech agent claims 15 Labour MPs met spies … Livingstone and McDonnell deny encounters with Soviet bloc operatives during the Cold War” proclaims the headline, but what readers are not immediately and clearly told is that the whole story relies on a single source - and that source is not even remotely credible.
This is what the Tel claims: “KEN LIVINGSTONE, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn were part of a group of at least 15 senior Labour figures who shared information with Eastern bloc agents, it is claimed today … Jan Sarkocy, a former Czechoslovak spy, described the MPs as ‘great sources’ to himself or his colleagues in the KGB … The new claims come after he said on Friday that the Labour leader had shared information with the Communist Czechoslovak régime”. Sarkocy is the paper’s only source.
... and here's the easily digested summary
Sarkocy was the only source for the Sun. He was the only source for the Daily Mail. Now, relying on a single source does not automatically make a claim suspect. But that source needs to be credible and reliable, and Jan Sarkocy is neither. What he has done, though, is to figure out just how credulous the right-leaning part of the UK Press Establishment is. They want something that looks too good to be true; he will willingly give it to them.
As so often, what looks too good to be true is just that because it really is too good to be true. Sarkocy has made a number of other wild claims that undermine his credibility as a source and put the Telegraph titles in what Spike Milligan might have called A Very Difficult Position. All one needs to do is to translate his claims into English.
This is what Sarkocy also told Czech publication Novy Cas: “I’ll tell you this. I knew what Thatcher would have for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and what she would wear next day. Corbyn’s money was given by another person who is currently a prominent MP. The check-in took place under Russian protection”. The idea that a newly elected Labour back bencher would have access to Mrs T’s culinary régime is just nuts.
He also claimed “Through the unions and peace movements, questions were addressed to Nelson Mandela. It is because he and his team have been involved in the preparation of supporting events. We finally made a concert in Wembley. It was funded by Czechoslovakia”. Whether he meant Live Aid, or the 1988 Free Nelson Mandela concert, is an area where Sarkocy was not clear. But you get the hint. He’s a clown.
John McDonnell has already denounced the Tel’s article, telling “Telegraph lies. These are ridiculous and false allegations. I have never met any Czechoslovak or Soviet agent, nor visited the Soviet or Russian embassy and have only visited Guildford once in my life, which was last year for a Labour Party public meeting. Ludicrous Tory lies”.
So what we have here is a prime candidate for the MPs and former MPs to consider taking to law. The Tel, as their desperate and perverse defence of the smears aimed at Hacked Off and Byline Media over the Whittingdale case showed, will swear blind that black is white and their version of reality is correct, whatever the facts. And we know what happened the last time a Sunday paper overreached itself in smearing a Labour figure.
As the Independent reported back in 1995, “Michael Foot will today accept a six-figure sum from the Sunday Times for claims made last year that the former Labour leader was considered by the KGB to be an ‘agent of influence’ … Mr Foot instituted libel proceedings against the newspaper and its proprietor Rupert Murdoch when they refused to apologise for the allegation. The settlement will be finalised in a statement at the High Court”.
The Tel has already repeated that claim, as Mark Seddon has observed: “Charles Moore also repeats a gross libel that Michael Foot took money from a Soviet agent, which he 'probably' gave to Tribune. Moore knows that Foot is dead and can't sue as he once did, successfully, against Murdoch personally over the same claim. Moore is a charlatan”. Moore proves that this is no more than a smear campaign. Journalism does not enter.
There is no point Corbyn, McDonnell, Livingstone or anyone else wasting time complaining to the Tel’s own people, nor indeed to invest any credibility in the ability of sham press regulator IPSO to prevail on the paper to do the right thing. They must show that they are willing to take the publishers of this ridiculous farrago to the cleaners.
They must sue, and do so now. If they fail to do so, the right-leaning part of the Press Establishment will take it as a green light to crap all over them, knowing that there will be no comeback. The Sunday Telegraph has no defence other than bluster and protest.