That weekend break in Dnipropetrovsk is off. I have been banned from entering Ukraine. I learned of this edict via the Mail on Sunday, naturally. I was unlikely to be appraised any other way, since I have never sought to go to Ukraine in my life. Doubtless frustrated at being unable to turn down a visa application they were never going to receive, the Kiev authorities simply issued a ban anyway – just in case, as it were.
Being prohibited from setting foot in Ukraine will not trouble me particularly. Unlike, for example, Donald Trump’s disgraced campaign manager Paul Manafort, I do not need the assistance of an unwitting Ukrainian hairdresser to conduct my tax affairs. Nor was I planning a political visit to a country where the parliamentary speaker is a Hitler admirer and pogromists and Nazi collaborators are national heroes – a place where as much as a favourable mention of the Red Army’s wartime record risks prosecution.
As for Ukrainian state security service the SBU, its only other claim to distinction this year has been to fake the murder of a journalist, to the distress of his wife and friends, before revealing that he was alive and well a day later. So, no, visiting a land where the morality of the brownshirts meets the methods of the Keystone Cops was not on my to-do list. I may as well be barred from eating celery or listening to the Eagles.
What prompted my appearance on what looks like a British blacklist-of-one maintained by the super-corrupt Poroshenko government? Ostensibly, a speech I made more than four years ago protesting the takeover of Ukraine by ultra-nationalists. So the SBU has not moved fast, but what with deaths to stage, ministerial mobsters to protect, not to mention munificent hairdressers to keep an eye on, it has had other things to do.
The SBU claim is that I am part of “Putin’s global propaganda network”. For the record (again) I am no admirer of the Putin regime. Those charmed by its authoritarian conservative nationalism are found on the alarmingly well-populated authoritarian conservative nationalist wing of contemporary politics. However, I empathise with those millions of ex-Soviet citizens who found themselves in the “wrong” country when internal boundaries became state frontiers after the dissolution of the USSR and who have since had to live under regimes they didn’t want and that often don’t want them either. Those who don’t understand that tragedy will always be at a loss to explain Putin’s popularity in Russia.
Doubtless the Mail on Sunday’s interest in this arcana was stimulated by the revelation that I have not been issued with a parliamentary security pass nearly a year after applying for one. Not that such a pass has been denied either – the application has been met with stony silence from those who process such things. Now, I would like to go to the House of Commons more than I want to go to Ukraine, but the inconvenience is only that. My role in Jeremy Corbyn’s team is advisory, and advice can be tendered from almost anywhere. But the story of the pass-that-isn’t fits snugly into the endless agenda of attacks on the Labour leadership.
Thus, the news that I have no Commons security clearance was followed immediately by “revelations” that I have presided at anti-war meetings and made speeches criticising Nato. Pity the poor trainee spook trawling through decades of Stop the War rally videos in the service of the next Mail exclusive. The charge sheet rolls on. I am accused (accurately) of having said that Russia’s intervention in the Middle East was “miniscule compared with the serial and disastrous interventions of the Western powers”. Hello? Has someone missed the last 15 years – the last 250 in fact? There are two issues of substance in all of this. The first is that the establishment at home and abroad deplore Labour’s approach to foreign policy more than anything else. They fear the popularity of Corbyn’s opposition to war, backing for global human rights and support for the Palestinian cause and their loss of control over the international narrative. The powers-that-be can perhaps live with a renationalised water industry but not, it seems, with any challenge to their aggressive capacities, repeatedly deployed in disastrous wars, and their decaying Cold War world view.
The second is the manoeuvrings of what is now called the “deep state”. Call me sceptical if you must, but I do not see journalistic enterprise behind the Mail’s sudden capacity to tease obscure information out of the SBU. Yes, they got a copy of an SBU letter allegedly banning me back in June, although it is dated 14 September and does not mention me anyway. Don’t publish what you can’t read guys!
Someone else is doing the hard work – possibly someone being paid by the taxpayer. I doubt if their job description is preventing the election of a Corbyn government, but who knows? We are often told that the days of secret state political chicanery are long past and we must hope so. But sometimes you have to wonder – this curiously timed episode seems less rooted in a Kiev security scare than in a political stunt closer to home.
My trouble is that I will have to phone in my advice for now. Senior parliamentary sources tell the Mail – they’re not speaking to me, by the way – that I have “vetting problems”. Still, I am not despairing – they may yet prove speedier than the SBU. And this much I know: the millions of people headed by Corbyn who were right on Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan when the elite, the security services included, were wrong, are near to office – in significant part because of those views. Britain could soon have an anti-war government. Vet that, comrades.
This article appears in the 19 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn’s next war