Are we all Putin’s puppets now?

Whichever party you vote for, you can now be accused of being a Russian shill.

Lauren Smith

Topics Politics UK World

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At the weekend, as Nigel Farage was addressing a campaign rally in Essex, he was interrupted by a banner descending from above. It showed a beaming Vladimir Putin with his thumbs up, accompanied by text saying, ‘I heart Nigel’. The stunt was organised by anti-Brexit campaign group Led By Donkeys. Its not-so-subtle message was that the Reform UK leader is somehow doing the bidding of the Russian president.

‘Vote Reform, get Putin’ has been the relentless message of both the mainstream parties and the media ever since Farage made some controversial comments about the war in Ukraine earlier this month. ‘It was obvious to me’, he said during an interview with the BBC’s Nick Robinson, ‘that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving [Putin] a reason to say, “they’re coming for us again”, and to go to war’. When Robinson asked Farage if he was trying to justify Russia’s invasion, he said he was simply arguing that Putin had ‘used what we’ve done as an excuse’.

Whether you agree with him or not, Farage’s opinion is hardly a fringe one. As Tim Black pointed out on spiked last week, plenty of mainstream, well-respected experts have made similar arguments about the dangers of NATO’s eastward expansion. Nevertheless, Farage’s remarks sent pundits and politicians alike into a fit of Russo-hysteria. Since then, hardly a day has passed without some mention of Putin and his supposed influence over our democracy.

Last week, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak accused the Reform leader of ‘appeasing’ Russia and ‘playing into Putin’s hand’. Former PM Boris Johnson also joined in, slamming Farage for spewing ‘Kremlin propaganda’. The commentariat shrilly declared him to be ‘Putin’s little puppet’.

The Tories have even claimed that Russia is trying to help Farage get elected. Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden spoke to Sky News over the weekend about an alleged Russian disinformation campaign currently underway in the UK. Supposedly, five Facebook pages have been found to be posting ‘Kremlin talking points’ in support of Farage and Reform, in an attempt to influence the General Election outcome. According to Dowden, a ‘low-level use of bots’ on social media could swing the election in Farage’s favour. Apparently, some dodgy memes is all it takes to hijack our democracy.

It gets sillier still. According to the Tories, it’s not just Reform that the Russians are backing. Sunak claimed this weekend that a vote for Labour is also a vote to appease Putin. ‘Russia does not want [the Tories] to be re-elected’, he said last week. He claimed that Keir Starmer would ‘cut UK defence spending on day one’, thus reducing support for Ukraine and giving Putin what he wants.

Meanwhile, crankish Remainers have suggested that the Tories are the real pro-Putin fifth column in this election. The Conservative Party, so this conspiracy theory goes, is in the pocket of the Russian state because, among other things, one of its donors is an Egyptian national who has business ties to Russia. Plus, Sunak’s father-in-law, Narayana Murthy, founded a company that has historic links to Russia. That Murthy retired in 2014 hasn’t dented the analysis. Of course, all this really proves is that some people have very vivid imaginations and far too much time on their hands.

Accusing one’s opponents of being Russian shills has become an unedifying trend in Western politics. We saw it most unbearably when the US media fell for the anti-Trump ‘Russiagate’ conspiracy theory in 2016. Similarly, in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, sore-loser Remainers insisted it was Russian ‘fake news’ that swayed the historic vote to leave the EU. The huge gains made by populist parties in the European Parliament elections last month have also been pinned on, you guessed it, Vladimir Putin. The hidden hand of Russia is now blamed for every democratic event that doesn’t go the establishment’s way.

Do the elites not hear themselves? It really shouldn’t be some great mystery as to why people across the democratic world are choosing to reject the status quo. Voters do not need ‘Russian bots’ or Kremlin-led disinformation campaigns to persuade them to look for populist alternatives to our dismal mainstream parties. The ‘Putin’s puppet’ smear is a sign of the establishment’s utter desperation.

Lauren Smith is a staff writer at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK World


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